Ed Jones is "tough on crime."
So says a campaign flyer distributed in support of the Republican El Paso County commissioner, who is running a tight race against Democratic candidate Tony Marino in Senate District 11.
Ed Jones believes in "personal responsibility."
So says Steve Schuck, the wealthy Colorado Springs developer who is backing Jones' campaign in hopes that his victory will return the Senate majority to the Republican Party.
But there are some things about the two-term commissioner that you won't read in his flyers or hear from his supporters.
For example, the Republican hopeful's campaign isn't likely to announce that two years ago, undercover police repeatedly observed Jones at a bar where, according to a detective, cocaine was sold openly.
His campaign is also unlikely to broadcast that Jones was a longtime friend of the bar owner -- Leonard Carlo, who ran the now-closed Leonard's Bar II on East Platte Avenue and ended up pleading guilty to possessing cocaine -- or that Jones was also a close acquaintance of a career criminal who turned into a snitch and helped police go after Carlo.
And though it's in the public record, Jones prefers not to speak about his own history of breaking the law including his failure to pay federal taxes for eight years, and a series of traffic violations that includes driving without insurance and having invalid license plates on his car. During one of those occasions, he hit a Colorado Springs man, resulting in a $111,000 judgment that Jones has yet to pay off.
Indeed, when Jones was asked to explain his track record last week, his campaign manager, a prominent Republican activist and lawyer named Bob Gardner, took unusual steps to control the potential fallout.
Following the newspaper interview, Gardner immediately placed phone calls to top police department officials, asking that they launch an internal-affairs investigation against a detective who had been interviewed by the Independent regarding Jones' presence at Leonard's Bar II.
And in an equally unusual display of expedience, the commander of the internal affairs division personally conducted an inquiry into the complaint and, though police department investigations can last weeks and even months, reported his findings directly back to the well-placed Gardner within two days.
Commander Robert Ownbey declined to share the results with the Independent, however, noting that internal investigations are off-limits to the public.
Jones himself denies having known that drug sales were taking place at the bar where he was a regular patron.
"I didn't know anything," Jones said in an interview.
His opponent, meanwhile -- who happens to be a former undercover narcotics officer -- said he was troubled by the information about Jones' ties to Carlo.
"I would hope that Commissioner Jones has some explanation for it," Marino said.
Jones has been a county commissioner since 1994 and due to term limits, is leaving his current office to run for Senate. He lists his occupation as "real estate agent," though he has not held a real-estate license in Colorado since 1996.
Marino, a former police officer and television reporter who now runs a local business, also ran in 1996 against incumbent state Sen. MaryAnne Tebedo, in what was at the time a heavily Republican district. The political newcomer garnered 44 percent of the vote to Tebedo's 56 percent.
Marino is widely considered to have a better shot this time around, because Senate District 11, which was redrawn last year, has roughly equal numbers of Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated registered voters.
The race is considered crucial to Colorado's political future, because the outcome could determine which party controls the state Senate for the next two years. For the past two years, Democrats have held a razor-thin, 18-17 majority in the chamber. For the Democrats to retain that majority, it is widely believed that Marino must win.
On the other hand, if Jones wins, Republicans are likely to have complete control of state politics, as they are expected to hang onto their majority in the House of Representatives, and as Republican Gov. Bill Owens is a clear favorite to win re-election in November.
With such high stakes, both parties have declared the Marino-Jones contest a "targeted" race, meaning they'll be dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign advertisements that will saturate the airwaves in weeks to come. This month, Gov. Owens himself -- who is pictured with Jones in a recently distributed campaign flyer -- poured $20,000 into Jones' campaign.
Despite the high stakes, however, Jones' past has generated little publicity until now.
String of incidents
A review of records at the El Paso County Courthouse shows that between 1986 and 1991, Jones committed numerous traffic offenses.
In 1986, a warrant was issued against Jones because his license plates had expired. He pleaded guilty in court and paid a small fine. In 1988, when Jones was pulled over for speeding, he was once again fined for having expired license plates.
In 1989, police cited him for careless driving, driving without insurance, and for having "furnished," or fraudulent, license plates. Jones pleaded guilty to driving without insurance, and the court dismissed the other charges. Court records indicate he served six months of probation and performed 40 hours of community service for that incident.
In 1990, Jones was pulled over once again and cited for driving without insurance, allowing an unauthorized person to drive, and yet another license-plate violation. However, the district attorney dismissed the insurance and license-plate citations.
And in 1991, Jones was cited for violating restrictions on a learner's permit and displaying a fake title or license plates, though the DA ultimately dropped the charges.
In addition, records on file with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder indicate that Jones failed to pay federal income taxes in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and 1990.
In order to force Jones to pay, the Internal Revenue Service filed tax liens against him for each of those years. Some of the liens were not released until 1997.
Very tough times
In a recent interview, Jones acknowledges that he broke the law on several occasions, claiming the incidents were all tied to financial difficulties he experienced because his first wife, Ruby Jones, was severely ill for several years, culminating in her death in 1994, the year Jones was first elected to the Board of County Commissioners.
"I went through some very tough times, and I don't like to talk about this too much, because the pain is still there," Jones said.
Jones' wife was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease in 1984, and for the last six years of her life, Jones says, she lost her motor skills and he had to bathe and feed her. Due to the time he spent caring for his wife, he couldn't make a living as a real-estate agent, he says.
"I was committed to doing what I felt was the best thing, and that was taking care of my wife," Jones said. "And to the point that I lost almost everything that I had financially, but my commitment was to her."
As a result, Jones says, he couldn't afford to pay the IRS.
However, the record shows that Jones failed to pay his taxes four times before his wife fell ill -- in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.
Jones says he has since repaid all of his tax debts.
"It's not OK to not pay your taxes," he said. However, he added, "It was not that I was not paying my taxes because of the fact I wanted to avoid paying taxes. I didn't have the money to pay the taxes."
In addition, records show that between 1980 and 1995, numerous lenders and collection agencies sought, and some of them won, financial judgments forcing Jones to pay outstanding debts.
Jones says his repeated traffic violations were due to the same financial problems.
"I couldn't afford insurance," he said. But he didn't stop driving his car, he insisted, because "I still had to take my wife to the hospital."
Asked how his record reflects on his credibility as a candidate who's "tough on crime" and supports the Republican Party's philosophy of personal responsibility, Jones said he doesn't believe there's a conflict.
"I made the choice [to care for my wife] and I paid the price for it," Jones said. "I accepted the responsibility of the humiliation of not having any money. I accepted the responsibility of the fact that I didn't have money even to hardly feed my wife. But I never accepted a dollar from the government. I could have easily gone on welfare, but I didn't do that."
But asked whether, in retrospect, he made the right decision by not paying his taxes, Jones insists he wasn't responsible for the decision -- because it wasn't a matter of choice.
"I couldn't pay them," he said.
The "little fender-bender"
At least one other person, however, suffered the consequences of Jones' decisions. In 1989, while driving his car despite having no insurance, Jones caused an accident that injured another man.
Jones, in an interview, called the accident a "little fender-bender."
It was, according to court documents, a "fender-bender" that resulted in nearly $20,000 in medical bills for the man he hit. The victim also received a $75,000 insurance payment for "pain and suffering." The man's insurance company, State Farm, sued Jones in 1991 to recover a total of $111,000. Jones filed no response to the lawsuit and was ordered to pay the amount. The court also ordered that Jones' salary be garnished to pay the judgment.
Asked about the circumstances of the accident, Jones declined to elaborate. And when asked if knew the name of the man he injured, he replied, "I can't even remember."
The victim, Carl Cousins, has since died, and his widow declined to speak with the Independent. A spokesman for State Farm said the company would not discuss the case due to privacy concerns.
Jones has still not paid the full judgment. He says he has made regular payments to State Farm and continues to do so.
A matter of judgment
Jones' association with Carlo, the owner of Leonard's Bar II, goes back more than 30 years. Jones frequented every bar that Carlo had run since the 1960s and was a regular at his last bar, Carlo says.
"Leonard is a good friend of mine," said Jones.
Carlo, likewise, says Jones was a "true friend" of his and that the two went together to fund-raisers for Jeanne Smith, a Republican activist who is currently the district attorney for the 4th Judicial District.
Carlo briefly gained national fame in 1999, when Colorado state liquor agents confiscated 29 signs containing obscene language from his bar, citing a regulation against profanity in bars. Carlo was known to be fond of the word "f**k," and the bar had numerous, prominently displayed signs containing that and other obscene words.
He got his signs back, however, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which argued successfully that the signs were protected under the First Amendment.
Jones says he had no qualms about hanging out in the bar, whose signs also depicted photographs of women who were characterized using the extraordinarily derogative four-letter word that begins with the letter "C."
"That's free speech," Jones said. "Because a person has a potty mouth does not mean that they're bad people. ... I didn't have a problem with that."
Carlo, meanwhile, was back in trouble by the summer of 2000, when police began an undercover investigation into allegations that he was running a major drug-dealing ring out of his bar.
An acquaintance of Carlo's named Randall Lee Smith -- a longtime criminal who was on probation at the time and is not related to Jeanne Smith -- told police he knew about drug deals at Leonard's Bar II and agreed to become an informer. He was facing an upcoming prison stint for a probation violation and was hoping for a short sentence in exchange for helping the police, records show.
Jones says he also knows Randall Smith, whose long criminal history includes convictions for theft, aggravated robbery and felony menacing. Randall Smith has also been accused of cheating an elderly woman out of $75,000 and is currently awaiting trial on charges of swindling $31,000 from another man.
"I know Randall real well," Jones said.
In fact, according to Carlo, Jones once wrote a letter of reference for Randall Smith, testifying to his good character.
Police launched their drug investigation at Leonard's Bar II in June of 2000. According to police reports, Smith and an undercover officer purchased cocaine on numerous occasions from Carlo and his bartenders over the next few months. The investigation ended in October of 2000, when, according to the reports, Carlo began suspecting Randall Smith was a snitch and assaulted him with a sawed-off pool cue.
Police raided Leonard's Bar II, and the district attorney's office charged Carlo with 21 criminal counts, including racketeering, illegal weapons possession, cocaine distribution, robbery, and witness intimidation and retaliation. But in the end, Carlo cut a deal with the prosecutors and pleaded guilty to just one charge -- possession of cocaine. Carlo denies having broken any laws whatsoever, though he says Randall Smith did buy drugs from his bartenders.
According to the undercover officer leading the investigation, Colorado Springs Police Det. Richard DuVall, Jones was present on several of the occasions when purchases took place, sometimes across the bar.
"He was present for at least four that I'm aware of," DuVall said, emphasizing that he was speaking from memory.
DuVall said he had no evidence to indicate that Jones was involved in any drug deals. "He was just another patron," the detective said. "There were a number of other patrons present in the bar as well."
However, asked whether he believed the bar's regulars generally knew what was going on, DuVall replied, "That's a matter of opinion, but I certainly felt that myself, yes."
Asked specifically whether Jones observed any drug deals, DuVall replied, "I wouldn't be able to say. That would be a matter of judgment."
Thrown to the dogs
According to videotaped testimony by Randall Smith, cocaine was regularly sold across the bar at Leonard's Bar II; employees often talked about drug deals; and Carlo, his bar employees and Randall Smith himself frequently used cocaine in the bar's office.
Yet despite being a regular, a close friend of Carlo's and a longtime acquaintance of Randall Smith's, Jones says he didn't suspect anything illegal was occurring at his frequent hangout.
Carlo also says Jones didn't know about any drug deals.
Since his arrest, however, Carlo says Jones began acting as though they'd never known each other. "He threw me to the dogs," Carlo complained.
Jeanne Smith, the district attorney, confirms that Jones had been at Leonard's Bar II when drug deals went down. "The issue of Commissioner Jones being in the bar was brought to our attention," she said in an interview.
But there was no reason to charge Jones, Smith said. "I was not presented with any information showing that we could prove he had knowledge of those transactions."
In addition, Smith noted, "You have to show that a person is a party to the transaction in order for there to be criminal responsibility."
Marino, meanwhile, speaking hypothetically, said that if Jones or anyone else had known about drug deals and didn't report it, it would be a matter of concern.
"Selling drugs is a felony, and I don't think any public official should witness a felony and not report it," Marino said.
Attempts to determine whether, or how often, Jones appeared in police reports detailing the sting operation leading to the raid were unsuccessful. In response to a request filed under Colorado's Open Records Act to review the reports, the CSPD released the reports but blacked out large sections including several entire pages without providing any explanation.
There is evidence that sections describing Jones' presence may be among those blacked out. Jeanne Smith, in an interview, said his presence was described in the police reports -- but the portions released to the Independent contain no such descriptions.
Meanwhile, police officers who were involved in the undercover sting were hesitant to discuss the case in great detail.
"You understand the fine line I'm walking here, right?" Det. DuVall said.
Deputy Jared Rivera of the Teller County Sheriff's Office, who filed a report stating he had bought drugs at Leonard's Bar II while working undercover for the interagency Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence unit, would not discuss the case at all.
"Man, I've got to stay away from that," Rivera said. "I'm sorry."
Randall Smith, who was released from prison in August, could not be reached for comment on the matter. And others didn't return phone calls from the Independent, including City Manager Lorne Kramer -- who was police chief during the Carlo investigation -- and Kurt Pillard, commander of the Metro vice unit.
Marino says he has been aware for some time of Jones' past financial problems and numerous traffic violations, but adds that he doesn't plan to use any of it as a campaign issue. Nor, he says, will he make an issue out of Jones' connection to Carlo, which he says he had not heard of previously.
"My campaign has no plans to bring up any of these things about Commissioner Jones," Marino said. "We want to stick to the issues."
As for his own past brushes with the law, in 1993 and 1994 Marino was a co-defendant in a series of suits brought against a business in with which he was involved, related to a contract dispute. Though the plaintiffs won about $10,000, Marino says he was personally dismissed from the case.
"There was no judgment against me," he said.
A few years earlier, in 1989, Marino was ordered to pay $185 in small claims court to a former landlord, resulting from in a dispute over a lease agreement.
The politics of personal responsibility
Several prominent Republicans, some of whom are familiar with at least portions of Jones' record, have lined up behind his candidacy.
Jeanne Smith has contributed $100 to Jones' campaign fund, records show. Gov. Owens recently made his big donation, and Schuck, the developer, has sponsored several fund-raisers for Jones at his home.
Owens did not return repeated phone calls to his office and campaign staff seeking comment for this story.
Schuck, meanwhile, said he didn't consider anything about Jones' past to "disqualify him from being a good public official."
He said he was aware of Jones' past financial problems. "Breaking the law is never OK," Schuck said. But given the circumstances in Jones' case, "It's understandable, and he's a human being who has shortcomings just like the rest of us."
Jones' need to care for his wife didn't excuse his transgressions, but it does explain them, Schuck said.
Regarding Jones' ties to Carlo and Randall Smith, Schuck said he didn't know enough about the matter to discuss it. "I don't know the circumstances," Schuck said. "So I just have no basis on which to comment."
Jones himself, meanwhile, says he doesn't believe his record will take away from his credibility as a senator, if he's elected.
"I don't think that there's nobody up at the state, I don't think there's nobody even in national government, that's perfect," Jones said.
Jones, Marino differ on key questions
The high-profile race between Republican Ed Jones and Democrat Tony Marino may determine which party controls the state Senate for the next two years.
Consequently, it may also decide whether Colorado adopts school vouchers or "right-to-work" laws restricting union organizing.
Observers on both sides agree that if the GOP takes back the Senate -- which they lost two years ago for the first time in 40 years -- the party will likely push for laws to allow vouchers or make it harder for unions to organize. Democrats, if they retain their current 18-17 majority, are likely to block such proposals.
Though both are described as moderates, Jones and Marino reflect their respective party lines on those issues. Accordingly, voucher proponents are among Jones' major campaign contributors, and unions have given generously to Marino.
But the two also differ on a range of other issues that will be high on the agenda when the Legislature reconvenes in January. Among them are:
Budget cuts:Next year's state budget may have to be cut by as much as $388 million.
Marino says he'd like to cut travel and entertainment for state employees. Also, "I think hiring freezes are appropriate," he added.
Jones says he has no specific proposals. In general, he said, "I think what we have to do is prioritize it. Surely, I'm not going to want to cut anything in education or transportation. I think maybe we could look at items that may be nonessential. Maybe we do have some fluff up there that we can probably take a look at. But, and also, I wouldn't cut anything that has to do with the health and safety of the public. Just prioritize it and see what's the best way to go. But the education and transportation piece is a very important piece."
Education: Jones says he favors "school choice," including charter schools and vouchers.
"It should be a choice for parents to be able to send their kids to schools for better education if they don't feel like they're getting one in the public schools," he said.
Marino opposes vouchers. "I am adamantly opposed to using taxpayer money to support private or religious schools," he said.
Marino also wants to revise the CSAP tests. Instead of being used to evaluate entire schools, they should be used to develop "educational plans" that can help each individual student achieve progress, he said.
Health care: As health-care insurance premiums skyrocket, growing numbers of Coloradans lack health insurance. Marino says lawmakers might need to reconsider laws that mandate certain types of health-insurance coverage. They should also study various health-care models to try to find a solution that's "not socialized medicine, but something affordable," he said.
Jones said many people simply choose to forgo insurance.
"More and more people don't buy the health insurance because some of them refuse to take health insurance, and I think we have a lot of young workers out there who probably does not look at it the same way as I would in my age, making sure that I have that," Jones said. "They'd rather just go ahead and take that money and hope that they are, you know, they're immune from having any problems and stuff. So I think it's a matter of that. I think also, too, it's that, sure, there are some things I think that we need to take a look at and have some dialogue on about health insurance, but I'm sure not for socialistic insurance."
Transportation: Jones says adequate transportation funding for El Paso County has been secured, though the funds have been delayed. He says Democrats controlling the state Senate have held up the money, and he also attributes the funding delays to the state's weakened economy.
Marino, meanwhile, says money that should have gone to El Paso County has been siphoned off to fund T-REX, the project to expand Interstate 25 through Denver, which is over budget. "The money that was promised to El Paso County ... needs to be restored," Marino said.
-- Terje Langeland
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