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Legislator calls for audit of Colorado system designed to make crime victims financially whole

Posted: 3:17 PM, Dec 22, 2017
Updated: 2017-12-22 22:17:49Z

DENVER -- At least one Colorado lawmaker is calling for the legislature to address shortcomings in the state's restitution system in the wake of a Denver7 investigation. The system is designed to make crime victims financially whole, but many of them feel as though convicted criminals are getting too good of a deal.

The Denver7 Investigates team profiled cases where criminals appear to have the means to pay at least a portion of their court-ordered restitution, but are not.

If there's anyone in a position of power who places crime victims first, it's Colorado State Senator Rhonda Fields. She said the court restitution system deserves a closer look again.

"Basically, it just tells me that we have a gap," she said of Denver7's reporting. "We have a leak as it relates to how we're trying to make victims whole after being harmed by crime."

Fields's son, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, were murdered in 2005 just days before he was scheduled to testify as a key witness in the murder of his best friend.

Since then, the Aurora lawmaker has worked to improve various facets of the state's criminal justice system and said she can understand the frustration expressed over the restitution system.

"Because the stories that you've highlighted indicates that we really do have a problem," Fields said.

Denver7 found crime victims owed tens of thousands of dollars -- ranging from cases involving burglary to late-night, high-speed car collisions.

Jenni and Justin Mortimeyer have received only $34 of the roughly $9,000 they're owed from a driver who hit them several years ago.

Mistina Sarvari has received only $25 of roughly $22,000 from a man who burglarized and ruined her home business more than a decade ago.

In the most alarming example, Bo Mullis in Colorado Springs is owed tens of thousands of dollars from a one-time contractor, Chris Langlais, who was convicted of taking his money but never completing work on his home.

"Pretty much, just in my opinion, just putting a thumb to the world," Mullis said of Langlais.

Langlais bought and lives in a stately home in suburban Pittsburgh, Penn. He did not answer the door when Denver7 Investigates stopped by in October, but cut a $100 restitution check days after the visit.

"I want to see him held accountable," Mullis said. "He's either going to pay, or he should do the time for it."

Colorado prosecutors have repeatedly told Denver7 that Colorado law does not allow them the enforce restitution orders nearly as effectively as they'd like.

Sen. Fields would like the legislature to call for an audit of the system when it convenes in mid-January. She wants to see the state account for the time, money and headaches it's causing victims who simply want the money they're owed.

"It's re-victimizing that victim," Fields said of the current process.  "It's fatiguing when you describe what you just did in reference to what someone has to go through just to restore themselves."

The State Court Administrator's office has repeatedly turned down Denver7's requests for an interview to discuss the nuances of the restitution system.