COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, one of the state’s most powerful and outspoken Republicans, came under fire Friday, when the Colorado Springs Gazette published a story detailing a complaint lodged by three of his El Paso County commanders.
The complaint alleges Maketa had affairs with three of his subordinates, inappropriately promoted those women to top paying jobs, removed almost all oversight from and misspent his office’s tax-payer-provided $60 million budget and intimidated employees who reportedly threatened to blow the whistle about his alleged misdeeds.
Maketa has not commented on the allegations, other than to tell the Gazette “I have never had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the three individuals you named,” and “if you publish anything to the contrary, I am fully prepared to take legal action.”
The sweeping Gazette story about the commanders’ complaint was written by Dave Phillipps, who won journalism’s top honor, the Pulitzer Prize, this year for his investigative reporting on how soldiers injured during war were being “other than honorably” discharged without benefits.
Following the story, Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican, and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, both introduced amendments to study the surge of troops discharged from the Army for minor misconduct.
Meanwhile, Maketa has publicly characterized Phillipps as “a media representative” who “lacks journalistic ethics, … clearly has demonstrated an agenda and regularly falsifies or omits facts.”
Maketa directed that criticism at Phillipps after the Gazette journalist published a story earlier this month about El Paso County leaders who said they felt “pressured” to nominate Maketa for the Hundred Club Award, a prestigious honor bestowed on first responders who go above and beyond the call of duty.
The commanders, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared they would lose their jobs, said the award typically goes to deputies who serve on the front lines, not someone like Maketa, who does most of his work from behind a desk.
Maketa was ultimately nominated for the award and later said he was planning on “removing” the two commanders who spoke to the Gazette from his staff because they were “cowardly and dishonest.”
Given the preponderance of evidence — some of it photographic and confirmed by independent analysts — in this latest complaint filed by three of Maketa’s commanders, it may be more difficult for Maketa to characterize it as “dishonest.”
Maketa is well-known for his willingness to get in front of a camera, and has done so with FOX31 Denver recently in support of gun rights and against Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey, who he accused of mishandling the destructive Black Forest Fire.
Maketa even spoke publicly for nearly an hour in 2010 addressing a report in the Colorado Springs Independent that alleged he had inappropriate relationships with two of the women whose names have appeared once again in the complaint filed by his three commanders.
However, in regard to the most-recent complaint, which was reportedly filed on May 12, Maketa told FOX31 Denver through a spokesperson that he had retained legal counsel and would have no comment.
“An independent outside investigator is conducting the investigation (into the commanders’ complaint) and the Sheriff plans to fully cooperate in every way, both legally and with the investigation,” the statement read.
The El Paso County Commissioners’ Office also released a letter it sent to Maketa that acknowledges the complaint filed by the three commanders.
“The letter specifically included a request for an investigation by the Board into complaints surrounding hostile and threatening work environment and sexual discrimination in the workplace,” the commissioners wrote.
“Allegations of such conduct made by county employees — especially those which may result in lawsuits that could cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars to defend — must be taken seriously.”
The complaint seems to center around sexual relationships Maketa, who is married, had with three of his subordinates — Undersheriff Paula Presley; Dorene Cardarelle, the county comptroller; and Tiffany Huntz, the head of training for county dispatchers.
Two of the woman, Presley and Huntz, called the allegations in the commanders’ complaint about their involvement with Maketa “ridiculous and inappropriate,” with Huntz going so far as to suggest “there will be consequences” if the allegations were made public by the Gazette.
The third woman, Cardarelle, told the Gazette she wanted to speak with a lawyer before issuing any statements.
According to the commanders’ complaint, Maketa’s relationship with Presley seemed to begin at some point in 2005 or 2006, and that Maketa promoted her in 2007 despite recommendations that she be demoted. Presley was then promoted again to undersheriff in 2012.
At least once, a retired commander told the Gazette, Presley temporarily resigned and threatened to sue Maketa for creating a hostile workplace. The retired commander said it was typical to hold her relationship with Maketa over the sheriff’s head.
If they prove to be true, accusations in the commanders’ complaint about Maketa’s relationship with Cardarelle may be most damaging to the sheriff’s reputation, considering she largely controls the Sheriff’s Office budget.
In addition to reports made in the complaint, the Gazette was able to obtain over 500 emails and text messages dating back to 2008 between Maketa, Cardarelle and Huntz. In several messages, the Gazette says Maketa called Cardarelle his “soul mate.”
“I think often about touching kissing and licking every inch of your amazing body,” said a message dated 1:48 a.m. Jan. 4, 2009, from Maketa’s phone number, according to the Gazette, which went on to report that the message was typical of the sheriff’s exchanges with Cardarelle.
The Gazette also published a photo appearing to show Maketa nude from the shoulders up that the newspaper indicated was sent along with a message to Cardarelle that read “Wish you were here.”
According to the Gazette, an independent digital forensics expert confirmed the photo and other messages obtained by The Gazette were retrieved from El Paso County computer servers.
Cardarelle reportedly has a psychology degree, but has no advanced degrees, licensing or accreditation in business or accounting. Those were reasons reportedly cited by supervisors as to why she was unfit for the position she initially applied for in 2007 of budget analyst, a low-level job paying $51,396 a year.
It was Maketa’s decision to hire Cardarelle, a retired commander told the Gazette, and five months later, she had received a 49 percent pay raise. The Gazette reported that she now also serves as the county’s grant writer and makes more than $100,000 a year, which is more than the staff attorney.
The complaint also indicates that after Cardarelle was promoted to comptroller, Maketa began travelling with her on trips funded by taxpayers to out-of-town budget and grant writing conferences.
Huntz, who the Colorado Springs Independent outed as a former amateur nude model in 2010, has been the subject of at least four internal affairs investigations since beginning her job as a dispatcher in 2004, according to the Gazette’s report.
The investigations reportedly stemmed from Huntz not seeking approval to start a home-based sex toy business, sending more than 470 texts over the Sheriff’s Office computer system, orchestrating a prank in which a co-worker called in a fake rollover crash involving a nonexistent person named “Fola Seaman” and an admission that before she joined the Sheriff’s Office, she was living with a drug dealer and using Vicodin daily.
The harshest punishment Huntz received from any of the investigations was reportedly a letter of reprimand for the prank, the lowest level of discipline possible, according to the Gazette.
The commanders’ complaint goes on to indicate that Huntz has “boasted about her open marriage,” and has traveled together with Maketa, his wife and John Huntz “on numerous occasions.”
Huntz was reportedly promoted to supervisor of training in 2009 and her husband was promoted to training sergeant, a position described in the complaint as a “coveted assignment.”
When members of his staff threatened to reveal the details about Maketa’s alleged relationships and possible illegal activity, they were threatened, usually by the sheriff himself, according to the complaint.
“Members of the command staff are frequent targets of his abusive attacks, presumably due to the fact that they have witnessed his unethical and illegal behavior,” the complaint states.
Having served as El Paso County Sheriff for 12 years, Maketa will be unable to seek an additional term as sheriff. But he told the Gazette he had not ruled out running for another office.