Tom Huffman, in a heated battle to take the Republican nomination away from incumbent County Commissioner Betty Beedy, has had his dogs poisoned, his mailbox destroyed, his corporate credit card fraudulently used to secure pornographic Web sites and his campaign signs trashed.
Beedy denies any knowledge of the vandalism or threats against her opponent, and denies her volunteers are capable of such actions. She suggests that Huffman -- and the others before him who complained they have been intimidated and their property vandalized -- is just trying to smear her.
But Huffman is merely the latest candidate to take on the County Commissioner from eastern El Paso County and subsequently experience a crime wave against him.
Several of Beedy's past opponents -- including Catherine Rodriguez, who led an unsuccessful recall effort against Beedy two years ago and briefly considered running against her this year -- have also complained that they were the victims of intimidation, threats and destruction to their personal property.
None of her opponents have accused Beedy herself of complicity, but are convinced that her supporters -- or even campaign volunteers -- are behind the dirty tactics.
Rodriguez, who has reportedly moved from the area, could not be reached for comment. But Jim Alice Scott, an activist with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsible County Government, which has endorsed Huffman, said she is familiar with the threats made against both him and Rodriguez.
"The lack of civility is very reprehensible in a democratic society and its troubling to me to learn of this kind of behavior," Scott said.
Scott said that Rodriguez was spooked by the incidents, which included claims that her mail was disappearing, that campaign contributions were intercepted and that her property was vandalized.
"She was very circumspect afterward because it was intimidating and difficult to deal with," Scott said. "She was careful about trying to speak about the circumstances. There was a good bit of apprehension and concern about the welfare of her family so she didn't want to aggravate the situation that was there."
Ashes and smoke
Huffman, a Republican, said he also spoke with Rodriguez about the threats on several occasions. Jimmie Brewer, a Republican who was an early challenger to Beedy this year, also complained of getting threats and of property damage. And, former County Commissioner Loren Whittemore, who held the seat before Beedy was elected, also claimed he was the target of threats. Whittemore, an early proponent of zoning the eastern portion of the county, incited the ire of anti-zoners who were led by Beedy.
Beedy was unsuccessful in a 1992 challenge to Whittemore, but won the seat when he retired four years ago. Despite her strong objections, the majority of the board of county commissioners voted to zone eastern El Paso County last year.
Whittemore previously told the Independent that during the zoning debate, while he was still a county commissioner, he received death threats and that he and his wife would be burned out of their home.
"People were telling me to be careful, and my wife always said that she would not be surprised if we got to the hill [overlooking our home] and all we saw was smoke and ashes."
Huffman said the latest threats have intensified as it gets closer to the Aug. 8 primary.
"There are several things that are common to all her opponents, but what's been happening to me is a little more extreme," he said.
Morals and the law
Huffman recently detailed the "disturbing events" that have occurred over the past several months in a letter sent to "friends and family," and obtained by the Independent.
First, their mailbox was destroyed a couple of times. (No other box in their neighborhood was damaged.) Then, Huffman said he "started getting threatening phone calls -- well-done, caller-ID blocked, no call-back ability, nasty, personal, very serious stuff."
Next, someone rerouted his business cell phone number, and Huffman, a dentist, was unable to tell when his emergency patients were calling him for assistance.
Then, someone obtained a copy of his corporate credit card number and used it to register more than two dozen Web sites -- most of the adult pornographic sites -- in Huffman's name. Huffman said his bank account was temporarily cleaned out from having to cover the autodebit of the credit card bill.
In addition, someone recently destroyed Huffman's 4 feet by 8 feet plywood campaign signs that were anchored into the ground on private land.
Finally, someone poisoned Huffman and his wife's pedigree Elkhound dogs -- which are penned outside -- with what he believes is rat poison. He said he has spent nearly $2,000 in vet bills since the dogs were poisoned.
"One is a dog who will eat anything and became very sick," Huffman said. "We got him into doggie hospital, and the second one didn't show the symptoms so much, but has kidney damage. No other dogs in our neighborhood have gotten sick."
Case still open
El Paso County Sheriff's Lt. Ken Hilte said that the credit card fraud case is still open, and declined to say whether any suspects have been identified. The case of criminal mischief related to the destruction of Huffman's large wooden signs is inactive, with little chance of finding any suspects, he said.
When contacted about the letter and the incidents directed at him, Huffman said he was trying to keep a low-key approach with regard to the vandalism, the poisonings and the credit-card fraud.
"I do not want Betty to turn this around into a vast left-wing conspiracy that most of her followers will blindly follow, and I will not go on record that it's this group of people," Huffman said. "But throughout history we've seen groups of people who have felt their goals justify the means.
"We've seen groups of people who have put themselves above morals and above the law."
Beedy stands for integrity
Huffman said that when he decided to challenge Beedy in the race, he sent a letter to his volunteers clearly stating that he would not tolerate dirty tricks or people removing his opponents' yard signs.
"I wanted to proactively ensure we didn't do that," he said.
This week, Beedy said she has not sent out any similar letter to her own supporters, to let them know that threats and nastiness were not appropriate.
"I didn't send out a letter -- it's just been verbal," Beedy said. "People know my stand for integrity and honesty and I don't believe it's honest when you destroy public campaign signs."
Beedy suggested that Huffman might look inside his own circle of supporters, including his employees and even his patients for clues in the vandalism against him.
As for Huffman's hospitalized dog, Beedy said, "Surely he takes better care of his dog then to leave it out and be poisoned -- that was tongue and cheek."
"Supporters from my campaign won't do that -- most of our people are animal lovers and we don't go after them," she said.
In fact, Beedy said, volunteers from her campaign wouldn't vandalize or threaten her opponent because they believe he is "inconsequential," she said.
"I don't think they will take the time to bother with him," she said.
For her part, Beedy accused her opponent of placing his yard signs in public rights-of-way. Political candidates are only allowed to post their campaign signs on private property with permission. Huffman denies that accusation.
And, despite the threats, the candidate vows to continue the fight against Beedy.
"Someone who messes around with my wife and myself thinking they will intimidate and get me out of this [race] is really sorely mistaken about the people they are messing around with," Huffman said.