Longform

The Lords of Payback

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In November 2006, Duncan Bradley was informed by his supervisor that he had fifteen minutes to clean out his office. He gave an exit interview that blasted various staffers in the county attorney's office and questioned their competence. "They consider the elected officials to be short-timers," he said. "Then they had a county commissioner show up who did not want the job to begin with but got talked into it. So he starts asking questions about how money is spent and what is it spent on. They see him as an enemy.... Guys like Jim Congrove and me are not motivated by money or position."

The commissioners authorized an audit of the county attorney's office, which some regarded as payback for Bradley's departure. (Congrove denies this.) County Attorney Hutfless protested the audit, calling it a waste of time and money. When Congrove supplied Hutfless's confidential memo to the press, Hutfless resigned — but not before a heated confrontation with Congrove at a final board meeting, during which each man called the other a liar. Months later, Hutfless told the CBI agents that he was "sick of Congrove not doing the right thing" and had resigned because the stress of the relationship was overwhelming.

Treasurer Paschall lost his bid for re-election in 2006. Shortly before leaving office, he approved a $25,000 bonus for his aide, Kathy Redmond — and was promptly indicted for allegedly telling Redmond to split the money with him. At his trial for attempted theft last February, Paschall unveiled a peculiar defense: He was only kidding around about a kickback, see, but Redmond went to her good friend Congrove, who went to the police, who arranged for Redmond to tape incriminating conversations with Paschall.

"We are here because Jim Congrove hates Mark Paschall with an undying passion," Paschall attorney David Lane told the jury. The enmity, he suggested, had to do with Paschall's refusal to cooperate when Congrove demanded to know what he'd told the grand jury that was looking into Congrove's loan arrangements.

The jury acquitted Paschall of the theft charge but failed to reach a verdict on a charge of improper compensation. A new trial on that charge is scheduled for next month. Congrove, who's accustomed to being blamed for all sorts of things in Jefferson County, has expressed utter bafflement at the notion that he's somehow responsible for Paschall's predicament. But the defense theory of a setup is one Zinna readily embraces. "I believe every word of it," he says.

Last January, Congrove announced that he won't be seeking a second term as commissioner. He's backing Faye Griffin, the county treasurer who unseated Paschall. Assessing his legacy will be no easy task — in part because Congrove himself declines to talk about how the battles with Zinna affected his job. "Ask me about that after I've left office," he says.

Zinna himself tried to explore the Congrove legacy in a deposition of the commissioner a few months ago. The room was packed with lawyers paid for by the county, the air filled with objections. Little of substance emerged, other than Congrove's repeated profession of the things he did not know.

Asked if he had memory problems, Congrove replied that he didn't know. Asked if was an honest person, he replied that he didn't know. Asked to name his accomplishments as county commissioner, he replied that he couldn't think of any. Asked if he believed in freedom of speech, he paused as the seconds ticked away — then asked if that was part of the First Amendment.

But there was one area of inquiry that required no fencing, one question that the commissioner could answer without hesitation.

"You don't like me, do you?" Zinna asked.

"I think you're as phony as they come," Congrove said.

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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