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March 11, 2020 News » Cover Story

Teller County sheriff runs several businesses on the side, billing clients millions of dollars, while serving as elected sheriff 

SIDE HUSTLE

click to enlarge Sheriff Jason Mikesell - COURTESY TELLER COUNTY
  • Courtesy Teller County
  • Sheriff Jason Mikesell

Jason Mikesell might be watching you.

But is he conducting surveillance as Teller County sheriff? Or is he doing so as head of his private company, which employs a stable of local peace officers now in hot water over their part in Mikesell’s profit-making enterprises?

As sheriff, a post he’s held since being appointed in May 2017, Mikesell is paid $104,889 by county taxpayers.

But as owner and chief executive officer of iXero LLC and at least seven other firms he owns, the sky’s the limit.

Described as “the world’s premiere [sic] security provider,” iXero commanded nearly $500,000 for one 30-day contract and landed a $3.5 million security job in a West Coast school district.

Public records document that Mikesell has spent hundreds of hours working for his side businesses’ clients while serving as sheriff. In the past 15 months, he's made several real estate deals in Woodland Park on property totaling $1.5 million, including a luxury home and two commercial properties.

In his moonlighting job, Mikesell offers a range of services to clients worldwide through a web of private companies, several of which he established after pinning on his sheriff’s badge.

The menu includes surveillance, appraisal of security gaps for businesses and schools, security training and, as one of his associates put it, investigating “high-end financial crimes.”

To carry out that work, Mikesell relies on “the best and most experienced security professionals from the military, law enforcement, and cyber security fields,” his iXero website says.

Some of those were plucked from the elite Metropolitan Vice, Narcotics & Intelligence Division (Metro VNI), comprising officers from Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD), El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) and the Fountain Police Department.

And several EPSO and CSPD officers working under Mikesell’s private umbrella found themselves under investigation for alleged policy infractions, including surveilling people on Mikesell’s behalf and affixing tracking devices to “target” vehicles without the owners’ knowledge.

But none of that bothers Mikesell, who says no laws were broken and if those officers failed to get permission to work for him off-duty, it’s not his fault.

“So I did hire folks from El Paso County and Colorado Springs, off-duty deputies and off-duty officers,” he says in an interview. “That has nothing to do with the [Teller County] Sheriff’s Office. This was a private deal. And they did a good job. I have nothing to hide with that.” (It’s worth noting that Mikesell refused to provide a full list of EPSO deputies who worked for his company, and other documentation, to the IA investigator.)

While a leading ethics expert says Mikesell’s simultaneous career tracks raise “lots of red flags,” Mikesell doesn’t see it that way, and doesn’t think Teller County taxpayers do either.

“The issue is, it’s a private company,” he says. “Why should they have issues with a private company? It doesn’t interfere with anything that I do here at the sheriff’s office.”

click to enlarge "No sheriff works 24 hours a day." - COURTESY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy Sheriff's Office
  • "No sheriff works 24 hours a day."

Mikesell’s two worlds — as sheriff and entrepreneur — collided when it came to light that CSPD and EPSO detectives worked for Mikesell’s private businesses. Both departments opened internal affairs (IA) investigations to delve into whether the arrangement violated policy, the law or both. Both departments require prior approval for outside work. While EPSO bars working as an investigator on the side, CSPD allows it only outside the 4th Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties.

EPSO spokesperson Jackie Kirby says two deputies were disciplined, two reserve officers resigned, one deputy was exonerated, and a third reserve officer remains with the department.

The CSPD investigation is pending.

According to the 28-page EPSO report obtained by the Indy — with many names and other material redacted — the iXero arrangement came to light when the estranged wife of a CSPD detective called CSPD’s internal affairs department on Sept. 9, 2019, to report that her husband and other Metro VNI members were working for Mikesell “without the knowledge of their home agencies.”

Five Metro VNI members were named, including Phil Gurnett with EPSO. Later, IA investigators discovered at least five other EPSO employees also worked for Mikesell. The number under investigation at CSPD remains under wraps.

EPSO’s IA investigator, Sgt. Aric Powell, determined that none of the EPSO deputies had obtained Colorado private investigator licenses, which would have violated department policy. But his report says CSPD’s IA investigator, Sgt. Shannon Snuggs, discovered four CSPD employees had become licensed PIs in August. Records show the state issued PI licenses to CSPD officers Larry LeRoy Dyer Jr., Michael Harold Garnett, Reuben Crews and Gregory Scott Reeder during that month. Teller County Sheriff’s Commander Greg Couch, who also works for Mikesell’s side businesses, obtained a private investigator license on Aug. 7, 2018, and renewed it June 1, 2019.

Powell’s investigation found only one deputy associated with Mikesell’s company, Sgt. Greg White, followed policy by getting permission. He told Powell he worked off-duty hours from home and used vacation days twice to visit the project site in California. He said his work involved "reviewing policies, response plans" and reviewing school security and law enforcement response but no private investigation work.

But records obtained by the Indy show Mikesell billed a client for 70 hours of White’s time logged from Jan. 6 to Feb. 6, 2019, which predated White’s Feb. 9 outside-work request being approved by then-Undersheriff Joe Breister.

A 17-year veteran of EPSO who works on the bomb squad, White tallied 278 hours of work during 63 days from January through July for Mikesell’s iXero company, records show. iXero’s invoices show Mikesell billed $180 per hour for White’s work, or $50,040 during that six months, while White told Powell he was paid $25,000 for his iXero work. (An EPSO sergeant earns $89,835 a year.)

White was exonerated by Powell's investigation.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop on Dublin Boulevard served as a meeting place for those working for Mikesell, the IA investigation revealed. Then-Metro VNI Detective Phil Gurnett, a 22-year EPSO employee, admitted to Powell he used his department cell phone to find directions to Fuzzy’s.

He also admitted to using his work cell phone to search for information about an iXero surveillance “target” — an elderly man in Denver — at least three times in July 2019.

Moreover, while in Denver for a Metro VNI operation, he used his work vehicle, while on duty, to meet up with a trash worker in connection with the iXero surveillance work. “Det. Gurnett paid [name redacted] $100 each time to pick up trash from a residence and bring it to him so he could go through the trash looking for indicia,” Powell’s report says.

Asked what he found, Gurnett said, “Weird stuff, like, uh, people doing business in, uh, Saudi Arabia, um, oil-type business, there was like ... like, weird contracts and stuff.” Though he said he found “nothing criminal,” he did identify items he thought suggested “they were doing fraudulent business.”

Gurnett, who worked for iXero in 2018 and 2019, said his “pattern-of-life” surveillance work charted his targets’ comings and goings. In one case, he watched “a family [that] had a 36 million dollar civil suit against them ... which the [name redacted] family failed to pay. The surveillance was to determine if the [name redacted] family was hiding money from the client.” In another assignment, he monitored a man whom he characterized as “like a Harvard lawyer” who “owed large sums of money.”

Gurnett even went to Florida for 10 days to track a target for iXero, and one operation called for him to install a tracking device on a vehicle. For his 65 days of work, Mikesell’s company paid him $14,000.

Gurnett told Powell he had “no good reason” for not seeking permission and was “guilty as charged.” He quit iXero in August 2019.

The Sheriff’s Office found Gurnett violated policy and issued him a letter of reprimand, reassigning him from Metro VNI to patrol indefinitely.

click to enlarge Sheriff Jason Mikesell and his wife Pamela purchased this property at 110 W. Midland Ave. for $425,000 in 2018. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sheriff Jason Mikesell and his wife Pamela purchased this property at 110 W. Midland Ave. for $425,000 in 2018.

Deputy Mark Stevens, a 17-year EPSO veteran, followed the rules in 2009 and again in September 2019 for pursuing outside work teaching hunter education and firearms safety.

But when iXero came knocking, he didn’t seek permission, because the opportunity arose quickly and he viewed it as a “one-time deal.” He said he initially didn’t realize the job required surveillance, but he, too, placed a tracking device on a vehicle in Denver amid an iXero investigation.

“In reference to the tracker usage,” the IA report says, “Dep. Stevens said [name redacted] told him ‘Everything’s legitimate.’”

Stevens also conducted surveillance in California in February 2019 for iXero during which he contacted a female CSPD analyst, who also worked for iXero, he told Powell. He gave the analyst a person’s name, and she sent him the person’s address via text. Stevens said he didn’t know how the analyst obtained the address.

Stevens said iXero paid him $3,000 to $3,500 for the two surveillance jobs. Asked why he didn’t ask permission, Stevens told Powell, “It was an error in judgement [sic].”

Found to be in violation of policies, Stevens was issued a letter of reprimand and was reassigned from training to patrol. He’s also barred from outside employment for a year.

Besides White, Gurnett and Stevens, EPSO investigated three reserve deputies, all of whose names are redacted from the IA report because they’re not full-time employees, says Kirby.

One told Powell he serves as a high-ranking iXero officer and was paid $850 a day. He described Mikesell’s company as “basically a security company” which also conducted “domestic surveillance [investigative] projects.”

“We have a bunch of VNI guys working a surveillance job in Denver,” the reserve officer told Powell. Noting a nondisclosure agreement he signed for Mikesell, he couldn’t discuss “client details of iXero’s work in Denver,” though he said it was a “noncriminal” case. The reserve officer said iXero investigated “high-end financial crimes” and “embezzlement mainly.”

Besides a “long term project overseas involving primarily ex-military employees,” the reserve officer said iXero had three surveillance contracts underway at the time he was interviewed in late September 2019. Those jobs were overseen by Greg Couch, who also works for the Teller County Sheriff’s Office as a commander in operations, narcotics, professional standards and as the public information officer.

On Oct. 11, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder directed a lieutenant “to contact all employees involved in this case and order them to cease and desist all work” for Mikesell, according to the IA report.

Elder declined to comment on the IA report, but when asked if he would run a business on the side while serving as sheriff, he said through Kirby, “I have not, nor do I plan to run a business on the side” while serving as sheriff.

Asked why, he said he is “never not the sheriff.” (Emphasis added.)

The Sheriff’s Office’s policies governing outside work, Kirby says, stem from “a worry about conflict of interest.”

“Being [Peace Officers Standards Training]-certified,” she says, “you’re held to a higher standard, and the Sheriff’s Office needs to know how it’s being represented when you’re on duty and off duty.”

As for CSPD’s pending investigation, Chief Vince Niski said in an interview, “We take the allegations of misconduct very seriously, so we’re putting forth the effort to investigate fully to make a determination whether there was a policy violation.”

Like Elder, Niski has ordered all personnel to stop working for Mikesell, but those under the microscope continue at their regular jobs pending completion of the probe, he says.

Although CSPD policy permits off-duty officers to work on investigations outside the 4th Judicial District, with permission, Niski emphasizes that doesn’t mean he would approve such work.

“How do you determine when they’re actually doing it as a law enforcement officer or as a private detective? That’s my concern,” he says. “As a general rule, how does a person determine whether they’re working under color of law enforcement or their private investigator [license] at a given time?”

Those questions lead Niski to believe it’s time to revisit and “tighten up” the 2013 outside-work policy, he says.

In the interest of disclosure, Niski acknowledges he used to work construction on the side but hasn’t performed outside work since reaching the command staff level about 10 years ago.

click to enlarge The Mikesells purchased a property at 510 W. Highway 24 for $250,000 in 2019. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The Mikesells purchased a property at 510 W. Highway 24 for $250,000 in 2019.

In a Sept. 27 phone interview with Powell, Mikesell said his company had reeled in a client who paid “close to a half million dollars for a 30-day contract.” He described iXero as providing “security, consulting surveillance operations for high net worth individuals and international attorney organizations as well as government contracting.” He also runs a training division.

One surveillance assignment involved an 87-year-old man who Mikesell told Powell served on the board of a high net worth company, and who Mikesell believed had “mental issues.” His client “wanted to be sure this man wasn’t leaking information that would ‘tank’ its stocks,” he told Powell.

When Powell asked Mikesell to provide names and time sheets for the EPSO and CSPD personnel he hired, Mikesell refused, because “laws on the civilian side prevent[ed] that release.” Powell again called Mikesell on Oct. 11 with another request but Mikesell “said he was still working with his lawyers to see if he could find a way to legally release that information.”

Mikesell then “expressed concern” to Powell that the IA report would go public, to which Powell responded by saying the report was subject to release through disclosure laws.

Mikesell tells the Indy he “never declined” to hand over the list of names but told Powell, “It’s a private company. I can’t just give a list of employees.” He says local authorities contacted him while he was on vacation in Italy and he didn’t have access to a computer so he couldn't respond.

“I reached out to CSPD several times and told them that I’d be more than happy to speak with them,” he says.

CSPD spokesperson Lt. Jim Sokolik says Chief Niski has not spoken to Mikesell about the IA investigation; nor has the CSPD’s IA lead investigator heard from Mikesell. “We are not aware of anybody at CSPD that he has reached out to,” Sokolik says.

As for the tracking devices, Powell raises questions in his report about whether those tactics violated Colorado’s stalking and/or criminal trespass statutes. He then answers that question: “After a conversation with [CSPD IA investigator] Sgt. Snuggs, her agency, CSPD had determined it was not a violation... .”

While the report doesn’t mention how Snuggs arrived at that conclusion, District Attorney Dan May says his office was not contacted for an opinion.

In this case, to violate anti-stalking laws the investigator would have to make a threat against the target and then follow or surveil them. To be guilty of criminal trespass in such a case, he would have to “knowingly and unlawfully enter or remain in a motor vehicle of another,” according to the statute.

While Colorado has no specific law governing tracking devices, other laws such as stalking, harassment or invasion of privacy could apply, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled some years ago that law enforcement agencies must have a warrant before using a GPS vehicle tracking device, no federal court ruling or law exists that addresses whether businesses or individuals can legally track another person’s movements, the NCSL notes.

Regardless, private investigators have cooled to the use of tracking devices, according to James Allbee, a PI with Metro Intelligence Agency, Denver.

“There are some PIs that absolutely don’t use trackers,” says Allbee, who is a former police officer. “One of the problems you run into if you have a law enforcement POST-certified officer moonlighting doing this type of work in the state of Colorado, once you’re sworn in as a peace officer you’re technically never off duty.”

That means, a police officer might need a warrant to attach a tracker, even if he or she is working outside employment as a private investigator, he says. “It’s a little bit of a gray area,” he says.

In one case, Allbee notes, a husband in Colorado, while under a restraining order, secretly attached an electronic surveillance device to his estranged wife’s car. The court ruled his actions fell under Colorado’s definition of stalking. But it’s unclear whether placing such a device absent a protective order is legal or illegal.

Mikesell dismisses such concerns saying, “Oh, there’s no question. It was actually ethical and legal to do, and it was given to me by multiple attorneys that that was legal to do, because I met the parameters of what was legal.”

click to enlarge Mikesell had a contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The contract is now in litigation. - COURTESY BEVERLY HILLS UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • Courtesy Beverly Hills Unified School District
  • Mikesell had a contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The contract is now in litigation.

Beverly Hills Unified School District, whose swim-gym and high school were featured in the iconic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, took on an ambitious security upgrade in 2018 in response to school shootings.

Mikesell’s iXero company was hired to conduct an assessment of the 3,450-student district and design a Campus Security Operations Center (CSOC). Approved by the board of education on Aug. 7, 2018, the contract ran into headwinds in 2019, and iXero filed a lawsuit, which is pending.

Mikesell hailed his company’s work in local media reports in California as the first of its kind in the nation. In mid-2018, he accompanied the district’s superintendent, a board member and other officials to Washington, D.C., records show. There, he presented the district’s security plan at a White House briefing attended by officials from several federal offices, including the Department of Homeland Security.

Terry Tao, an attorney who works for the district, declined to comment on the iXero contract or the lawsuit.

But district records show Mikesell billed nearly $1.8 million from mid-January to mid-July 2019, charging up to $185 per hour for at least 15 of his employees. Those included Scott Southard, who serves as iXero’s CEO and works full time in intelligence and investigations at the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s Inspector General’s Office at Peterson Air Force Base. Though NORAD doesn’t require it, he disclosed his work with iXero to NORAD, says NORAD spokesperson Lt. Commander Michael Hatfield.

Others for whom Mikesell billed the district: Mike McCoy, Tabitha Hartbauer, Kevin Moore, Greg White, Michelle Conley, Wanda Paolillo, Justin Sandy, Brian Kocher, Thomas Allen, Mike Waters, David Tucker, Zachary Trumpp, Edwin Henderson, Jon White, Jordan Wind and the sheriff himself.

For his time, Mikesell billed for 723 hours spanning 100 days, totaling $133,755.

In a May 6, 2019, letter to Mikesell, Tao demanded time cards for iXero personnel and records of expenditures, noting the company billed for several iXero employees, including Mikesell, to travel to Arlington, Texas. “Bills for time and business associated with the Beverly Hills Police Department rather than District business is not acceptable,” the letter said. Tao also said the district had flagged $104,375 in “overcharges” in January, February and March. 

Tao noted some billings “appear to be more marketing materials for the furtherance of the [iXero] program,” such as creating a recording studio, “wardrobe, writing scripts, hiring talent,” and producing videos of several iXero people, including Mikesell.

He further asserted the CSOC and other components of the plan had not been completed. “There is nothing that shows the [iXero] program is implemented, working, or even a workable model, so the representations in the script are inaccurate portrayals of events that are currently mere fantasy,” wrote Tao. He also noted the CSOC was locked, preventing the district from verifying that all the equipment for which it was billed had been installed.

“This program is not a marketing opportunity for [iXero],” he wrote, “nor an open checkbook for [iXero] to pursue marketing activities and bill those activities to the district.”

Mikesell tells the Indy the contract was worth $3.5 million, and the district still owes him $800,000, despite iXero performing according to the contract requirements.

Asked to elaborate, he says he can’t discuss the matter due to pending litigation.

In June 2019, iXero filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County District Court against the prime contractor, Team Concept Development Services, and Tao, alleging contract provisions allowed the district five days to dispute billings after which they had to be paid. iXero also alleged that Team Concept imposed additional duties outside the original contract’s scope.

The lawsuit likely is headed for trial, though a date hasn’t been set.

Mikesell agreed to an interview at Teller County offices in Woodland Park, joined by Undersheriff John Gomes and Commander Greg Couch. Though the Indy wanted to ask Couch, who works for Mikesell’s businesses and the Sheriff’s Office, which of those jobs takes priority, Mikesell wouldn’t allow it. Three days later, Couch sent an email saying, “I serve at the pleasure of the Sheriff of Teller County and in the context of working for TCSO, that is my top priority.”

During the 48-minute interview, Mikesell said 11 times that his side businesses pose no conflicts and are separate from his law enforcement duties.

“My business has nothing to do with the law enforcement capacity in the job that I do here,” he says. “My private business has no relationship to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office.”

In fact, he said, his situation is common. “I believe most sheriffs and other folks that I’ve ever dealt with had businesses,” he said.

When the Indy asked him to name three, Mikesell refused, saying, “You’ll have to find them,” and accused the reporter of being “brash” and “rude.”

The Indy contacted several sheriffs in Colorado. Megan Terlecky, spokesperson for Sheriff Matt Lewis in Mesa County, says Lewis has no outside business interests. “He's a very hard-working sheriff,” she says.

Likewise, Mike Cook, communications officer for Rio Blanco Sheriff Anthony Mazzola, says, “He's 100 percent committed to being the sheriff.”

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams, second vice president of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, says he appears daily on a talk radio program, which eventually could pay him something. But he notes he works with a co-host, allowing him to skip programs if sheriff business takes priority. “This is always my primary focus” he says.

“Your primary role is as a law enforcement officer,” he adds. “But every sheriff is an independently elected guy, so they have to figure that out on their own.”

click to enlarge Joan Harrington - COURTESY MARKKULA CENTER FOR APPLIED ETHICS
  • Courtesy Markkula Center For Applied Ethics
  • Joan Harrington

Mikesell noted his firms don’t conduct business in Teller County, though there appears to be no mechanism to verify that other than Mikesell’s word.

“As long as I’m not working within this county, or with anything within my realm of my authority in Teller County, there is no ethics violation,” he says. “In fact, this has been run through our county attorney... .  There’s nothing wrong with running the business.”

When the Indy asked for the legal opinion, Mikesell said County Attorney Paul Hurcomb gave it verbally. Mikesell also noted he periodically asks attorneys who work for his company for “legal reviews” of potential conflicts.

Reached via email, Hurcomb says, “As the County Attorney for Teller County, I have not issued any legal opinion about Sheriff Mikesell’s outside business interests, nor have I given any ‘green light’ to operate any outside businesses.

“While I am generally aware that the Sheriff has some outside business interests, I am not aware of any complaint about his outside interests or any conflict with his duties as Sheriff,” he continued. “If such a complaint were made to me or to the County, it would be referred to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (IEC), which has jurisdiction over these issues.” (Disclosure: Paul Hurcomb is also an attorney with Sparks Willson, a Colorado Springs law firm. In that capacity, he has performed legal work for the Indy. He’s also offered pro bono services to the winner of the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s Southeast Business Competition winner. The Business Journal is the Indy’s sister paper.)

The IEC reviews ethics complaints, issues findings and assesses penalties and sanctions when appropriate and has jurisdiction over Teller County officials and employees.

The sheriff also said he was forthright about his companies with county commissioners before they appointed him to the unexpired term in May 2017, and has disclosed his side interests to voters at coffees and Republican Party meetings.

County Administrator Sheryl Decker says via email Mikesell disclosed his outside activities to commissioners prior to his appointment. She also tells the Indy the three commissioners, none of whom hold second jobs, “certainly do not oversee other Elected Official’s [sic] offices.”

click to enlarge Kathleen Clark - COURTESY WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy Washington University
  • Kathleen Clark

Using the Beverly Hills contract as an example, the Indy asked Mikesell how he could put in full-time hours month after month while also serving as sheriff. Mikesell billed the school district for eight hours a day, five days a week for 10 out of 13 weeks from mid-January to mid-April, records show.

Mikesell said he spent “very few” of those days in California, but rather reviewed paperwork, contracts and the like for his private company “after hours” from the sheriff’s job.

He explained his sheriff schedule this way: “When I’m the sheriff, I usually come in in the mornings. I work a full day, and then I go off shift around three or four [p.m.], depending on what time I came in. Now, depending on what I’m doing, if I work through the weekends at the sheriff’s office, I may take a Monday or Tuesday off... . Normally I’m off on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays. And other times I’ll take a day off here or there for different things.”

Asked how he squares his elected job with being out-of-pocket for weeks on his private business, he said the Sheriff’s Office offers no retirement benefit, leading him to start a business when he left in 2016. He returned as sheriff a year later because the department had high turnover, low morale and “needed help... .

“So I did that job to help this community in this county, which I’ve done so,” says Mikesell, who receives an annual salary from taxpayers of $104,889 as sheriff. “So the time that I spend as a sheriff here is well over 40 hours a week. Was I gone for a certain amount of time when I was doing this business? Yeah, absolutely. When I’m standing up the business and working on those things, or that contract, yeah. Was it a lot of time? No. We have a good staff here. We have good employees here. And they do a good job of doing things. You know, no sheriff works 24 hours a day.”

As for his accumulation of wealth, Mikesell at first said both commercial buildings he bought — in December 2018 and May 2019 — are owned by his wife. (Warranty deeds on both show they were acquired by companies in which Mikesell shares a stake with his wife.)

Later in the interview, pressed on that issue, he admitted he took out loans on both properties with his wife, as he did on their $825,000 luxury home. The couple also have listed their previous home for sale at $475,000.

While Mikesell’s side hustles might not pose a legal conflict of interest — that would come into play if he hired his own business to do sheriff’s office work — two ethics experts say the arrangement is troubling.

“This sounds very in the shadows,” says Joan Harrington, director of social sector ethics at Santa Clara (California) University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

“Public officials and fiduciaries are held to a higher standard — not just impropriety but from the ethical standpoint, the appearance of impropriety.”

It’s also a good idea, she says, to inform voters of what their sheriff is up to.

“If you had a director of a nonprofit who also had a business, with people sharing jobs [working for the director’s nonprofit and the director’s private business at the same time], without analysis of whether that was fair and reasonable, you’d have a problem,” says Harrington.

“We often think, if you disclose, that’s OK. Not true,” she adds. “They [potential conflicts] need to be disclosed, discussed and analyzed.”

Similarly, Kathleen Clark, a professor of government ethics at Washington University, St. Louis, whose work has appeared in national newspapers and journals, says disclosure doesn’t “cure” a potential conflict.

“Even if he doesn’t punch a clock,” she says, “there’s a question of whether he’s actually providing the taxpayers with full-time work or not.”

Clark alleged that Mikesell’s situation is “riddled” with conflicts of interest, although not necessarily those recognized by Colorado law. First, there’s Couch working for Mikesell in two capacities, which she says could give rise to concerns over favoritism. Second, if Mikesell didn't fully cooperate in the EPSO IA investigation, that could “reflect a basic conflict of interest.”

“His position as sheriff requires cooperation and so if he’s not cooperating with that investigation, he is harming the relationship between the two jurisdictions and that harms the people he’s supposed to be serving,” she says.

“The situation with his running an outside business, hiring at least one subordinate and other government officials from neighboring jurisdictions with which he would necessarily interact in his governmental capacity raises lots of red flags,” Clark says.

Of course, Mikesell doesn’t see it that way and doesn’t think his constituents do either, and he might be onto something.

The Indy asked several residents for their thoughts and none took issue with Mikesell’s enterprise.

“If he has something on the side, he has something to fall back on,” Woodland Park resident Joseph Boyles says. “Anything over that 40 hours, I don’t care what he does, as long as he doesn’t hurt the county.” 

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