Is ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa linked to an anonymous website alleging corruption and misconduct by his successor, Sheriff Bill Elder?
The suggestion emerged during a court appearance Friday at which Maketa’s legal team argued for access to investigative documents into the search for an allegedly missing file said to contain a record of misdeeds by Elder during a previous stint as a sheriff’s supervisor.
In arguing that the county shouldn’t have to provide the documents, Senior Assistant El Paso County Attorney Lisa Kirkman told a judge she fears the information might “appear on a website.”
After the hearing, Kirkman, the county’s liaison to the Sheriff’s Office, confirmed she was referring to an anonymous anti-Elder website that went public earlier this year – the first indication so far that the county believes there is a connection between Maketa and the website, which it has accused of publishing misleading and false claims.
“That is our concern,” Kirkman told the newspaper, declining to specify what evidence the county has, if any, that Maketa has had contacts with the website.
Contacted by email Friday, a website administrator declined to say if Maketa had furnished information to the website to date, but denied any formal ties with him.
“We are not affiliated with Maketa or anyone else; we are a group of individuals who just want the corruption, nepotism, and intimidation at the Sheriff’s Office to stop.”
The statement added: “The real question you need to ask yourself is why is Lisa Kirkman worried about us getting some documents?”
The fresh chapter of the so-called “missing file” saga – which threatened to upend Elder’s successful campaign – came during a more than hourlong hearing in which the judge denied defense motions to move Maketa’s trial to a different county and to throw out some of Maketa’s charges.
Maketa remains on track for a May 31 trial on nine counts, in a wide-ranging case alleging abuse of power and corruption in office.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz agreed to review the documents sought by the defense before making a determination whether the material should be disclosed.
The judge denied Kirkman’s request that the defense team be barred from sharing the information with Maketa directly, in the event he approves the release.
Elder has consistently denied that he was ever the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation while he worked for the Sheriff’s Office. The Gazette previously documented claims from the Maketa administration that Elder was accused of mishandling overtime money while serving as a supervisor in the Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence unit. The newspaper reported that Maketa had accused Elder supporters of stealing the file from a locked room to aid Elder’s chances of being elected.
“There is no change in the sheriff’s stance on the file. There was no file,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby said in a statement Thursday.
She added: “We have no idea who is behind the website. It is a distraction and is not representative at all of the hard-working men and women of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.”
Maketa, 51, appeared in court alongside his wife, attorneys and former sheriff’s investigator Mark Pfoff, who now works as a for-hire computer forensics investigator. Maketa said nothing on his way out of court, and his attorneys declined to answer questions.
In denying a request for a change of venue for Maketa’s trial, Schwartz rejected an argument by Maketa attorney Pamela Mackey of Denver that media coverage has been “pervasive and adverse.”
Instead, the judge ruled that a special questionnaire will be distributed to the jury pool to gauge what they know about the allegations.
The defense’s court filing on the issue is restricted from public access, so it’s unclear if the defense commissioned a phone survey or other polling to support its argument – a step that most legal experts say is necessary to satisfy the burden for moving a trial to a different jurisdiction.
Schwartz said he would entertain a request for a different venue if the court is unable to find neutral jurors.
The judge also denied a request to throw out extortion charges against Maketa. The allegations – which account for two of the six felonies filed against Maketa by an El Paso County grand jury – stem from claims that Maketa told representatives of the jail’s health care contractor, Correctional Healthcare Companies Inc. (CHC), also known as Correct Care Solutions, that he would yank a $5.2 million contract unless the company fired an employee who allegedly crossed Maketa.
That employee, Wendy Habert, was terminated after the alleged threat. Authorities say she was targeted because she refused to back Maketa ally and co-defendant Paula Presley in her bid to succeed Maketa as sheriff.
In arguing that the counts should be dismissed, Maketa attorney David Kaplan said that because Maketa’s signature wasn’t on the jail health care contract, he wouldn’t be in a position to follow through with such a threat.
Kaplan also suggested that even if Maketa did maneuver to cause Habert’s firing, her employment was “at will” and firing her wouldn’t be illegal.
Schwartz said the defense fell short of persuading him the charges were legally insufficient, and that the arguments should be made to a jury.
The judge said he would rule later on a different request by the defense that the case against Maketa should be divided into three trials because it relies on separate groupings of allegations.
Prosecutors disputed there was no common link, saying that all the allegations – from extortion, to kidnapping and official misconduct – happened around the same time, rely on abuse of power and involve overlapping witnesses.
Kaplan suggested that the prosecution wants to try the allegations together as a way of stretching thin evidence.
“They want to lump them together to pile on, to confuse the jury,” he said.
Calling it a “complex legal issue,” Schwartz said he would aim to issue a written ruling within 10 days.
The next hearing in the case is set for April 10 to discuss more defense request for documents. Maketa’s presence was waived, and prosecutors will be permitted to appear by phone.
The case against Maketa is being handled by the 18th Judicial District – comprising Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert, and Lincoln counties – to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest among local prosecutors.
Two former sheriff’s supervisors were indicted alongside Maketa.
Presley, 52, a former undersheriff, and former Cmdr. Juan “John” San Agustin, 47, each face felony counts in the case. They are set to be arraigned May 8, at which time trials are likely to be scheduled.