(Originally published 4/13/2011)
On March 31, 2011, the Denver Post did a big piece on Chris Romer, who is running for Denver mayor. Chris is the son of Roy, who was Colorado governor for 12 years, from Jan. 1987 – Jan. 1999; and state treasurer, state ag commissioner, and a state legislator before that.
I don’t know much about Chris–but I do know quite a bit about his dad, and think I need to round out the saintly picture the Post painted of Roy as a “state legislator who ran for the U.S. Senate in 1966 as a dove against the Vietnam War” and “civil rights activist.”
What Roy really was (maybe still is) is a real estate developer. He did several subdivisions in Jefferson County in the 1960’s and 70’s, along with his partner Harley Hamilton, as Harley confirmed at p. 9 of his deposition (p. 31 of 102) in 1998. I’ve been told Romer did the Safeway shopping center in Conifer.
Romer also did at least one development in Park County, although Harley says he didn’t, because his signature is on the plat for Deer Creek Estates. Romer’s financial disclosures, when he ran for re-election in 1994, showed (Attachment B) that he also was behind his son Mark’s wheeling and dealing in connection with developments in Gunnison County. Roy discloses that “Evergreen Meadows Land Co.” owned 1,400 acres in Gunnison County, while Attachment A says he has “stock ownership” in this “company,” which, in fact, was never incorporated in Colorado.*
As governor, Romer’s primary focus was to grease the skids for real estate developers, as well as to “liberate” chunks of public property for them, through his appointees on various boards which control state property. One board which controls a huge amount of public land and water rights is the State Board of Land Commissioners, charged, by the Colorado Constitution, with managing the approximately 3 million acres of state trust lands left from the original grant of 4.5 million acres the United States made to Colorado on statehood. The bulk of these are “school lands”–for the support of the common schools.
After Romer became governor, things changed dramatically at the Land Board. He replaced long-time employees with cronies, including a man named John Brejcha who came in as “deputy director,” whereupon state trust lands began flying out the door to developers for pennies on the dollar. Brejcha’s primary “qualification” was working at three branch offices of Empire Savings & Loan in the 1980’s (one of which he managed). See Brejcha’s deposition, pp. 10-11.
Empire was one of the biggest criminal savings and loan fiascos ever prosecuted by the federal government. Thus, John Brejcha came out of the S & L cabal which took over this state in the late 1980’s, and became the “point man” for dispositions of state lands to developers. I several times caught Brejcha lying to his own board about the value of state lands, to make the low-balled price the developer has offered seem like a good deal. Several years after I had litigated against him I discovered his membership in Knights of Columbus
Because of public outcry over these deals by the mid-1990’s, Roy Romer–the source of the problem–pointed to the requirement in the Colorado Constitution that the Land Board maximize revenue when it disposed of state trust lands. He said we needed to remove this requirement to give “flexibility” to the Land Board to manage these lands for their environmental values, and stumped for an amendment in 1996, Amendment 16.
When Amendment 16 was proposed, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, Dan Luzadder, noted that tens of thousands of dollars were being given to this supposed environmental measure by big corporate leaseholders.
Here are the campaign contribution reports for this constitutional amendment. Crested Butte Mountain Resorts (CBMR) gave $10,000; Vail Resorts gave $25,000; East-West Partners (developers in the Vail area) gave $10,000; Union Pacific Railroad (billionaire Philip Anschutz’s company) gave $15,000; Coors gave $5,000 (while William Coors and Rita Bass gave $15,000 to Romer in 1994); John J. Crown Living Trust (which owned the Aspen Ski Company) gave $10,000; TCI gave $25,000; and Daniel Ritchie gave $1,000 (and another $1,000 to Romer in 1994). Roy Romer got a lot of favorable press for his own selflessness in taking out a $20,000 “personal loan” from Key Bank to put towards the measure (p. 8 of 42).
Two years later (1998), in discovery in one of my cases against the Land Board, I got this document, which shows that, after the amendment passed, CBMR, Union Pacific, Ritchie, and “Coors Energy” became the proud new owners of state trust lands. CBMR got 5,061.6 acres valued at $4,375,000. Coors’s piece, in Weld County, was 640 acres valued at $101,250.00 (which I assume included mineral rights, but don’t know). Union Pacific got 91.82 acres valued at $660,000.00. Ritchie got 8,7973.14 acres in Grand County for $205,000, or $22/acre. A Douglas Stratton, presumably related to Mike Stratton–a consultant for Romer and real estate developer–got 480 acres valued at $69,300.00. John Salazar (brother of Ken, who became a congressional rep, himself) got 82.57 acres for $5,162, so $62.50/acre. Presumably that was good farmland, which typically went for about ten times that much in 1998.
The most important new owner was Roy Romer himself. After the amendment passed, he stepped down from office and acquired, in the name of his family trust, a valuable piece of state trust land in Park County of 320 acres, for under-market value. Chris Romer hyped it as a great deal for the public. It was a three-way transaction: Roy talked the owner of an inholding in Roxborough Park (in Douglas County) named Treece into selling it to State Parks, for which he got huge kudos; paid the money over to Treece himself; and then took the piece of land he wanted in Park County, which was obviously unrelated, and came from the State Land Board, not Parks. So the Roxborough acquisition was simply cover for Romer’s own self-dealing. Brought to you by the guy who went around giving out awards for “Smart Growth,” who liked to be known as the “Education Governor.” You gotta hand it to him for this masterful sleight-of-hand. He also got 155 acres of BLM land in 1997.
Thus, Romer put his ranch together largely out of public lands. In fact, Romer had been the lessee of the state trust land throughout his years in public office, and his father before him. Here are the SLB docs for the land swap, and old leases. His financial disclosures show the State Land Board lease on Attachment B.
That he had leased it didn’t give him any more right to acquire it than anyone else, although once Amendment 16 passed he was free of the worry that someone else might outbid him. The more important point is that he should have divested himself of the lease as soon as he took on the mantle of public office. But only ethical people do that kind of thing.
I tried to find out from Key Bank who paid the loan back. As my notes show, I could never get anyone to speak to me. This means there was a $20,000 campaign contribution by an unidentified donor, in violation of law. Who paid this loan back?
So you are probably wondering why I didn’t report these fraudulent transactions, particularly the Romer acquisition, to law enforcement. Of course I did, but they didn’t do anything. I had a two-hour meeting with two FBI agents, along with attorneys for the Colorado School District Association and Colorado Education Association, in 2000. The FBI agents handed the matter off to a new guy, requiring me to make the same presentation all over again (unbillable, of course); but he wasn’t interested, anyway, and dropped it. I also had a two-hour meeting with Tom Haney, an investigator with the Denver District Attorney’s office, and never heard anything back. Here’s my letter to him.
About two years later, I happened to see Denver DA Bill Ritter having lunch at Maggione’s, and jogged him on this matter. He got a faraway look in his eyes, stroked his chin, and said, “Oh, yes, I heard about that.” Of course he had no intention of prosecuting Roy Romer, being on his way up by grace of the same network. Lastly, after the transaction closed in 2000, I contacted the governor’s office, now Bill Owens, a Republican. Whoever I talked to said, yeah, we flagged that when it came across the governor’s desk, but he decided to let it go through.
*Update, April 5th, 2022: I found a series of transactions in Gunnison County’s online property records between this entity, Evergreen Meadows Land Company–whose president is stated to be Mark Romer–and another never-incorporated entity called Blue Mesa Properties, with Mark Romer signing for this entity, as well. So Mark was doing deals with himself. There were variants on these names in the title documents, too, but I was unable to print any documents out from the Gunnison County property search program, in order to study them better: my computer hung up every time I tried and I could not contact the Gunnison County Clerk and Recorder because none of the options in the clerk’s phone menu worked.