DA: Case closed without independent probe of corruption allegations

Posted: April 29, 2013 in local news, Politics

By David Olinger
The Denver Post

The district attorney who asked a special prosecutor to investigate corruption allegations against former Adams County Commissioner Alice Nichol says the case was closed after 18 months without an independent probe.

Among the actions the special prosecutor, then-Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey, never took: an interview with Commissioner Nichol.

In 2011, then-Adams County District Attorney Don Quick asked Storey to take over an investigation of Nichol and her husband, Ron, a former commissioner, because he wanted to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Quick and Nichol were both elected Democrats, and Commissioner Nichol voted on the district attorney’s budget.

The investigation came in response

Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey closed the Nichol investigation in October 2012, saying his office had failed to find evidence of a crime that could be proved in court. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

toa Denver Post report that Quality Paving, the company at the center of a county corruption scandal, had done extensive work at the Nichols’ home.

The Post also reported that Quality Paving’s president had cast a deciding vote on a three-member panel that chose Nichol’s son-in-law as the county fleet director.

Storey closed the Nichol investigation in October 2012, saying his office had failed to find evidence of a crime that could be proved in court.

What happened during the previous 18 months is disputed.

Documents provided to The Post show that Quick and Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr repeatedly pressed Storey to commence an independent investigation of Nichol and her husband.

In February and March 2012, they listed 10 “prosecution decisions” they hoped Storey, a Republican, would address. The list included the Quality Paving project at the Nichol house, the hiring of Nichol’s son-in-law anda $390,000 county paymentfor Nichol’s childhood home during a street-widening project.

In August, the sheriff and district attorney sent another letter urging Storey to act.

“We are not aware of any additional investigation done by your office over the 16 months you have had the case,” they wrote. “We fully understand and accept your independence as the special prosecutor. However, after 16 months, we believe Commissioner Nichol and the citizens of Adams County deserve a decision one way or another.”

In a testy reply, Storey assured Adams officials later that “this matter is being handled professionally, competently, appropriately and as expeditiously as possible.”

When he closed the case two months later, Storey described the investigation as thorough.

“We have exercised the utmost due diligence in pursuing this investigation and attempted to take advantage of all opportunities to gather relevant information from all available sources,” he wrote.

That investigative work did not include an interview of Commissioner Nichol or her husband.

“When Scott Storey got the information, I was never interviewed anymore. Nobody interviewed us for anything,” Nichol said.

She described her long wait for a decision without hearing from the special prosecutor as “a nightmare for me and my family to be in the dark.”

Nichol suspected investigators were waiting for one of the county defendants to implicate her in a plea agreement. “I really do feel like I was a scapegoat,” she said. “You know, it’s all behind me now. I’m trying to just put it to rest.”

Storey concluded that there was insufficient evidence to file charges despite an affidavit from Adams County’s lead detective, Jeremy Whytock, that Alice and Ron Nichol received at least $16,199 worth of work at their home for a $10,000 check Ron Nichol wrote to Quality Paving. That work was done while Alice Nichol voted on contracts awarded to Quality Paving, also one of her campaign contributors.

Quick disappointedIn Adams County, six public works employees and Quality Paving officials have been convicted of bilking taxpayers of at least $1.8 million. Four defendants, including county Public Works director Lee Asay, have been sentenced to prison.

Storey and Quick were term-limited as district attorneys at the end of 2012 and left the positions.

Quick, who now manages the Broomfield branch of the Adams district attorney’s office, expressed his disappointment with Storey’s performance as special prosecutor.

In 18 months, “I don’t know of any additional investigation that they did. But you’d have to ask Jeffco,” he said.

The Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office has declined to release any records of its investigation or discuss that investigation in detail.

In a letter to The Post, Storey wrote that his office worked with Detective Whytock, reviewed the Adams case file and followed the Quality Paving trials.

His investigation found “there appeared to be ethical violations, but the conduct did not constitute criminal offenses that could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“I reiterate, our investigation was thorough and conducted in a professional manner. Because no criminal charges resulted from this investigation, I am unable to discuss the investigation,” he wrote.

Darr said that during the 18-month investigation, Detective Whytock “was there for as much as they needed him. Jeremy, as far as I know, wasn’t asked to do much of anything.”

“Scott Storey is a decent, good man,” Darr said. “I don’t know the reasons he made the decisions he did.”

Dave Young, who prosecuted the Quality Paving cases and succeeded Quick as district attorney in the Adams district, said he doesn’t remember seeing a Jefferson County prosecutor in attendance during the trials.

But Young also said judicial districts in the Denver area depend on each other as special prosecutors whenever a case conflict arises, and they respect the independence of a special prosecutor who decides whether criminal conduct can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Young said he accepts Storey’s decision to close the Nichol investigation.

“If new evidence comes in,” he added, “obviously we’ll take a look.”

David Olinger: 303-954-1498, dolinger@denverpost.com or twitter.com/dolingerdp

Read more:DA: Case closed without independent probe of corruption allegations – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_23128299/da-case-closed-without-independent-probe-corruption-allegations#ixzz2RszkYm9D
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