Longform

The Lords of Payback

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McCasky told the agents he didn't learn that Cinquanta was working for the county until the fall of 2006 — seven months after the Zinna billings began. He then told Hut-fless he wouldn't support such expenditures. Auburn didn't find out until around the same time, when he ran into Cinquanta while putting up yard signs for his re-election campaign.

"He said he was so thankful that we had hired him to do work because he didn't know if he would have made it had he not had that income," Auburn recalled in a deposition. "I was in shock. I had no knowledge of this, and I was surprised that we would hire a private investigator without the commissioners knowing."

The CBI agents interviewed dozens of county employees and found much that was perplexing. They discovered that internal auditor Susan Johnson had free use of a condo in Dillon, courtesy of Daril Cinquanta, and that Johnson didn't see any potential conflict of interest in the arrangement. They learned that, in the midst of being investigated over the possible misuse of county funds in the employment of his friend Cinquanta, Commissioner Congrove was considering donating an additional $33,000 in county funds to a non-profit organization that listed Cinquanta as its officer and registered agent. The money was part of a $100,000 gift to the county from the Kaiser-Hill Legacy Foundation; each commissioner was allowed to allocate a third to nonprofits of their choice, and Congrove had indicated he might designate his share to the Rocky Mountain Aviation Center, a proposed confluence of aviation-related charities and service organizations at the Jeffco airport. (Congrove recently told Westword that he hasn't yet donated the funds but still intends to give them to the center.)

The agents got an earful from staffers about the hiring of Duncan Bradley, the rabid intrigues inside the Taj, and what one investigator summed up as "office mistrust, fear and discomfort regarding Congrove's management style and decision-making."

But none of this added up to a crime, Quick concluded. Still, the DA was troubled by the sort of ethical vacuum that seemed to surround the whole matter. That Congrove, a former cop, could tell the agents who visited his office that Hutfless had control of the files produced by Cinquanta's investigation, when they were in Congrove's possession the whole time — it defied understanding, like the files themselves, which seemed to disappear and reappear in a rolling file cabinet at whim.

For his part, Congrove didn't think he had anything to apologize for. Hutfless had hired Cinquanta, not him. He conducted his own inquiries into whatever county business required his attention, and he wasn't going to stop doing that.

Congrove's investigations, like his confidential informants, were very much a part of his management style. McCasky told the agents that he didn't share everything he knew with Congrove and vice versa, that "it is the nature of the business to not share all information."

Asked if he ever thought the commissioners themselves had been investigated, Auburn recalled a particular conversation with Congrove: "Jim walked into my office one day and told me he was investigating Frank [Hutfless] and he was investigating Jim Moore. I thought later on that he's probably investigating me. I had a conversation with Kevin McCasky shortly after that...and Kevin made the comment that he felt that Jim Congrove was probably investigating him. Did I think he was investigating me? Yeah."


Zinna has depositions. Zinna has affidavits.

One affidavit comes courtesy of Robert Laidley, who leases a hangar at the Jefferson County airport and knows fellow airport denizens Zinna and Cinquanta. According to Laidley, Cinquanta interviewed him in the summer of 2006 in the course of his investigation on behalf of the county. Cinquanta let him know that Mike Zinna was not his favorite person.

"Mr. Cinquanta stated to me, in relation to Mr. Zinna's journalistic activities, 'What comes around, goes around,'" Laidley recalled. "Mr. Cinquanta also stated that he and Commissioner Congrove were 'messing with Mike because Mike had messed with us.'"

Cinquanta boasted that he'd had a long conversation with Zinna's ex-wife in Florida, and that the information he'd gleaned was going to be posted on the ColoradoWackoExposed website. He wanted Laidley to let Zinna know that this was a direct result of his own actions. "Let him know that this is what happens when you screw with us," Cinquanta allegedly told him.

Another affidavit is signed by Margaret Purnell, who identifies herself as a former Cinquanta client. Purnell states that she's now involved in a legal dispute with Cinquanta over her mountain condo — the same condo the private investigator was loaning out to certain county employees. Purnell also states that in the summer of 2006, after learning that she was a fan of Zinna's radio show, Cinquanta directed her to the ColoradoWackoExposed website. He told her, "My friends and I are exposing him. We're going to destroy him."

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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