From Obamanation to Abomination, these characters were the worst of the worst

They were the shmucks, the shitheads, the asshats and the douchebags, the chodes, knobs, jerkoffs, buttmunches and assclowns. They embarrassed themselves, their families, their professions, their political parties and Colorado in general. And the year just wouldn't have been the same without them.

Continuing a time-honored tradition, Westword has inducted eight of the most (least?) deserving characters from 2008 into our Hall of Shame. For many more worthy of mention, please log on to westword.com/latestword and look for our Shmuck of the Week archives. Then resolve not to end up joining this motley crew in 2009.


Edward Nottingham Jr. wore the robes of a chief U.S. district judge for nineteen years, but it was what happened when those robes came off that earned him the nickname "Judge Naughty." Nottingham, who'd presided over numerous high-profile cases — including the trial of former Qwest CEO (and past Hall of Shame inductee) Joe Nacchio — stepped down from his lifetime appointment to the federal bench in October, in the midst of a fourteen-month investigation into his conduct at strip joints, his ties to local prostitutes, and allegations that he'd lied about pressuring one prostitute to deny that she'd had a relationship with him.

What's on the docket now that Nottingham has resigned? A possible criminal case and revocation of his license to practice law.


"Hi, Betsy, it's Marilyn Musgrave. I was just calling to congratulate you on beating me in the race for Colorado's 4th Congressional District. It was a hard-fought battle. Good luck in Washington." These are the words you never heard coming from Marilyn Musgrave's lips this year. The ten-year representative did not concede graciously — or, in fact, at all — after losing a nasty and decisive election to Democrat Betsy Markey in very Republican territory. Instead, Musgrave, who hasn't spoken publicly since losing her job, turned her attention to voicing robo-calls for Georgia senator Saxby Chambliss, in which she blamed "leftist special interests" for her loss. But Musgrave has never been known for class. Named to Rolling Stone's 2006 list of the nation's ten worst congresspeople, the arch-conservative member of the religious right will be remembered for her crusades against gay marriage, sex ed in classrooms and stem-cell research, as well as her efforts to legalize concealed weapons. As a result of her ouster, Colorado's congressional delegation has been elevated to nearly normal.

Congratulations to you, Colorado. Good luck in Washington.


We thought we'd heard the last of Joe Bini. The disgraced cop was charged with felony perjury eight years ago for writing the bungled no-knock warrant that led to a 1999 police raid on the wrong house and ended in the death of Ismael Mena. But then in April, Bini was accused of stealing an $88 floor mat from the Denver Pavilions and laying it down in front of his girlfriend's nearby GNC franchise. The charge (later dropped) sparked new interest in Bini, including a Rocky Mountain News article that laid out his story since the raid — his suspension from the Denver Police Department, his divorce, his battle with cancer and his eventual medical retirement. A tale of redemption? It could have been — until Bini was arrested in June, accused of locking two underage runaway girls in the GNC store and paying them to have sex with each other in front of him. Bini, 39, was eventually charged with soliciting child prostitution and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.


Vince Chowdhury knows how to lay on the horn, and that's what got the Jefferson County Board of Education member and candidate for state House District 22 into trouble. The saga began on June 17, when Chowdhury arrived home; angry that his wife and teenage daughter didn't immediately open the garage door for him when he honked his car horn, he slapped his daughter for being disrespectful, later telling police, "I just lost it." The incident tanked Chowdhury's Statehouse ambitions and prompted a recall effort in Jeffco. In August, Chowdhury pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to anger-management classes; his wife filed for divorce. The next month, pressured by his fellow boardmembers, he resigned his school-board position. "I have made this decision after a long conversation with my family," he said. "It is extremely difficult for me to step down; however, I must do what is in the best interest of my family."

Perhaps he should think about getting an automatic opener, too.


Sex, drugs, skiing and golf. Sounds like a wild vacation, right? But, no, it's just a normal day at the office for employees of the Minerals Management Service in Lakewood. In September, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees Minerals Management, issued a report detailing a party-like atmosphere in that office, which collects billions of dollars in royalties from big oil and gas firms. Prior to 2007, the report charged, workers there gave new meaning to the term "natural resources" by using drugs, having inappropriate sex, fixing contracts and unethically taking ski and golf vacations paid for by energy company execs. In November, after the conclusion of the two-year, $5 million investigation, the Interior Department fired or demoted eight of the thirteen employees mentioned in the report. But they weren't alone in their bad behavior; according to the inspector general, nearly a third of the 55 employees based in Lakewood took gifts from companies like Chevron and Shell.

Fill 'er up.


The grassy knoll is the spot where John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy buffs believe a second shooter laid in wait. But the term could also be used to describe the heads of Tharin Gartrell, Nathan Johnson and Shawn Adolf, who were arrested in August, the day before the start of the Democratic National Convention, and charged with threatening to kill Barack Obama because he is black. And yet authorities said the plot was so poorly conceived that the men — whom they called "meth heads" — weren't even charged with conspiracy. It went like this: The three had been doing meth with an underage girl in a southeast Denver hotel, where they mistakenly thought Obama was staying, when they came up with a plot to hide a rifle in a TV camera and sneak into a DNC event. But instead, Gartrell was pulled over the next day by Aurora police, who said they found two rifles with scopes, body armor, walkie-talkies, wigs, a cell phone and meth-making equipment inside his truck. In December, Johnson pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a prohibited person; cases against the other two men are pending.


Doug Bruce's mercifully short legislative career was a real kick. The cranky Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader and author of Colorado's TABOR amendment was selected in late 2007 to fill the empty House District 15 seat. But Bruce wasn't content to take office like anyone else; instead, he waited an extra five days, despite pleas by his own party to stick to the calendar, so that he'd be eligible to serve an extra term under Colorado's term-limit laws. And even before he was sworn in, he kicked a Rocky Mountain News photographer during a morning prayer on his first day at the Capitol, and as a result became the first Colorado General Assembly member ever to be formally censured. A host of other goofs, gaffes and groaners punctuated his tenure, including his removal from a veterans' affairs committee and a comment he made about "illiterate peasants."

Finally, in August, Bruce got his own kick in the pants, losing his bid for reelection in the Republican primary. Guess he didn't need to worry about getting around term limits.


Where there's smoke, there's fire, and Christina Elizabeth Szele was a hot one. Szele, 35, first came up on Denver's radar in June, when the pilot of a New York-to-San Francisco JetBlue flight had to land the plane at DIA because of chaos on board. It seemed that Szele, of Woodside, New York, had lit up a cigarette in the bathroom and later in her seat, an obvious violation of airline policy and the law. When a flight attendant took the cigarette out of Szele's mouth, she went ballistic, kicking and screaming and causing such a disturbance that a male flight attendant finally handcuffed her with plastic cuffs. She broke out, however, and punched the attendant, shouting racial slurs and threatening to kill him. Szele was arrested, booked and indicted by a federal grand jury in July. And although she was released on bond and had her case transferred to New York, this fall she was arrested again for misdemeanor assault in Queens and tested positive for cocaine. As a result, her case was transferred back to Colorado, where she pleaded guilty and moved into a halfway house. She's slated to be sentenced in February.

But in the meantime, the verdict's in: Don't be an ash on an airplane.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

Latest Stories