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CBI finds criminal charges aren’t warranted in case of illegal notarizations of deputy oaths

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Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office has opened a probe. - COURTESY SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE
  • Courtesy Secretary of State’s Office
  • Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office has opened a probe.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has found “no evidence” a crime was committed when, on a day in April 2016, an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office administrator reportedly ordered two workers to notarize hundreds of deputy oath affidavits without witnessing the signatures, as required by law.

The CBI wrapped up its five-month investigation after being asked to investigate by 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May based on the Independent’s Nov. 8, 2017, cover story, “Law & Error.” The CBI investigation began Nov. 17 and concluded April 2, according to a heavily redacted report obtained by the Indy via an open records request.

The investigation was originally declared closed in a Jan. 10 letter to May, but the CBI reopened the case after the Indy reported it overlooked a retired sheriff’s lieutenant, who says he witnessed administrator Larry Borland give the order to notarize the documents. During a Feb. 8 interview with CBI agent Jodi Wright, the CBI report says, the lieutenant said that “this was an order and they better get it done or they would be history. [Blank] believed they would either be fired or there would be repercussions if they did not notarize these affidavits.”

Although Wright wrote, “I can find no evidence a crime has been committed,” both employees in question — Rick Dietz and Dave Mejia — also apparently told the agent they felt threatened with retaliation if they didn’t notarize the affidavits.

Sheriff Bill Elder has denied Borland gave the order, and Borland denied he threatened the two in a CBI interview.

Rather, Elder blames Dietz and Mejia, saying they took it upon themselves to notarize the oaths, after which Chief of Staff Janet Huffor filed them at the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on April 15.

But now, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, which enforces notary laws, is investigating Dietz and Mejia.

In April 2016, Elder’s personnel discovered that most of the 1,016 deputy affidavits of oaths performed in the 15 months after Elder took office on Dec. 31, 2014, hadn’t been notarized or timely filed with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Dietz told the Indy he and Mejia followed orders, because they feared retaliation, including loss of their jobs if they refused.

Although names are redacted from the CBI report, the upshot of interviews and their timing makes it apparent who was interviewed and when. Mejia, who declined the Indy’s interview request, told Wright on Dec. 18, “When someone said, ‘This came from the top,’ you had to get them done.” He also described the “culture” as “very political.” Wright noted in the report that Mejia “said the statements to them were indirect threats because they believed if they didn’t, there would be retaliation because that was the culture there.”

Dietz, a 13-year sheriff’s employee, named employee of the year in 2013, gave a similar account to Wright on Dec. 15. “As a notary, he was to verify ID, witness the signatures on the documents to be notarized, and then record [them] in a journal....”
When sheriff’s personnel found hundreds of affidavits in the desk of a previous employee, Dietz told Wright, “it was ‘kind of a crap moment’ ... He was instructed to get them notarized ‘ASAP’ and to notify [blank] when completed...” He also told Wright “that it was wrong to ask them to do this.”

Elder apparently wasn’t interviewed by the CBI. Rather, the only sheriff’s employee who spoke to Wright was Borland, who said in a Dec. 18 interview that he “has never in his life given anyone an order to notarize anything they didn’t witness,” the report said. “He is sure of this because he would never do that.” He also denied anyone voiced concern over notarizing signatures they didn’t witness.

Elder has called the Indy’s report “crap” and asserted that affidavits don’t require notarization or filing with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office, although that’s been the practice for decades here and elsewhere. At a news conference he called the day the Indy published the cover story, Elder said, “The notary by notarizing something that he didn’t witness, that’s on him. That’s not on me. There’s no way on earth these three [Huffor, communications director Jackie Kirby and Borland] or me or anyone else in this agency ordered them, threatened them or otherwise to notarize a thing.”

Although state law requires a notary to notarize a signature only if the person is in their physical presence or the notary personally knows the signer by state or federal photo ID card and that all notary actions must be logged into a journal as to place, date, type of document, signature and seal, the CBI report does not recount statutory requirements.

Dietz tells the Indy none of the affidavits notarized were journalized, because the deputies whose signatures were being notarized weren’t there.

A year later, on Feb. 23, 2017, he and Mejia were escorted from the HR Department when it was abolished, he says. “The last time I saw my journal it was on my desk when personnel was still a viable unit,” Dietz says. “When it was eliminated, we were escorted down there to collect our personal items.” He grabbed his coat, he says, and when they again were escorted there the following Monday, he took his clock and a picture. He later received a box of other belongings, but no journal. Dietz resigned in June 2017 after receiving a seven-page reprimand for what he considered a minor misstep, the first disciplinary action he received while at the county.

Mejia now works for a different county department and broke his public silence by recently telling the Indy, “When they got rid of HR, access was removed. It was Friday afternoon. We couldn’t get in anymore. So on Monday, Rick and I were escorted down to the office and told to get anything personal. I grabbed some pens, some pictures. They walked us down there to our office like we had done something wrong. Two weeks later, they gave me access again to that building, but the problem was, it looked like a bomb went off in the office. Boxes were everywhere. The journal? I never thought of getting it. It wasn’t my property. It came from them [Sheriff’s Office], so it wasn’t mine. It was to be used for work purposes.”

Asked about that, the Sheriff’s Office says the journals belonged to Dietz and Mejia and they were given “multiple opportunities” to retrieve them. The office didn’t comment further on the CBI report.

Now, the ball is in the Secretary of State’s court. In letters sent to Mejia and Dietz on March 20, the office says it “received information” about the questionable notarizations but didn’t name the source. A Secretary of State spokesperson declined to discuss the pending investigation.
The letter outlines two potential violations — failing to witness signatures, and failing to enter the notarial acts in a journal. But possible penalties are inconsequential: a letter of admonition or revocation of their notary commissions. Dietz’s and Mejia’s responses were due April 9.

In January 2018, the county adopted a whistleblower policy that protects employees from retaliation if they report wrongdoing. First Assistant County Attorney Diana May says imposing the policy was unrelated to the notary dust-up.

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