Kolomitz cleared of wrongdoing in campaign scandal

By John Schroyer
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Greg Kolomitz, who faced professional disgrace after it was disclosed in April that he mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars as Gov. Ritter’s campaign manager in 2006, has now been cleared of wrongdoing by 18th Judicial District Attorney Carol Chambers.

Ritter announced five months ago that Kolomitz broke campaign finance laws and had overpaid himself and his firm, Solutions West, by $83,250. Kolomitz also paid off 28 campaign vendors out of the inaugural committee account, to the tune of $217,164, which is illegal.

Chambers announced in a statement on Tuesday, “At this time the evidence is insufficient to establish the commission of a crime by Mr. Kolomitz.”

Kolomitz, reached by phone Thursday, said he was relieved and that the findings vindicated his original statement that he had not committed a crime.

“It’s great news,” Kolomitz said. “It’s what I had said all along. I did nothing wrong.”

Ritter announced in April that he had taken out a $200,000 loan against his home to repay the amount improperly paid to campaign vendors, and said Kolomitz immediately repaid the $83,250 that improperly went to his firm.

Ritter’s administration immediately filed paperwork with the Attorney General’s office, as well as with the office of Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. The case was forwarded to Chambers’ office, however, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, because Ritter is a former Denver district attorney.

Ritter said in a statement on Tuesday, “We were open and transparent with the public and appropriate authorities when we discovered these problems. We cooperated fully with the 18th Judicial District DA’s Office during its investigation. Prior to the investigation, Mr. Kolomitz made full restitution by repaying both the inaugural and campaign accounts. We thank the DA’s office for its attention to the matter and we now consider this part of the matter closed.”

This week, though, Kolomitz said he was finally free to speak his peace about what happened, and claimed that there had been an oral agreement between him and the campaign that he would receive $7,500 a month for services rendered, which he said eventually added up to the $83,250 he paid himself.

“I earned that money. I worked for that money. I performed services for that money. And that money I received was agreed-upon compensation,” Kolomitz stated.

Evan Dreyer, Ritter’s spokesman, rejected Kolomitz’s claims.

“His version of events differs 180 degrees from ours. He’s wrong. And it’s disappointing that even at this point he’s not taking responsibility for what he did,” Dreyer said.

Kolomitz also charged that he was not informed of the press conference in which Ritter blamed him for the campaign finance violations until after the fact, and said he returned the money in an attempt to shore up his relationship with the governor.

“I had no reason to believe that they, anyone, would take my act of good faith and professionalism and turn that into the grounds for baseless accusations,” Kolomitz said, and added that he was “embarrassed, humiliated and shell-shocked” by the news back in April.

When asked who was to blame for the situation, however, Kolomitz declined to name names, and said he’s still hopeful that his relationship with Ritter can be salvaged.

“If that was his intent, he failed,” Dreyer replied, when asked if returning the money had the effect Kolomitz had desired.

Dreyer also said that Kolomitz’s lawyers were informed of the press conference at least a day in advance, and that he shouldn’t have been caught unaware.

Kolomitz said the scandal has hurt him professionally, and Ritter said in April that Kolomitz would not be associated with his reelection campaign in 2010.

“Any times you have those types of allegations leveled against you, your reputation damaged in that way, it’s going to have an impact,” Kolomitz said. “I’m looking forward to rebuilding my reputation and rebuilding my business.”

Kolomitz said he has been involved with a handful of campaigns this year and some government consulting work, but declined to specify which campaigns.

Katy Atkinson, a longtime friend of Kolomitz and GOP political operative, said she had been “baffled” by the case from the start.

“I’ve always thought that Greg was a completely honorable guy… It’s just not consistent with what I know about Greg Kolomitz,” Atkinson said.

She pointed out that most campaign expenditures of the magnitude that Kolomitz allegedly mishandled require a co-signer on checks, so she didn’t understand how it could have been simply his fault.

Atkinson added that she believes Kolomitz will be able to rebound professionally, and said that most politicos in Colorado know Kolomitz to be a straight shooter.

Some Republicans aren’t satisfied with the outcome, however. State Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said he’s appealing a campaign finance complaint against Ritter that he filed in late April, even though an administrative law judge ruled in Ritter’s favor.

“It raises a question of who is guilty. We think Governor Ritter’s kind of up to his neck in this thing, which is why we’re still pursuing the case on appeal,” Lambert said.

He said that the way the case played out, it seemed to him that the Ritter administration was using Kolomitz as “the fall guy.”

Kolomitz’s wife, Carla Lucero Kolomitz, helped her husband begin a legal defense fund to pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, and circulated emails that contained thinly veiled accusations against Ritter and said Kolomitz had been “falsely accused.”

“We have found ourselves in a legal battle with someone whom we believed to be our friend. Someone who Greg (and I to a lesser extent) gave our lives to — in a political battle — to elect as governor of our wonderful state, Colorado,” Mrs. Kolomitz wrote in a fundraising e-mail this past summer.

Kolomitz said the experience was “humbling,” and added, “People always say in these situations, family and friends, and until you’ve gone through it, you don’t know how much it means for your family and friends to stand by you.”

“I’m just glad it’s behind me,” he said.