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Adams County continues to question treasurer as hunt for unaccounted $215 million intensifies

Adams County government center
Posted at 7:28 PM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-05 21:16:40-05

DENVER — Adams County has been in a holding pattern with the county treasurer Lisa Culpepper for months now. Commissioners have openly wondered if Culpepper is incompetent, and people who trust her to handle their affairs are coming around to the commissioners' line of thinking.

"I sent in five different checks for property taxes for five different properties that we own in Adams County," said Nancy Ciancio. "One or two of them were cashed, and then the others were not."

She tried contacting the Adams County Treasurer's Office, where county taxes are sent for processing, but had no luck.

"Nobody would answer the phone at the Adams County Treasurer's Office, so I would leave messages and never heard back," Ciancio said.

However, she did begin getting notifications from the treasurer's office.

"I noticed that they had added interest and that they marked my accounts delinquent because they had lost my checks and so they figured I hadn't paid when actually I had paid," Ciancio said.

According to Adams County Deputy County Manager Jim Siedlecki, Ciancio wasn't the only one dealing with these issues.

"We have had dozens of similar complaints," Siedlecki said.

Culpepper, who ran as a democrat, was elected treasurer in 2018 and took office in January 2019.

In October, the county filed a lawsuit against Culpepper, alleging she hadn't balanced the county's checkbook since March 2020, which has been overdue for more than a year.

"For the lack of a more difficult term, there's $215 million that is not properly accounted for," Siedlecki said.

As a result, the state may cut off about $2 million dollars in grants from Adams County in the next 12 months, and federal grants may also be impacted.

"We actually are in jeopardy now of the reporting to the state, the reporting to the federal government for grant funding and just generally knowing the whereabouts of $215 million," said Seidlecki. "Not alleging any malfeasance, just inaccurate and poor bookkeeping."

That may be why people like Ciancio had to go through a roller coaster to have their property taxes settled. It took about four months to resolve the matter.

In a statement to Denver7, Culpepper's attorney, J. Kirk McGill, said in part:

"The Treasurer states that she shares the concerns of the taxpayers of Adams County regarding efficient processing of tax payments and recordkeeping — and has been fighting for greater resources (both in personnel and information technology) to ensure smooth operation of these functions.

However, the Treasurer’s Office believes that the Adams County Board of County Commissioners has withheld these resources over the past several years in an attempt to usurp the authority of the Treasurer’s Office by making the Treasurer subordinate to the Commissioners (and certain members of their staff) and entirely beholden to them for resources—which is ultimately bad for the taxpayer as the separation of powers between the Treasurer and the BOCC exists to protect them."

The county was mandated to pay for Culpepper's attorney fees, which has amounted to more than $130,000 for several months of service.

County attorney Heidi Miller was disqualified in December to represent the county in this case because of conflict of interest.

As the county's investigation into Culpepper continues, some property owners like Ciancio will be delivering their property taxes to the treasurer's office by hand in April.