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(This story was revised on April 19 to reflect the Sheriff's Office correcting erroneous information provided earlier.)

It was either a bold or terrible choice.

At last month's El Paso County Republican Party assembly, county commissioner candidate Karen Magistrelli selected registered sex offender Dwight David Dorty to stand before hundreds and read a letter of support written by former state Sen. Dave Schultheis.

After finishing the letter, Dorty spoke on his own behalf.

"And I am honored to second her nomination," he said, "because I'm one of those people whose lives were dramatically changed by the love that Karen and Bob have for our Lord. So don't let anybody tell you that she runs a dirty business up there. She runs a soul-saving, life-changing ministry."

The 55-year-old Dorty was referring to High Winds, the Magistrellis' Christian residential facility for men leaving prison. A private nonprofit on 144 acres of donated land near Woodland Park, neither licensed nor funded by the state, High Winds has been Dorty's home for about four years. He's there after nearly 14 years imprisoned for sexual assault against a minor.

Kay Rendleman, a former county GOP chair and supporter of Magistrelli's primary opponent, Commissioner Sallie Clark, says she had no idea about Dorty's past when he spoke that day. But when she later came across his photo on the sex offender registry, she wanted everyone to know the Magistrellis had endangered any children who'd been at the assembly.

Rendleman says this has nothing to do with politics. She watched a family member struggle after being sexually assaulted as a minor, she says, adding, "I wasn't going to let political correctness keep me from letting people know that their kids were at risk."

Magistrelli doesn't believe anyone was at risk. Neither does her husband, Bob.

"We aren't naïve," he says. "Dave's been here four years, so we know him pretty well. Give us a little credit for a little judgment."

Tips and investigations

Since the assembly, the Indy has been contacted at least four times with requests to report on Magistrelli's past, as well as on her current occupation. Notably, we received an anonymous letter about Dorty, which came with a screen shot of his sex-offender registration. And last week, more material came from Don Schley, a self-described neighborhood activist who has opposed privately run, faith-based halfway homes. He also has a history of supporting Clark.

Schley wrote, in part, that Magistrelli is "in the business of housing convicted sex felons (pedophiles)" and that she "has a past of abusing foster kids." He included documents from two 1990s investigations conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office involving the Magistrellis' former home for foster children, High Winds Youth Group Home.

One involved allegations of physical and sexual abuse, dismissed as unfounded and never prosecuted. The other focused on an underground root cellar, roughly 5 feet by 5 feet and 6 feet tall, where the Magistrellis would send rowdy children to cool off. After review, the district attorney's office chose not to prosecute.

The Magistrellis were still facing the loss of their license and were scheduled to go before an administrative law judge, but opted instead to relinquish the license in late 1995. The case was dropped.

Magistrelli still has a 1997 letter from the state Department of Human Services that appears to show that the state expunged all charges of wrongdoing. But getting DHS to confirm that is impossible, says spokeswoman Liz McDonough, because DHS shreds documents related to foster-care homes five years after they close.

Last week, two law enforcement officers visited High Winds. The Magistrellis' daughter, Gina, and her husband live nearby on the High Winds property, and have a toddler; one resident, Rodney Phillips, is still on parole, and is barred from going to places frequented by minors.

According to Phillips and Magistrelli, the officers (perhaps including a parole officer) informed Phillips that he'd have to move out. He has since been relocated to a motel, where parole is paying for a week's stay. Unemployed, and with five months left on parole, he isn't sure what will happen afterward.

Initially the El Paso County Sheriff's Office told the Independent that one of its deputies had been involved with that visit. But the Sheriff's Office later called back, after this story was published, to say that was not the case.

Conservative values

Schultheis says he didn't know Dorty was going to read his letter.

"I don't personally see this as any blight on Magistrelli's character," he says. "I see her as a very caring individual, and one that is trying to do her part in helping those that are down-and-out, and people no one really wants to help. And I really commend her for that. She is really driven by her faith to do this."

He believes that the Clark campaign is feeding information to media. "Why else would this come up?" he asks.

Clark, however, denies any knowledge of a whisper campaign.

"This isn't related to me," Clark says. "[Magistrelli has] certainly made it very public that she houses sex offenders. But this doesn't have anything to do with me."

And while Magistrelli believes that Clark's campaign is driving this agenda, she suspects it will backfire.

"There may not be a lot of people who understand what we do, but there are people who value what we do," Magistrelli says. "We're helping people who can't help themselves.

"A conservative value is that we want our streets safe, so we build big prisons. We're going broke because of those big prisons. I say, let's keep our streets safe because we are going to bring them into our home. We're going to monitor them, watch them. ... I am saying, let the private sector do what it can do, and help these men become accepted as part of society."

chet@csindy.com

  • Commissioner candidate Karen Magistrelli becomes the focus of a whisper campaign.

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