Legal Filings

Legal Filings
Nov 30, 2011

Ethics Watch Files Ethics Complaint Against Public Trustee Association of Colorado

DENVER – Today, Colorado Ethics Watch filed an ethics complaint with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC) against the Public Trustee Association of Colorado for violating state ethics laws when it accepted contributions from for-profit companies and then used those funds to provide members with a free night at a Black Hawk casino hotel.

The Public Trustee Association of Colorado (PTAC) is a nonprofit that received more than 5% of its funding from for-profit corporations; specifically, the nonprofit accepted contributions from a law firm and software vendor that do business with the organization. The PTAC put those funds into an “education” account, then used the funds to pay for a night at a Black Hawk casino hotel for 32 Trustees at a cost of $99 each. Amendment 41 of the Colorado Constitution limits gifts to public officials to $53 in a calendar year. By filing a complaint with the Independent Ethics Commission, Ethics Watch has asked the IEC to determine whether the Public Trustees who accepted a hotel night paid for by PTAC in June 2011 violated the gift ban, and if so, to hold PTAC liable for inducing that breach of trust.

“Public officials can’t set up a nonprofit to give themselves illegal gifts,” said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch. “It is especially egregious when public trustees, who are responsible for fair operation of the foreclosure process, uses a nonprofit to give themselves gifts that are ultimately paid for by a law firm and software business interested in the foreclosure industry. Justice requires that the PTAC be fined for this misconduct.”

Colorado law states that any local government official, employee or entity who breaches the public trust for private gain shall be liable to the state or local jurisdiction for double the amount of the financial equivalent of any benefits obtained by such actions. In this case, each Trustee would be liable for a fine of $92, representing twice the difference between the $99 hotel room gift and the $53 gift limit in effect during June 2011. However, since the PTAC is the entity that raised the funds and arranged for the gift of a free night at the hotel to be given to the Public Trustees in violation of the gift ban, Ethics Watch has recommended that PTAC be required to pay a fine of $92 to each of the 32 counties whose Public Trustees accepted a free night at the Ameristar Hotel in June 2011, for a total of $2944.00.

This is the third complaint Ethics Watch has filed with the Independent Ethics Commission since it was approved by voters in November 2006. The Independent Ethics Commission was established that year as this state’s primary recourse for ethics complaints and investigations. It is authorized to conduct investigations, hold public hearings, and render findings on complaints regarding allegations that any public official failed to comply with appropriate standards of conduct under state law.