Documents: Hickenlooper administration tangled up in Feds’ al-Turki case
DENVER — The ongoing legal battle over the extradition request of Homaidan al-Turki, a Saudi inmate imprisoned for keeping a maid as a sex slave, is, for now, in the hands of an Arapahoe County district court judge.
But documents released in court last week and conversations with attorneys and law enforcement sources reveal the case to be a matter of national security, with al-Turki, who is asking to be transferred to serve the rest of his sentence in his native Saudi Arabia, believed by investigators to have connections to worldwide terrorist organizations.
He is also still under investigation in connection with the murder of Tom Clements, the former chief of the Colorado Dept. of Corrections who was shot by a paroled inmate on March 19, eight days after he denied al-Turki’s transfer motion.
Prosecutors in El Paso County, who are still investigating the Clements murder, have asked the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office to withhold some information that could be important to their case while arguing against the inmate’s extradition request.
“If in fact a connection is made to al-Turki and we’re advised he’s a person of interest [in Clements' murder], then he would be forever out of our reach in terms of our ability to prosecute him,” Ann Tomsic said Friday.
A number of letters and emails, dating back to July 2012, also show that two high-level members of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet, Chief of Staff Roxane White and General Counsel Jack Finlaw, were involved in conversations that eventually led to Clements signing a transfer order for al-Turki — a transfer order that was never acted on and eventually rescinded after federal investigators informed members of the administration about al-Turki’s presumed terrorist ties.
“Before the security briefings, we thought we would be able to move forward on it,” White told FOX31 Denver Friday afternoon. “Initially, he said ‘yes’. But then he had to say ‘no’ based on additional information.”
First transfer request sent last July
In late July 2012, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wrote its first letter to Hickenlooper and Clements requesting al-Turki’s transfer.
The al-Turki family is one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest and most powerful (which explains why Colorado Attorney General John Suthers traveled to meet with King Abdullah and the al-Turki family in Riyadh back in November 2006 to ease concerns about al-Turki’s fair treatment within the Colorado criminal justice system after he was convicted).
Three months later after the initial request, on Oct. 30, al-Turki’s Denver attorney, Hal Haddon, wrote a similar letter to Hickenlooper and Finlaw, who responded on Nov. 2 that he was “forwarding the application” to Clements.
“We would prefer that you handle this rather than have it come across the governor’s desk,” wrote Finlaw, who, as the governor’s lawyer, is the gatekeeper for any and all outside requests being made of Hickenlooper and his administration.
Ten days later, Finlaw emailed again to inform Haddon that the request was being prioritized, adding “we will work to get this done.”
Finlaw told Haddon that he hoped to have the transfer signed by December 1, after getting input from prosecutors.
Brauchler questions administration’s involvement
Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who was elected last November and only sworn in this January, told reporters this week that the administration’s involvement is concerning.
“I’m not sure I have ever heard of or seen someone with the level of influence with a governor’s office to have so many behind the scenes contacts with them,” Brauchler. “What exactly did the governor’s office do to facilitate the processing of al-Turki through this transfer back to Saudi Arabia and then why the sudden change of mind?”
In court Thursday, a prosecutor read aloud a November 2012 email between Hickenlooper’s communications director, Eric Brown, and FOX31 Denver’s Julie Hayden in which Brown maintained that the administration “has no involvement” in what he termed “a federal matter”.
Around the same time as that email, Brauchler’s office had responded to the administration that they had concerns about the al-Turki transfer order.
Deal was on to transfer al-Turki
But sources indicate that the deal brokered between Clements, Finlaw and Haddon was intended to be a goodwill gesture of sorts between Colorado, the U.S. government and Saudi Arabia. Aside from the prosecutors’ concerns, the agreement seemed to satisfy all sides.
In December 2012, Finlaw wrote to inform Haddon that he had “good news”, informing al-Turki’s attorney that Clements had decided to approve the transfer but wanted to wait until January, after Brauchler was sworn in.
In that email, Finlaw said that Haddon could go ahead and inform the Saudi Arabian government and al-Turki himself.
But an email sent a week later, the day after Christmas, makes it seem like Clements had not yet made a final decision.
Finlaw emailed Clements asking for a decision, noting that Haddon was getting ready to call Hickenlooper directly.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 13, 2013, Clements bumped into one of Haddon’s colleagues, Norman Mueller, and informed him that he was approving the transfer.
A day later, on Jan. 14, Clements signed the order directing that al-Turki be transferred out of the Limon Correctional Center and into the custody of the Saudi government.
Days later, Mueller requested a copy of the signed transfer order.
FBI steps in, halts transfer over terror concerns
That’s when Finlaw informed the attorney that the FBI had come forward with additional information that had the transfer back in limbo.
Finlaw told Mueller that they were now shooting to complete the transfer in February.
Then, on March 11, without any hearing for al-Turki or other warning from the administration, Clements signed another form.
The transfer of Homaidan al-Turki from Colorado back to his native Saudi Arabia had been officially denied.
Nine days later, Clements opened the front door of his home in El Paso County and was shot and killed by Evan Ebel, a recently paroled inmate and member of a white supremacist prison gang who was dressed in the uniform of a Domino’s Pizza delivery man he’d killed two days earlier.
Following the murder, Al-Turki was placed in administrative segregation away from the rest of the prison’s population; and El Paso County prosecutors continue to investigate al-Turki’s as a “person of interest” in the slaying.
Law enforcement sources have long told FOX31 Denver that al-Turki is more than a convicted sex offender, someone who they believe is directly connected to terrorists around the world.
The documents released in court this week seem to indicate that Clements and others in the Hickenlooper administration involved in the al-Turki case may not have known that until February, after an initial transfer order had been signed.
White maintains that the conversations between Haddon and Finlaw were “attorney to attorney” and that Hickenlooper himself was never involved.
“The governor absolutely had no conversations with Hal ever,” White said Friday. “The governor did not make this decision.
“Tom Clements made this decision.”