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They just didn't expect to become the story themselves.

Mike Zinna operates out of a hangar at the Jefferson County Airport. The place is his office, command center and crash pad. In addition to a single-engine plane, it contains stacks of newspapers and public records, a well-stocked fridge, a giant inflatable Corona bottle and plenty of sprawl space for Fonzi.

Fonzi is Zinna's spirited German shepherd, whose beastly "thoughts" on Jefferson County political doings and personalities frequently grace JeffcoExposed. ("Fonzi says, ŒI'm just as qualified as Tuthill to be county attorney. I can sit. I can beg. I can lay down. And I can gleefully chase my tail all day long. However, unlike Tuthill, I don't crap where I eat.'") Zinna has called Fonzi the true brains behind the website.

Even with Fonzi providing some sense of decorum, the hangar has a tentative, frat-boyish feel, as if its occupants might pull up stakes and fly away at a moment's notice. That's probably fitting for the chief operating officer of BJC Development Corporation, who's had a number of business ventures over the years, not all of them successful.

Some of the darker episodes in Zinna's past were examined with gusto in an article in the Evergreen Canyon Courier two weeks ago. The piece reported on his "other than honorable" discharge from the Air Force eighteen years ago, various civil lawsuits stemming from failed advertising businesses in Summit County in the 1990s, a 1997 misdemeanor harassment case, and domestic-violence charges resulting from alleged altercations with an ex-girlfriend and an ex-wife.

Zinna is still seething about the article, which he had declined to be interviewed for. He calls the domestic-violence charges "bogus" -- one case was dismissed, the other resulted in a deferred judgment and probation -- and describes the piece as a preemptive strike by county politicos seeking to discredit him.

"They've pulled out all the stops to dig up as much dirt on me as they can," Zinna says. "They have threatened for years to expose my quote-unquote criminal history. Michelle Lawrence has threatened me. Rick Sheehan has threatened me. John Masson called a press conference last year to release my criminal file to reporters. They've been on a campaign to smear me for a long, long time."

Although he's made "mistakes," he adds, "I don't care what you say about me. I'm not an elected official. I don't manage taxpayer money. I don't answer to corrupt bureaucrats. I'm my own dog. I will not be blackmailed."

That the administration-friendly Courier would find Zinna worthy of such a lengthy blast is one measure of how bothersome he's become in the past nine months. He's been a player in county politics for years, but few people had heard of him before his business dealings with the county commissioners turned sour, leading to the launch of his vitriolic website.

Four years ago, BJC, which builds and leases airport hangars, embarked on a plan to develop a hotel and other ventures on 100 acres at the county airport. The county soon backed out of the deal, though, prompting BJC to file a breach-of-contract lawsuit. In court filings, Zinna claimed to have tape recordings of Sheehan and Lawrence threatening him, boasting of their power over other officials and seeking the "appropriate tribute" for their support.

But many of the tapes were never made public, and a judge dismissed Zinna's claims last fall. He started JeffcoExposed on the heels of that decision, which he's now appealing. He spends most of his time on the website and related battles with the county, leaving many aspects of running BJC to his business partner, Robert Wyler.

From the outset, Zinna's web venture struck a nerve with county officials. Lurching between sophomoric humor and dogged investigation, JeffcoExposed served up a bewildering onslaught of calumny, satire, gossip and startling inside dope that suggested uncomfortably high-placed sources. Officials' cell-phone and travel records, alleged extramarital affairs and bulging waistlines were scrutinized in detail. Nicknames were doled out with abandon -- "Boom Boom" Lawrence, "Slick Rick" Sheehan, "Uphill" Tuthill. Images of Jeffco political figures were Photoshopped to suggest their kinship with Hitler, Dracula, Oliver Hardy and, in one case, a blow-up doll.

"Certain Jefferson County officials are already openly threatening a lawsuit against JeffcoExposed.com and its semi-funny but mildly retarded Editor-In-Chief," reads one early entry. "Apparently, the Œpowers that be' prefer their media coverage served up nice and sweet and spun to a shiny luster. The 5th Floor Muck Shovelers just love to plant stories about their political enemies but can't stand the pungent aroma of their own crap baking in the sunlight. In case the Shovelheads didn't get the memo: In court, you will show up with your lawyers and your rhetoric, and JCX will arrive armed with the facts. Any time. Any place."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast