Four former employees of the Colorado Supreme Court Administrator’s Office have been referred to law enforcement for a criminal investigation following a year-long audit into allegations of a contract of silence and a whistleblower letter alleging more widespread fraud, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The auditors concluded that there was “at least some evidence of professional fraud, illegal transactions and/or misuse or misappropriation of public funds”, according to a summary of their findings released by the court.
The investigations will primarily focus on the department’s former chief of staff, Mindy Masias, and its former director of human resources, Eric Brown, according to a three-page statement released by the court. The two were accused of doubling the state pay system by “receiving compensation from the state while being paid for the work by an outside employer,” Chief Justice Brian Boatright said in a statement. summarizing the findings of the auditors.
Masias and Brown were frequent speakers at conferences for the National Center for State Courts.
Additionally, the auditors found that Masias and Brown had attempted “to influence the (tendering process), sole-source contract and related processes in favor of Ms. Masias”, which ultimately resulted in what she pockets a contract of judicial training of 2.5 million dollars. Boatright’s statement did not address allegations that a two-page memo was central to the deal, in which Masias allegedly threatened a sex discrimination lawsuit that would expose years of intentionally guarded judicial misconduct. silent or set aside.
Auditors said they “discovered that Ms. Masias had access to potentially damaging information about the judiciary. This information included notes on allegations of sexual misconduct, discrimination and other misconduct by staff and judges of the judiciary.Additionally, there is evidence that Ms. Masias secretly recorded her conversation with former Chief Justice Nancy Rice, which included a discussion of why Ms. Masias was not selected. to be a state court administrator when she applied for that position.”
Additionally, while facing dismissal for financial irregularities, auditors said that “multiple sources described two meetings in December 2018 and/or January 2019 (prior to Ms. Masias’ resignation) in which judiciary staff discussed the possibility of contracting Ms. Masias to provide leadership training. .”
They added: Auditors ‘found evidence that Ms Masias asked for the promise of a contract before stepping down’. But Boatright said there was no evidence Masias had been promised the contract before signing his resignation and that the referral to law enforcement did not include any current Judicial Department employees or past judges. or present.
Auditors said it looked like Brown might have rigged the training contract to favor Masias.
“Mr. Brown sought to influence the bidding process in a way that ensured that Ms. Masias would receive the leadership training contract, including inserting experience requirements that were restrictive enough to prevent any other vendors from submitting bids. “, wrote the listeners.
Auditors said they reviewed more than 16,000 pages of documents as part of their investigation and allowed the forensic department “multiple opportunities to review the report and executive summary and to redact information they identified as privileged.” , the product of an attorney’s work or subject to other legal protections”.
Masias and Brown did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
The court said state auditors were also asking law enforcement to review a settlement agreement that was given to a former employee without the consent of then-Chief Justice Nathan “Ben.” Coats. This employee has not been identified, but would have been in a position that allowed him to have information that he could use against Masias and Brown.
The employee had been tracking the couple’s movements via security systems throughout the state’s new court building at the request of his superiors, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not were not allowed to discuss it. Auditors said the forensic department would not release the employee’s name or the circumstances of his separation to investigators.
The employee was placed on administrative leave before being granted a separation agreement totaling approximately $143,000 – the highest amount paid to an employee for leave and severance pay. Auditors said Ryan shouldn’t have negotiated the deal because he was a personal friend of the employee. Likewise, Masias and Brown were the targets of the alleged employee misconduct and should have recused themselves from the disciplinary process.
The four people referred to law enforcement are Masias, Brown, unnamed former employee and former state court administrator Chris Ryan, who last year went public with allegations that Masias’ contract was the result of the threat of prosecution. Ryan had said Coats was instrumental in approving the deal during a meeting with Brown, Ryan and Coats legal counsel Andrew Rottman.
Ryan’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Auditors determined that Masias and Brown earned $17,200 and $26,800 respectively in state salaries in 2018 and 2019 while also being paid by outside employers.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, the (Office of the State Auditor) concludes that there is at least evidence of professional fraud, apparently illegal transactions and/or misuse or embezzlement public,” the auditors wrote in a summary of the report. .
It’s unclear which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over the case, but the attorney general’s office represents the judicial department. A spokesperson for the attorney general did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The case could be referred to the Denver District Attorney, but that office has a number of employees with close family and professional ties to the department and active judges.
Boatright said Coats canceled Masias’ contract after learning that Ryan and others hid information from him, but did not give details. Listeners said it was his secret recording of Rice.
Boatright said auditors did not take a position on whether tax rules were violated in the procurement process or whether there were ethics or code of conduct violations.
The department canceled the contract in July 2019 after a press inquiry into the deal, but officially said the cancellation was a result of Masias not having been formally investigated for background. forming part of the contract. The reason for the contract – the alleged quid pro quo deal involving the memo – only surfaced in February 2021.
“I must emphasize that this is not a determination that laws have been broken, nor does it mean that criminal charges will be filed,” Boatright wrote. “It only means that under Colorado’s anti-fraud hotline law, (the auditors) determined that the evidence found in the investigation required the agency to submit a report to law enforcement.”
Boatright said the full report, which he did not make public, would be given to investigators of other ongoing investigations, but did not specify which ones. There are five ongoing: by the FBI, by the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, by the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline, and two by law firms hired by the Judiciary Department.
The Disciplinary Committee subpoenaed the department to compel its cooperation with its investigation after saying it had been blocked. The court said last week it was cooperating, but the commission stood by its earlier allegations, which included a request by lawmakers to create an independent office of judicial discipline. The commission is currently funded by lawyers’ registration fees which are distributed by the Supreme Court.