Legal battle, ethics complaint against embattled Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters persist
The 2021 election in Mesa County, and subsequently the question of who would oversee it, may have ended, but the controversy surrounding Republican County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters has not.
The case involving Peters’ counterclaims in response to Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold’s lawsuit is ongoing, with new filings due on Wednesday. The secretary of state’s lawsuit had resulted in a Mesa County District Court judge barring Peters and Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley from administering the Nov. 2 election. A joint federal and state investigation into possible criminal charges against Peters over an alleged election equipment security breach is continuing, according to the district attorney’s office on Friday. A Mesa County activist’s complaint against Peters with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission is pending. And the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office is suing the clerk again, this time for alleged violations of campaign finance law.
The saga with Peters, who was elected to her office in 2018, began when she allegedly allowed an unauthorized man access to a secure area in the county elections office in May — with the help of Knisley and one of the county’s election managers, Sandra Brown, according to the lawsuit — and passwords from the voting systems were posted online in August. Knisley was suspended in August for an unrelated workplace conduct investigation and later charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor cyber crime related to allegedly returning to the office, despite the suspension, and using county equipment.
Although a judge ordered last month that Peters and Knisley not oversee the Nov. 2 election and for former Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams to serve as the designated election official in Mesa County, Peters and her team had filed counterclaims against the secretary of state’s office, including allegations that Griswold illegally removed her and Knisley from their duties and that election records were getting deleted during routine maintenance.
The secretary of state’s office has asked that a judge move the case to Denver District Court since they are allegations against her office if the counterclaims are not dismissed. Peters’ legal team has until Wednesday to respond.
The secretary of state’s elections division filed a second complaint against Peters in the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts on Nov. 5, as reported by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, alleging that although Peters has been soliciting contributions for a 2022 re-election campaign, she hasn’t filed an affidavit with the secretary of state’s office or have an active candidate committee as required by law. She was also soliciting contributions on her candidate website at the time of the filing, according to the lawsuit, which appears to have since been taken down. The lawsuit states that Peters was also asking for money for litigation — the “Stand with Tina” website was still accepting donations as of Friday. It also alleges that she took travel expense contributions from third parties, “including a flight on a private jet and lodging, contributed by Mike Lindell, founder and CEO of MyPillow, in connection with Ms. Peters’ appearance at a Cyber Symposium on or about August 10-12, 2021 and thereafter.” Lindell is a 2020 election conspiracy theorist.
The legal filing comes in response to two complaints from co-chair of the Mesa County Democratic Party Scott Beilfuss on Aug. 16 and Sept. 24 to the secretary of state’s office alleging the campaign and political finance law violations by Peters. Griswold’s office said in the court document that although the division gave Peters time to correct the issues, she did not.
The secretary of state’s office declined to comment on the complaint, but Beilfuss said the violations are clear and “sooner or later, somebody’s going to say enough.” No responses had been filed in the case as of Friday afternoon, according to Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, and the case has not yet been set for a hearing.
Anne Landman, a voter in Mesa County who runs a political blog, filed a complaint against Peters Aug. 27 with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
“She’s doing some things that have all the appearances of at minimum being unethical and at most illegal,” Landman told The Post.
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Executive Director of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission Dino Ioannides declined to discuss if the complaint even exists, saying in an email that a complaint will only become public if the commission deems it non-frivolous.
In her complaint, which she shared with The Post, Landman alleges a violation of state constitutional requirements for limits on local elected officials soliciting or accepting gifts over $50 in a year, citing multiple news stories as well as videos from Lindell.
“It appears Tina Peters has accepted, and is continuing to accept thousands of dollars worth of services, travel, security and favors from Mr. Lindell in violation of the Colorado Constitution,” she wrote.
Although Peters did not return requests for comment for this story, she did make a statement in a press release earlier this week from the “Tina Peters Legal Defense Fund.”
One of Peters’ election managers, Brown, who had been placed on paid leave, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, has since been let go, according to the defense fund. Mesa County Elections Director Brandi Bantz declined to comment on Brown’s status, citing personnel matters, and The Denver Post has filed a records request related to Brown’s employment to the Mesa County attorney’s office. An attorney identified by Peters’ legal defense fund as representing Brown did not return requests for comment.
In the news release, Peters is quoted as saying, “A large portion of my constituents believe the election needs to be investigated. Because I have been willing to do that, the organized left, Lincoln Project Republicans, and the Soros-funded Secretary of State have retaliated against me, and anyone else with the courage to investigate the election results. I will not stand idly by while good, professional county employees are attacked simply for doing their jobs and asking questions.”
She provided no proof of the attacks by the Lincoln Project or funding from billionaire George Soros. Rory McShane, who identified himself as a consultant for the fund, echoed those sentiments in a statement to The Post. The secretary of state’s office did not respond to any of the allegations, including the claim that the firing was the result of Griswold’s actions.
Unlike in August, when Peters was absent from Colorado and often could not be reached even by her own commissioners, Peters has been in Grand Junction and even claimed to county workers after the election that Brown and others would have posted results much more quickly, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
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