DA investigates whether Secretary of State Gessler used state funds to attend political events

Gessler reimbursed for Republican Convention trip

DENVER - Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey's office said Monday is conducting a criminal investigation into whether Secretary of State Scott Gessler violated the law by using state funds to attend Republican political events.

The district attorney's action came on the same afternoon the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission voted to investigate Gessler's use of state funds to travel to Florida for a Republican election law training event and the Republican National Convention in August.

The commission, on a 4-0 vote, decided that a complaint filed by the left-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch against Gessler, a Republican, was "not frivolous" and directed its staff to investigate it.

Last month, Ethics Watch sent a letter to the district attorney and Denver Police Chief Robert White asking them to investigate whether Gessler misappropriated state funds for "personal or political use" when he was reimbursed for the Florida trip and then made "false statements" on his travel expense reimbursement request.

District attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough confirmed a criminal investigation had been launched into Gessler's expense reimbursements.

"The review of the allegations was finished about a week ago and it was determined a formal investigation was warranted," Kimbrough said in a text. "There is no time frame for the investigation."

Gessler's spokesman, Rich Coolidge, told the Denver Post, "We welcome a thorough review."

Gessler attended the Republican National Lawyers Association election law training on Aug. 24-25 in Sarasota, where he stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, according to his requests for state reimbursement.

Gessler was reimbursed for $1,452 from his office's discretionary account for the "RNLA/RNC Trip," according to state records. His office also paid $422 out of its regular budget for a flight change fee when Gessler flew home a day earlier from Republican convention.

Last month, Gessler told 7NEWS he left the Republican convention early to fly home after his family received death threats.

In his Sept. 6 letter requesting state reimbursement, Gessler wrote that he was providing "supporting documentation for expenses incurred in pursuance of state business. These expenses were incurred while meeting with constituents, county clerks, lobbyists, staff and legislators to discuss state business." 

Gessler certified that "no claims are made for expenses of a personal or political nature," according to the Ethics Watch complaint.

Yet, Ethics Watch said the Republican National Lawyers Association describes itself as a private organization of lawyers dedicated to "advancing Republican ideals (through) a nationwide network of supportive lawyers who understand and directly support Republic policy, agendas and candidates."

At the RNLA's election law conference, Gessler spoke on a panel on "The Department of Justice, the Role of the States and Voter ID."

Gessler then traveled to Tampa to spend a week during the Republican National Convention there, according to his reimbursement request.

At the convention, Gessler attended an "RNLA Reception Honoring the Romney Legal Team at the RNC," according to his expense report.

Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro said, "Ethics Watch believes the Secretary's Florida trip was manifestly personal and political, in which he participated only in partisan events, not in pursuit of state business."

"Between law enforcement and the state Ethics Commission, we expect a thorough investigation of this important public corruption case," Toro added.

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