COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- If someone's ever done you wrong, and you're like Bo Mullis, you expect them to pay for what they did. But Mullis, like many crime victims in Colorado, is getting stiffed on what he's owed.
The Denver7 Investigates team traveled the state and the country to expose shortcomings in Colorado's restitution system -- the system that's designed to make victims financially whole again.
Mullis spends time in his home repairing old radios and collecting neon signs. Roughly a decade ago, he needed more space for them and decided to hire a contractor to build an addition to his garage and a new deck.
The contractor, Chris Langlais, completed some of the work, but never completed the whole job.
Ultimately, Langlais was convicted in a scheme involving more than a dozen victims, including Mullis, and was ordered to pay roughly $150,000 in restitution.
To date, according to court records, Langlais still owes nearly the same amount due to accrued interest.
“I want to see him held accountable. He's either going to pay, or he should do the time for it,” Mullis said.
Prosecutors feel the same way.
“Right now, there's no way that we have to compel that person to pay him,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Amy Fitch said. Her staff prosecuted the Langlais case in Colorado Springs.
She said because Langlais's conviction is nearly a decade old, and since he's long past his probation period, state law lets him skip his payments without any consequences.
“And it's very frustrating when you've been harmed and you want to be made whole again and this defendant has figured out the perfect loophole to get away with it,” Fitch said.
What's particularly frustrating to her are the public records that show Langlais currently lives in a large, stately home in suburban Pittsburgh, Penn.
The Denver7 Investigates team traveled to Pennsylvania last month in an effort to speak with Langlais and understand why he hasn't paid on his case in years.
On the first day, no one answered the door at the Langlais home though someone was seen inside.
On the second day, Langlais's neighbors said they decided to notify law enforcement of Denver7's presence in the neighborhood.
Law enforcement never contacted or approached the Denver7 Investigates team.
The team spotted a van hurriedly leaving the Langlais home. Langlais never responded to multiple requests for comment before or after.
Denver7 Investigates uncovered a record trail of debt involving Langlais. He went through bankruptcy in 2013. He bought the home last year. Then, earlier this year, he faced foreclosure.
To avoid foreclosure, public records show Langlais successfully secured emergency assistance from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
Langlais's use of other people's money to bail himself out of debt is why there's so much frustration in Colorado.
“It's not surprising, it's extremely disappointing, and it is frustrating,” Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council, said of the restitution system on the whole.
The Council is the legislative mouthpiece for district attorneys across Colorado.
Raynes is not an expert on the Langlais case, but said he recognizes the frustration people have with it.
The Denver7 Investigates team learned there are nearly 90,000 cases like the Langlais case in Colorado -- enough victims to exceed the seating capacity of Mile High Stadium. They're also owed enough money to build the stadium twice again -- nearly $818 million.
“I mean, I think if there's one place where the criminal justice system truly fails, it's the victims,” Raynes said.
He said the Colorado Legislature routinely makes life easier for criminals. Less than two years ago, he and other district attorneys say it passed a bill that essentially keeps criminals out of jail if they're unable to pay “monetary amounts” to the court.
"Which is so broad that it then swallows the term ‘restitution,'" he said.
Raynes acknowledged that the bill was designed to prevent poor people from being jailed for not being able to afford court costs and fees. However, he says it creates a legal roadblock in efforts made to collect restitution payments from people who are willfully not paying despite having the means to do so.
“We have to try and hold these people accountable for what they've done and for what they've done for others,” Raynes said. “And we have to try and give victims the ability to get something if it's there. I think we have to maintain this effort. It's an imperfect effort. It's an imperfect system. But if we can get 50 or 60 percent of the restitution owed to victims paid, that's better than none.”
“It's very shameful,” Fitch said of the Legislature. “It's very shameful.”
She joins her colleagues in saying legislators need to place a greater emphasis on helping crime victims once again.
“They need to go back and re-read their legislative declaration when they instituted the restitution bill that talks about the fact that victims deserve to be made whole, that defendants need to pay restitution in order to be rehabilitated ... that recidivism is reduced when people pay restitution, that there are lots of good things that come out of restitution,” she said. “They need to say, ‘Hey, victims, you didn't choose to be victimized. This defendant chose to victimize you. You're going to be our priority.’”
She said Coloradans need to realize they could be victims too.
“Imagine that you're living your daily life and something happens to you that's out of your control that cuts into, you know, your finances,” Fitch said. “Let's say that somebody does you $10,000 or $15,000 worth of harm, or more -- we have cases where it's over $100,000 -- you can't recoup that money. It completely changes your life. You have to downsize, you have to adjust to that loss, and then imagine that the person is convicted of having done that to you, ordered to pay restitution, and then finds a slick way to get out of it. How frustrating would that be? How unfair is that?”
She said it's simply not fair what happened to the Mullis family. Until something changes, the fear is Mullis may never get back what he deserves.
“What's his lesson? What has he learned?” Mullis asks of Langlais. “He's learned that, ‘I can go in and I can do things to rob people, to commit fraud, and I'm not going to be held accountable.’”
Court administrators told the Denver7 Investigates team that state collections investigators had “maintained contact” with Langlais over the years and that there had been various payment plans in place -- including during a period Langlais was unemployed.
Mullis, however, said he hasn't received any restitution checks in years. The first check he received was a week and a half after Denver7 visited Langlais's home -- a check for $100.
Coincidentally, court administrators said Langlais agreed to a new payment plan at the same time.
The Denver7 Investigates team made multiple, specific inquiries to state court administrators about the systemic concerns raised by crime victims and prosecutors, but they did not address them. In fact, when asked if they would speak on-camera, court spokesperson Rob McCallum said, “Thank you for asking, but no.”