Longform

KEEPING HIS OWN COUNSEL

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Others have suggested that Avila developed his own expensive cocaine habit once he returned to north Denver to practice law. "When there's money involved, people can do just about anything," says one Denver detective. "And with dope, that's what it's all about."

"There had been rumors floating around for a while," concedes an acquaintance who asked not to be named. "A few people around town told me he could get them cocaine. I got the feeling that Nick wanted to be a kingpin up there."
Certainly Avila's friendly connections to Hernandez and, later, to Guerrero make that a possibility. "When you start down that path as attorney/friend, you've got to be careful or it can overwhelm you," says Welch, the federal prosecutor.

"Nick always represented a kind of dirtball kind of people," adds Bob Mullan, a former New York City cop and Denver prosecutor who tried his first case against Avila. "When you're always around shit, sometimes the stuff rubs off. And Nick is the kind of guy who I don't think would ever leave behind the neighborhood."
Not surprisingly, Avila vigorously denies any involvement with cocaine. And if he was using it, or earning money from drug sales, he hid it well: None of Avila's friends, acquaintances, relatives, or employees recalls seeing any trappings of wealth or evidence of the unpredictable behavior typically associated with drug use.

"He was always kind of a square guy, really--almost nerdy," says Garcia. "I was shocked by the cocaine thing. It shocked a lot of people. Nick is smart enough that he wouldn't jeopardize everything he'd worked for."
Which, of course, raises the possibility that Avila actually is innocent--that his story of forced confessions and coverups is all true. "The prosecutors have developed an intense hatred of me," he says. "Maybe they don't like my cockiness, or my defiance, or the fact that I've challenged their `indisputable evidence.' Maybe they just don't like defense attorneys."

But, for now, anyway, all of it is just speculation. Indeed, most people who at one time associated with Nick Avila have left it at that and moved on. "He was a good attorney, he was sharp and he had a lot of promise to him; I expected him to go a long way," says Sandoval. "I knew him well."

He pauses briefly before hanging up the phone: "At least I thought I knew him well.

end of part 2

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