Secretary of State Wayne Williams bought a cowboy outfit with state money, prompting an ethics complaint

The complaint alleges Williams used the money for attorney fees in addition to very pricey jeans.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses the press on July 5, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams addresses the press on July 5, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Secretary of State Wayne Williams is facing an ethics complaint related to his use of state discretionary funds to buy items including $327 boot-cut jeans and paying for attorney registration fees.

The complaint filed to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission last week has been received by the panel and will be considered during their next regular meeting on Nov. 19. The hearing doesn’t necessarily mean the commission will be investigating the complaint. They will need to consider it under closed executive session before deciding whether to move forward.

An email provided to Denverite by the attorney representing Tyler J. Boschert, a Denver patent attorney who filed the complaint, shows the commission’s executive director Dino Ioannides responded to the complaint on Oct. 25.

Ioannides in an email to Denverite on Monday said: “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the complaint you have referenced.”

Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert said in a statement to Denverite on Monday morning that the office had not received a copy of the complaint. She said the information about Williams’ spending in “has been public for years” and was “the subject of a records request by Colorado Ethics Watch in 2016 and has also been through a state audit.”

“Nobody filed a complaint then,” Staiert said. “The fact that someone is now filing, well past the one-year statute of limitations, is a reflection of the current political climate. This is about trying to keep this issue in the press and detract from the good work Secretary Williams has done over the past four years.”

Williams, a Republican, is running for reelection this year and is facing a challenge from Democrat Jena Griswold.

Boschert’s attorney Scott A. Moss, who is also a professor at CU Law School, said his client is an unaffiliated voter who was previously registered in the Libertarian Party. Moss added that his client still identifies as a libertarian.

“I filed the complaint not because I’m particularly concerned with the political fortunes of either Williams or Griswold, but because as a libertarian I want to send elected officials the message that they can’t expect to get away with billing the taxpayers for a $700 pair of cowboy boots,” Boschert said in a statement.

Boschert writes in the complaint that “it is possible that Mr. Williams’ abuse of state funds is not merely unethical, but criminal, and that it bars him from holding any public office in Colorado.”

His complaint includes allegations that Williams made payments to the Colorado Bar Association with state credit totaling $1,270 in July 2016, July 2017 and June 2018; used $325 in state funds to pay for his annual Colorado attorney registration fees in 2017; and billed the state $35 for continuing legal education credits in July 2016 and July 2018. The complaint includes receipts.

Staiert said paying for these kinds of fees has “been a long-standing tradition,” in the office and considered it a “reasonable business expense of the office.” Staiert added that the office helps pay for similar dues for about “seven or eight” attorneys in the office. Colorado Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels said in an email the office’s employee handbook allow the office to pay for attorney registration and bar dues for its employees.

The Denver Post reported on Oct. 15 that Williams had spent more than $1,500 on items with money from the office’s $5,000 discretionary fund. The newspaper reported that the cowboy gear, including boots, a hat and jeans, purchased by Williams was related to his involvement in a nonprofit raising money for youth exhibitors at the Colorado State Fair. Costs and receipt copies for these purchases are included in Boschert’s complaint. The purchases were made between 2015 and 2017.

Again, the commission still need to decide whether or not to investigate the complaint.

Last week, for example, the Ethics Commission said they would be investigating a complaint made against Gov. John Hickenlooper alleging that he violated state laws. They deemed the complaint “non-frivolous.” That took place after the initial complaint was filed on Oct. 12.