Nobody’s talking in probe of sheriff
Accusers stand behind 'cloak of anonymity,’ DA says
A district attorney says he has begun investigating allegations against Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario but faces a difficult task because of their anonymous nature.
“We’re dealing with anonymous people who will not come forward. That doesn’t give us a lot to start with,” said 9th Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson.
For the same reason, Beeson said he has decided against asking another district attorney’s office to handle the investigation of what for now are “thin allegations.” He said other offices are busy just like his.
“I’m not going to ask them to undertake a full-fledged investigation when people are standing behind the cloak of anonymity,” Beeson said.
Two Garfield County commissioners and two reporters recently were sent an e-mail alleging that a romantic relationship Vallario is having with one of his employees has resulted in favoritism toward some and retribution toward others in his department. Commissioners referred the matter to Beeson for possible investigation because some of the allegations, if true, could constitute misuse of public funds.
Vallario previously has acknowledged the relationship with one of his employees but denied any wrongdoing. He has blamed the allegations on disgruntled employees who refuse to accept changes he is making to improve his department. He could not be reached for further comment Friday.
District attorneys sometimes seek to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by having an outside investigator look into criminal allegations involving agencies with which they have a close working relationship. Beeson said he would seek an outside review of the investigation once he’s finished with it.
Beeson and Vallario are both Republicans.
Beeson said he has tried to contact the e-mailer through the original e-mail address, but received no response.
“That’s not a good place to begin an investigation,” he said.
“If I were to go to a judge with a warrant based on what I have, he wouldn’t laugh me out of court, he’d probably slap me and kick me out physically,” Beeson said.
Sources have contacted area media with concerns about the Sheriff’s Department but say people fear coming forward by name because of possible retaliation by Vallario. Vallario has threatened to fire the source of the recent e-mail to commissioners, if he can identify the writer as an employee.
Meanwhile, the former spouse of Vallario’s girlfriend has said he has no knowledge of one accusation in the mystery e-mail.
The e-mail says Vallario used department resources and personnel to intimidate the ex-spouse during divorce proceedings with the man’s then-wife. But in an interview, the man said he wasn’t aware of any such actions by Vallario.
“I don’t know that there’s been any involvement like that,” said the ex-spouse, whom The Daily Sentinel isn’t identifying because it isn’t identifying Vallario’s girlfriend.
The former spouse said Vallario and his girlfriend probably were dating each other at the time of the divorce, which became official Jan. 17, 2008, but he and his wife had been separated for years.
In another development, former Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri, whom Vallario defeated in the 2002 election, says promotions of the nature that Vallario’s girlfriend has received since joining the department a little more than five years ago aren’t necessarily outside the norm, if she’s someone with aptitude and leadership skills.
Vallario has been accused of favoritism in the promotion of his girlfriend to sergeant over more experienced and qualified candidates. But he says they weren’t dating when the promotion occurred, and department promotions are made as a result of decisions by a committee, not one person.
His girlfriend was promoted to sergeant on Dec. 29, 2007, county records show.
She joined the department in September 2003 as a detention deputy, was reclassified two years later as a deputy II, and was promoted to corporal just over a year after that.
Dalessandri called it “certainly not impossible” for someone to rise through the ranks that quickly. And years on the job don’t necessarily warrant a promotion, he said.
“You could be there for 20 years and not be capable of being sergeant,” Dalessandri said.
He said Vallario’s relationship with an employee “raises eyebrows.” For him, the real question is whether other better candidates were passed by as a result of favoritism tied to the relationship, which he said would be “highly inappropriate.”
“I just don’t know enough about the circumstances to be able to say,” he said.
When Vallario’s girlfriend applied for work with the Sheriff’s Department, she said in her job application that she had been a housewife and mother, was self-employed in day care for a few years, and then worked for a grocery store, working her way up to general merchandise manager. There, she said, she frequently was involved in apprehending shoplifters and would provide statements to police and sometimes testify in court.
She started out as a deputy at $14.43 per hour. Over the years, her annual pay rose from $38,432 in 2004 to $62,241 last year. However, several sergeants earn more than that, with some making more than $80,000 per year.