Sheriff Candidate Benita Phillips Pledges to Investigate Local Corruption, Asks Other Candidates to do the Same

Benita Phillips is Mesa County's only woman candidate for Sheriff. She and her husband live in Palisade.

Benita Phillips is Mesa County’s only woman candidate for Sheriff, running as a write-in. She and her husband live in Palisade.

Benita Phillips, Mesa County’s first female candidate for Sheriff, has pledged — and asked her opponents to pledge — that if elected they will conduct a public investigation into corruption in the Sheriff’s Office, and take steps to prevent future corruption and preferential dealing.

Her challenge comes after the local GOP’s top candidate for sheriff, State Senator Steve King, was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors for allegedly falsifying time cards while working at the Sheriff’s office, embezzling public property and failing to report all his sources of income — a requirement for state legislators. King stepped down from the race after the charges were made.

Phillips specifically asked all sheriff candidates to pledge to openly review and amend any policy of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office that supports what she calls “a culture of double-dipping.”

State Senator Steve King worked at Colorado Mesa University (CMU) at the same time he worked at the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office. An investigation revealed that he occasionally billed both entities for the same time he worked.

Phillips is also asking appropriate agencies to review and audit the CMU personnel who were involved in King’s hiring and the establishment of his salary. King worked as a coordinator of security at CMU at the same time he also worked at the Sheriff’s office. In July, 2008, CMU (then Mesa State College) awarded King a contract (pdf) to conduct a “security audit” for the campus, with an expected completion date of December 31, 2008. CMU did not solicit any competitive bids for the security audit, and has provided no evidence that the audit was ever completed. King failed to disclose his employment with the Sheriff’s Office to the University, and failed to disclose his employment with CMU to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office fired King after an investigation revealed the discrepancies.

Philips is also asking all the other sheriff candidates, if elected, to obtain pertinent information from the FBI regarding the agency’s investigation of the Grand Junction Airport Authority, including records of all of the Airport Authority’s business dealings, purchases, budgets, etc., and give them to the Mesa County District Attorneys office to determine if all the Authority’s dealings and communications were lawful. So far, none of these records have been made public, despite the fact that the Airport Authority has been under federal investigation for fraud for close to a year.

The GOP chose Mesa County Sheriff Department employee Matt Lewis to replace Steve King in the sheriff’s race, but Lewis has a tarnished history with the Sheriff’s office as well. Lewis was named in a 4th Amendment (illegal search and seizure) lawsuit filed in 2010 (pdf), in a case that involved an alleged illegal entry into a home by members of the Sheriff’s Office including Lewis, and the tasing in the neck of a man whom Sheriff’s officers knew at the time was not a suspect in the assault they had been called to investigate. The case was settled out of court in 2013 for an undisclosed sum using public funds.

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