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El Paso County commissioner’s residency questioned amid election campaign

House and home


  • Mark Waller
It’s 7 a.m. on May 1, and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller swings open his front door, bleary-eyed and clad in orange plaid jammy pants and a white T-shirt.

There, he’s confronted by a reporter who’s trying to determine if he truly lives at this home, located in northeast Colorado Springs on the western edge of Commission District 2, which he represents.

Where Waller hangs his hat lies at the center of an investigation by the 10th Judicial District’s prosecutor’s office, though District Attorney Jeff Chostner acknowledges by email to the Indy it’s a civil, not criminal, investigation, a sharp departure from how at least one similar case was handled.

Waller says his political enemies have raised the challenge to his residency in efforts to undermine his run for district attorney in the 4th Judicial District.

It’s a fair question, given that last fall Waller bought a $715,000 home in Palmer Lake, outside his commissioner district, but claims not to live there.

His political fortunes also might face another complication: He financed the home with a Veterans Affairs-backed loan (Waller served in the Air Force), which requires a
borrower to occupy the home within 60 days of the loan closing.

“At the end of the day, the reality is this: I have maintained my residence right here where I am here, which is the same house you came to and rang the doorbell at,” Waller says, referring to the May 1 visit. “I’ve always thought the idea behind the VA loan is they don’t want you buying that and renting your house out.”

Those issues, which Waller says were planted with the media by people who oppose his bid to defeat Deputy DA Michael Allen, underscore the battle between two Republicans for the nomination to be decided in the June 30 primary election. The two have raised similar amounts of campaign funds.

Allen has won endorsements from political heavyweights District Attorney Dan May, his boss, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

Waller, too, has some impressive endorsements, including from El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, former Colorado Springs Police Chief and current Undersheriff Pete Carey, at least two fellow county commissioners and State Sen. Bob Gardner.

But now Waller finds himself entangled in a debate over where he lives.

Waller, appointed to his commission seat in July 2016, won a full term the following November. He could have sought another term, which pays $113,400 a year, but instead is running for DA, with an annual salary of $215,000.

Waller served stints in the 4th and 10th Judicial Districts’ DA offices, and served in the Air Force from 1993 to 2000 and the Air Force Reserves from 2001 to 2009, deploying in 2006 to Baghdad amid Operation Iraqi Freedom. He represented House District 15 in the state Legislature from 2009 to 2014.

Waller went through a divorce in recent years, and he and his former wife sold their home in August 2019. On Oct. 2, he purchased the home in Palmer Lake from a builder, borrowing $583,645 of the $715,000 purchase price.

On Nov. 20, he quitclaimed the property to an LLC. Records show that he and his fiancée, Rachel Beck, who lives in the house, are named as grantees, meaning they own the house together. Waller tells the Indy they plan a fall wedding.

Meantime, Waller rented the northeast Colorado Springs home in June 2018, at which time he changed his voter registration to the rental’s address.

During the Indy’s surprise May 1 visit, he offered to unlock his mailbox across the street and show he receives mail there. All mail including a recipient name and address, including junk mail, bore Waller’s name and the rental’s address. (The tax bill for the Palmer Lake home, however, is mailed to the Palmer Lake address.)

According to state statute, “If any commissioner, during his or her term of office, moves from the district in which he or she resided when elected, his or her office shall thereupon become vacant.”

Waller says even if it’s found he violated the residency requirement, which he contends he hasn’t, it’s not a criminal matter.

Someone whose identity has not been revealed publicly filed a complaint with District Attorney May’s office. Because May supports Michael Allen, he sought to have the matter referred to Chostner, in Pueblo, for investigation.

May refused to explain why he would ask that a civil matter be referred to a criminal prosecutor’s office, a request obliged by 4th District Judge William Bain.

Chostner confirms the issue is civil in nature, saying in an email, “We are not looking at this as a criminal matter.”

Regardless, residency allegations are nothing new in Colorado politics. For example, in 1999, Mary Ellen Epps, a Republican in the Colorado House of Representatives, was sued by Democrats for pretending to live in a Senate district she sought while living in another district. According to the Indy’s report at the time, she kept the house she owned in Fountain and filed a change-of-address form with the post office, switched her driver’s license address and said she was renting a room in a house owned by a retired deputy sheriff and his wife, who
had contributed $300 to her campaign.

A judge ruled Epps’ room-rental qualified as residency, and she won the Senate seat.

But the residency question isn’t the only issue surrounding Waller’s living arrangement.

When he purchased the Palmer Lake home, he financed the loan through Ent Credit Union using his VA eligibility. VA loans generally have more favorable terms than traditional loans.

But the VA requires borrowers who acquire homes with VA loans to occupy those homes.

According to, veterans or active duty personnel must certify they intend to occupy the property as a primary residence. “Essentially, homebuyers have 60 days, which the VA considers a ‘reasonable time,’ to occupy the home after the loan closes,” the site says.

While the VA allows some vets or military members to extend that 60-day period, “occupancy at a date beyond one year is generally unacceptable,” the website says. Such concessions usually address issues arising for members who are deployed, including overseas. reports that the 60-day rule can be waived if a borrower certifies an occupancy date after the VA loan closes. “Generally, the VA does not make exceptions if you want to set an occupancy date for more than 12 months after your loan closes,” the site says.

Waller signed the deed of trust Sept. 30, which indicates a mortgage against the property, and the document was recorded with the Clerk and Recorder’s Office on Oct. 2.

Although Waller’s fiancée is an owner of the LLC, which now owns the Palmer Lake property, she’s not a party to the loan, documents show and Waller confirms.

When the Indy asked Waller about the VA owner-occupancy requirement within 60 days of closing, he seemed to be caught off guard.

“My understanding of all that is they don’t want you getting a VA loan and making it into a rental. That’s not what I’m doing. I had no thought that would be any issue with the loan paperwork at all,” he said. “It is every bit my intent to live in that house once I’m allowed to do so.” That is, after his commissioner term ends in January.

Waller’s residency question was first raised publicly in a May 6 Gazette story. In it, the reporter named Waller’s limited liability company that owns the Palmer Lake house. The Indy is not naming the LLC, because elected officials, law enforcement and some other public officials are entitled to have their home addresses obscured from online public records for safety reasons.

Attacks on public officials are rare but do happen. Colorado Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements was gunned down by an ex-con on his doorstep in March 2013, and District Judge Gilbert Martinez, now retired, escaped injury when a man fired two bullets into his home in October 2001. The man went to prison for murder in another case.

Waller was outraged that The Gazette revealed the name of the LLC, making it easy to identify the address by searching public records, and called to complain. The newspaper removed the LLC reference from its online story about 24 hours after Waller called.

While Waller contends the debate is politically motivated, his Republican opponent pleads ignorance.

“I don’t know who initiated the investigation, but I think it’s important, like any judicial proceeding, to avoid making this a political issue,” Allen said in an email. “We all need to let DA Chostner conduct his investigation, and any questions about the investigation should go through his office.”

Asked why a prosecutor would look into a civil matter, Allen said, “Again, I don’t know who initiated this process nor have I seen whatever it was that kicked this investigation off. I can say though that everything we do as district attorneys is set out by statute so I’m assuming there is statutory authority to allow the investigation to go forward, otherwise there would be no investigation.”

Chostner wouldn’t address why he’s handling a civil matter.

In any event, Waller insists it’s much ado about nothing and that everything is on the “up and up.

“I haven’t done anything wrong at all,” he says. “I have worked as diligently as I possibly could to make sure this was done correctly. Because I love representing my constituents, I pay an extra $2,000 a month [rent] that I otherwise wouldn’t be paying because I want to do this correctly.”

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