The Lords of Payback

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A few weeks after the election, Sheehan, the one holdover from the old board, resigned in disgrace, bedeviled by the "Pinky T" debacle and other controversies. He was replaced by Dave Auburn, and Zinna was now facing an entirely clean slate down at the commissioners' office. For several weeks, his website became unusually quiet while the parties tried to thrash out a settlement over various Zinna-related lawsuits and appeals.

In subsequent court filings, Zinna claims that the new regime demanded, as conditions of any settlement, that he stop filing open-records requests, showing up at board meetings and running his website. He says Congrove, the board's new chair, told him, "You need to decide if you're going to be a developer or a reporter."

"He wanted the website to go away," Zinna insists. "He said, 'We've got good people in there now.' And I said, 'Well, the good people have nothing to worry about.'"

Jeffco officials have disputed Zinna's version of events. But no settlement was ever reached, and the combatants were soon back in action. Zinna purchased airtime on KHOW for a Saturday-night talk show. And life inside the executive offices of the Taj Mahal began to get very, very strange.

On May 20, 2005, Assistant County Attorney Lily Oeffler arrived at work and found that a box of files she'd left on her desk the night before had gone missing. The materials, more than 8,000 pages in all, were part of the ongoing Zinna cases, including confidential attorney-client stuff. When an internal search failed to turn up the files, the theft was reported to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's investigation yielded no shortage of theories about the heist. Some in the Taj suggested that Zinna must have done it, in an effort to cripple the county's defense — although how such a readily identifiable foe could have crept in and out of the Taj after business hours, at a time when he'd supposedly been banned from the building, was unclear. Zinna contended that it was an inside job, possibly to deep-six illegally obtained files on him that would otherwise have to be produced at trial.

But while detectives stewed over that mystery, a new round of accusations erupted between Zinna and Congrove. Zinna turned over two loan documents to the Arvada police, claiming that they were evidence of bank fraud on Congrove's part. One was a rental agreement for a property owned by Congrove, signed by a "Michael Zinnia." The second was a $5,000 bill of sale for a 1988 Dodge truck that listed Zinna as the buyer; the seller, a longtime friend of Congrove's, was seeking to show assets for a loan to purchase a house from Congrove. Zinna denied any involvement in the transactions and denounced both signatures as forgeries.

Both documents predated Congrove's election. Zinna told the cops he'd obtained them in late 2004 from his girlfriend at the time, Lori Stille, who happened to be an employee at Congrove's bank. The vigilante reporter had then apparently sat on the explosive records for months before going to the authorities ("Dog Days," November 10, 2005).

Congrove denied any knowledge of either document. He accused Stille of filling out the vehicle bill of sale for his friend. "This whole thing is a scam," he told Westword in 2005.

But whose scam? Stille acknowledged helping the truck seller with the paperwork but denied any part in the forgery. The Arvada police turned their investigation of Congrove's loan arrangements over to a grand jury, which failed to produce any indictments — but the panel didn't formally exonerate the commissioner, either. It simply failed to reach any decision at all.

That wasn't the end of the matter, though. Congrove was apparently incensed that Stille had turned over information from his loan files to Zinna. A man named Michael Murphy, who used to date Congrove associate Kathy Redmond, claims to have been present on various occasions when Redmond and Congrove talked about Stille with private investigator Daril Cinquanta. "Mr. Congrove and Mr. Cinquanta had extensive discussions regarding Ms. Stille," Murphy wrote in an affidavit, "that generally regarded the topics of 'getting her fired from the bank' and 'making her pay' and 'getting her thrown in jail.'"

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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