Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission moves to investigate complaint against Sec. Williams

The commission voted 3-1 to deem the complaint “non-frivolous.”

Secretary of State Wayne Williams speaks with a reporter in the Wells Fargo building on Broadway, which houses his office, July 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Secretary of State Wayne Williams speaks with a reporter in the Wells Fargo building on Broadway, which houses his office, July 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the commission was investigating Williams’ purchases of cowboy gear, which was part of the original complaint. 

The state’s Independent Ethics Commission has voted to move forward with a complaint against Secretary of State Wayne Williams over his use of state discretionary funds to pay for attorney fees.

Colorado Independent Ethics Commission Executive Director Dino Ioannides confirmed the commission voted 3-1 to deem the complaint “non-frivolous” during their meeting last Monday. Commissioner Matt Smith recused himself from the vote.

“As for what happens next, the respondent has 30 days to respond to the complaint,” Ioannides said in an email to Denverite.  “Once the response is received, the commission will order an investigation. The hearing will occur sometime after the investigation is complete.”

Ioannides said depending on the response they receive, the scope of the investigation can be changed. He said for example if a response showed the commission had limited or no jurisdiction over portions or the entire complaint, the commission would limit the investigation to reflect this.

The complaint was filed by Tyler J. Boschert, a Denver patent attorney. Boschert is an unaffiliated voter who was previously registered in the Libertarian Party. Boschert’s attorney Scott A. Moss said his client “is pleased” with the decision, and that the decision to file the complaint “was never really about reelection.”

In the complaint, Boschert said Williams misused state funds and acted in bad faith when he used more than $2,000 from the state’s discretionary fund to reimburse himself for purchases including boots, a hat and jeans. Boschert’s complaint additionally alleges Williams made payments to the Colorado Bar Association and paid for continuing legal education credits with state credit.

Williams, a Republican, lost his re-election bid earlier this month to Democrat Jena Griswold, who has previously criticized Williams’ spending.

After this story’s publication, Lynn Bartels, spokesperson for Williams’ office, released an email exchange showing the commission wants the secretary’s office to respond only some of the allegations in the complaint, not all of them. This excludes the cowboy purchases.

The email exchange between Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert and Ioannides last week shows he instructed the office to focus only on the items in the written complaint that are within one year of the commission’s receipt of the complaint, which meant they only have to respond to the expenses from Oct. 20, 2017, forward. The complaint showed the boots and bootcut travel jean purchases were made in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Staiert said in a statement to Denverite that the commission is “looking into expenses over the past year limited to his bar association dues and a 15 dollar continuing legal education class that was a review of Supreme Court cases in the 2018 term.”

“We pay bar dues and continuing education for many attorneys in the office,” Staiert said in the statement. “Much of our work is legal in nature including legislation, rule-making and title setting. This work is all done by attorneys and the savings are reflected in our legal budget which has gone down hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years.”

The commission’s decision marks the second time this year they’ve voted to move forward with an ethics investigation involving an elected official in the state’s executive office. The commission voted in October to move forward with a complaint against Gov. John Hickenlooper over gifts he received, including private airfare.

Last week, Hickenlooper submitted his response to the commission over the ethics complaint, which was filed by the Public Trust Institute.

“At no time have my actions violated the letter or spirit of Amendment 41,” Hickenlooper said in the statement. “The response underscores the frivolous nature of the allegations. We anticipate the matter will be resolved quickly and in our favor.”

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