Updated: May 23, 2014 at 2:51 pm
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa is embroiled in accusations of sex with subordinates, abusive treatment of employees and dismantling oversight of the office budget that could stain his 12-year career and sink future prospects for one of the most powerful local Republicans.
Maketa allegedly has had sexual relationships with three female subordinates for years, traveling with them using public funds, promoting them to top jobs despite objections from commanders and threatening anyone he suspected of mentioning the relationships, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Gazette.
The allegations come from a seven-page complaint by three of his commanders that rebukes Maketa's term in office, accusing him of repeated sexual impropriety, discrimination, creating a hostile work environment, violating the civil rights of those who work in the Sheriff's Office, using intimidation to keep people quiet about his misdeeds and removing almost all oversight of the $60 million Sheriff's Office annual budget.
"The taxpayers deserve a consistent and transparent budgetary process, one that limits the possibility of abuse or corruption," the complaint says.
Maketa and the three women denied the allegations.
"I have never had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the three individuals you named. If you publish anything to the contrary, I am fully prepared to take legal action," Maketa said in an email to The Gazette.
The complaint was submitted May 12 to the El Paso County Commission and obtained by The Gazette from sources in the Sheriff's Office. It detailed what the commanders called an "overview of abuses that potentially place El Paso County at considerable financial risk" and called for an investigation.
The complaint is signed by Cmdrs. Rodney Gehrett, Mitchel Lincoln and Robert King.
The commanders were put on administrative leave the day it was submitted. It names three women alleged to have had sexual relationships with Maketa: his second in command, Undersheriff Paula Presley; the comptroller, Dorene Cardarelle; and the head of training for dispatchers, Tiffany Huntz.
Presley denied having a sexual relationship with Maketa, saying in an email to The Gazette: "Your allegations are ridiculous and inappropriate. I have never had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the sheriff and to further suggest that I was promoted as a result is incomprehensible."
Cardarelle denied the allegation but refused to comment further, saying she wanted to talk to a lawyer.
Huntz, after refusing to respond to The Gazette on the phone, sent an email saying, "Your questions are outrageous and completely inappropriate. I have never had a sexual relationship with the sheriff. If you publish anything to the contrary, there will be consequences."
Allegations of special treatment for Cardarelle and Huntz were publicized by local media in 2010, but this is the first time evidence of affairs has surfaced and top commanders have spoken.
The commanders also filed a federal Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission complaint May 12 alleging that Maketa created a hostile work environment by using sexual favoritism, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by The Gazette.
The commanders sent a memo to Maketa the same day informing him of the complaint, saying, "Your behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."
An EEOC spokesman said he could not comment on the complaint.
Maketa said the other allegations that "involve potential claims against me are being referred to independent outside investigators with my full support. The county has retained outside counsel for advice and defense."
In addition to the complaints, The Gazette obtained more than 500 emails and text messages dating to 2008 between Maketa and Cardarelle and Huntz.
The messages show Maketa had sexually explicit conversations with Cardarelle, calling her his "soul mate."
The messages show Maketa gave Huntz advice on how she could avoid punishment for misconduct at work.
"I think often about touching kissing and licking every inch of your amazing body," said a message dated 1:48 a.m. Jan. 4, 2009, from Maketa's phone number that is typical of the exchanges with Cardarelle.
An independent digital forensics expert confirmed that the messages obtained by The Gazette originated from Cardarelle's email account on county computer servers.
Despite a lack of qualifications, the county complaint said, Cardarelle was repeatedly promoted by the sheriff, and she now makes more than $100,000 per year.
Presley and Huntz also got favorable treatment, the complaint says.
Cardarelle largely controls the Sheriff's Office budget.
Since taking office in 2003, the complaint says, Maketa has restricted oversight of the budget, removing levels of review so that only he and Cardarelle know what is on the books.
"The current organizational structure has eliminated the checks and balances that would normally be required to ensure the huge sum of taxpayer dollars are spent wisely," the complaint says.
A number of top-ranking current and former Sheriff's Office employees interviewed by The Gazette said they knew about the affairs and other complaints for years but felt powerless to do anything. Some say they confronted the sheriff, but the behavior continued. Others were afraid they would lose their jobs if they said anything.
"What are you going to do?" said former Undersheriff Larry Kastner, who retired in 2012 after clashing with the sheriff for years. Kastner said he knew about the affairs but said nothing. "The sheriff is all powerful. If he decides you're dismissed, you're dismissed. So you bite your tongue; you try to do your job the best you can for the people of El Paso County."
Joe Breister, a bureau chief who retired in January after a dispute with the sheriff, said county commissioners and other top local officials also knew about the affairs, but there was no direct proof. "Everybody knew what was going on. But they knew he was politically powerful, and they all wanted his support and endorsement. So they kept their mouths shut."
The commissioners did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
A county spokesman refused to comment on how the county is responding to the complaint, saying it is a "personnel issue."
As an elected official, the sheriff cannot be fired by the county commissioners.
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general said if there are issues of possible criminal conduct with a sheriff, it is the job of the local district attorney to investigate and prosecute.
Dan May, 4th Judicial District attorney, declined to comment.
Rising through the ranks
Maketa started at the Sheriff's Office in 1987, working as a guard in the jail. He worked his way up the ranks until he was chosen for promotion to the command staff by former Sheriff John Anderson in the late 1990s and became a commander, then undersheriff.
When Anderson left office in 2002 due to term limits, he endorsed Maketa as his successor, and Maketa was elected to the first of his three terms. At his 2003 swearing-in, he said, "I will be honest, loyal, dedicated and make sacrifices necessary to ensure that you as well as the expectations of this community are met."
One of the first things Maketa did in office, Kastner said, was remove the policy barring relationships with subordinates. The Sheriff's Office did not return calls for confirmation.
Maketa gained a reputation with voters as a confident, effective leader who oversaw an expansion of the jail and fought for tax increases that would help his deputies. More recently, he inspired some local residents as a champion of gun rights and the face of the response to the 2013 Black Forest fire. He won re-election handily, and his name has been mentioned by local Republicans for higher office. Facebook pages have popped up urging him to run for governor and U.S. Senate. He told The Gazette in 2013 that he had not ruled out running for another office.
As sheriff, Maketa initially had strong support from deputies, but his abrasive leadership style, marked by threats and suspicion, eventually alienated colleagues, said commanders and former commanders interviewed by The Gazette.
The complaint alleges Maketa has "routinely subjected employees to harassment, abusive language and emotional distress. Threats of termination of employment have been . a favorite tactic used by Maketa."
One time when Maketa was angry, the complaint says, several employees were called in the middle of the night and told to be at his office in dress uniform at 6:30 a.m. The complaint did not say when this occurred. "Upon their arrival, they were made to wait for hours before he called them into his office individually to verbally berate them."
Such behavior destroyed relationships Maketa formed as a deputy, sources said.
"As the years went by, he had fewer and fewer friends," Kastner said. "Even his best friends. He would just fly off the handle and you never knew what would set him off. Everyone spent as much time worrying about keeping their job as they did doing their job."
Since January, five of the sheriff's 12-person command staff have left or been put on leave over differences with the sheriff, according to former commanders.
Some deputies who spoke to The Gazette have also left, citing harassment by the sheriff. Former commanders say the sheriff's actions make the office vulnerable to lawsuits and have created an atmosphere of intimidation in which line-level employees are afraid to speak up about concerns in the office.
Breister said the tension affected the entire office. "It destroys morale. It infuriates people, and eventually it affects how deputies deal with the citizens."
Paula Presley is one of three women with whom the complaint alleges Maketa had an affair.
Five former high-ranking Sheriff's Office employees who worked for years with Maketa and Presley told The Gazette they believe the allegations are true.
Presley was a lieutenant who worked in the county jail when Maketa took office, according to county records, and quickly rose through the ranks as the two formed a relationship, despite warnings from staff that she was a bad fit for higher positions, former commanders told The Gazette.
"She was promoted to commander, and it did not work out," said Teri Goodall, a longtime confidant of Maketa who was undersheriff at the time. Goodall said she and Maketa recently had a falling out over his actions at the Sheriff's Office. "She didn't have good leadership abilities. She was a micromanager and would get really angry at small things."
Presley's supervisor at the jail, Kastner, concurred.
"She had no people skills and could not process basic paperwork," Kastner said. "Things would sit on her desk for months - audits, internal affairs files, important things."
The Sheriff's Office refused to release the personnel file of Presley and the other women, as well as those of the commanders who filed the complaint, in response to a Gazette request under the Colorado Open Records Act. "Given the potential legal proceedings against the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, the various individuals involved, and the possible expense and consequences to the Sheriff's Office if certain information were released before the conclusion of these proceedings, the Sheriff's Office denies all your records requests," Sheriff's Office attorney Charles Greenlee said in an email this week.
Then, on Thursday, Greenlee emailed The Gazette, saying, "Due to an unforeseen change of circumstances, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office will be releasing your requested files." The Gazette had not received the files by deadline Thursday.
At some point in 2005 or 2006, former commanders said, they began to suspect Maketa and Presley were having an affair.
Breister and Kastner said they saw the two constantly use their phones for what appeared to be text messaging under the table at meetings. They would go on business trips together and spend hours in closed-door conversations at work, Kastner and Breister said.
"We're a room full of cops, we watch people, their behavior," Kastner said. "You can tell by the way people are interacting what's going on."
At one point, Kastner, knowing that Presley and Maketa spent hours talking at work, said to Presley if she "got a chance to whisper in the sheriff's ear," that she should ask him about an issue they were having at the jail.
Kastner said she replied, "If I get a chance to whisper in his ear, we're not going to be talking about work."
In 2007, when Presley's name came up in the search for a new bureau chief - the third-highest rank in the office - Goodall and former Undersheriff Paul Zani recommended that Presley not be promoted, Goodall said, and should, in fact, be demoted.
Maketa promoted her.
Goodall said she began to see that the relationship was affecting the office and confronted Maketa. "I said, 'I'm not your mother; I'm not talking about this with you again, but you need to stop,'?" she said. "He was dismissive, but he did not deny it."
Maketa threatened to fire employees he suspected of mentioning his close relationships with the women, sources said.
"Members of the command staff are frequent targets of his abusive attacks, presumably due to the fact that they have witnessed his unethical and illegal behavior," the county complaint states.
Once, Breister said, someone asked him where the sheriff was, and he made what he thought was a harmless comment that he thought he had seen Maketa with Presley.
"Somehow it got back to him that I was spreading rumors, and he chewed my ass out," Breister said.
Breister said Maketa "treated me like a piece of dirt. There had to be 50 people like me he yelled at and threatened to fire for talking about his girls."
Several people interviewed said Presley's husband, deputy Stan Presley, found Maketa in his home with his wife and told co-workers he believed they were having an affair.
"If there were rumors circulating," Kastner said, "they were rumors that started with Stan Presley."
Stan Presley died of cancer in 2010.
Maketa promoted Presley to undersheriff in 2012 and picked her to run as his successor in 2014. She chose not to run, telling The Gazette at the time that she did not want to get involved in politics.
At least once, Presley has resigned after a fight with the sheriff, threatening Maketa with a lawsuit for creating a hostile workplace, said Ken Moore, a commander who left in 2011. "She holds it over him," Moore said. "So do the other women."
In 2007, Dorene Cardarelle applied for a job as a Sheriff's Office budget analyst.
Supervisors decided she was not a good fit for the position, which paid $51,396 per year.
"She didn't have any licensing. She didn't have any professional certification," said Moore, who was supervisor of the budget office at the time. She did not even have a degree in accounting - a requirement for the job, Moore said.
"We had someone with experience we wanted to hire, but Maketa hired her," he said. "She later told me it was love at first sight."
Cardarelle denied she had a sexual relationship with Maketa.
Text messages obtained by The Gazette suggest her relationship with Maketa became more personal in the summer of 2007. Cardarelle began a quick climb that has made her one of the highest-paid employees at the Sheriff's Office. Five months after starting as an analyst, she was promoted to comptroller and given a 49 percent pay raise, according to Sheriff's Office records.
Details of her promotions were first reported in 2010 in the Colorado Springs Independent.
Late in 2009, Maketa gave her another pay raise. The then-32-year-old with a psychology degree was making as much as the staff attorney: more than $85,000 per year.
She was also given a grant-writing job that paid $9,852 more a year. According to the county complaint, she now makes more than $100,000 per year. The Sheriff's Office did not respond to requests for her salary under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Maketa told media in 2010 that Cardarelle got a big paycheck because she did the job of two employees: a comptroller and a grant writer.
Her job performance was uneven, a supervisor said. She did not get along well with other workers, refused to follow office rules, such as signing out when leaving during the day, and would stay in her office with the doors closed and lights off for hours, according to Kastner, who was her supervisor.
"It was a daily kind of deal, that behavior," he said.
Shortly after she became comptroller, Kastner said, he called her into his office and told her that her behavior was inappropriate.
The next day, he said, he got "reamed out" by Maketa for criticizing her.
During the same time, according to text and email messages obtained by The Gazette, which Cardarelle stored on her county work computer, Maketa and Cardarelle discussed sex and their love for one another.
More than 500 messages reviewed by The Gazette, sent between October 2008 and December 2009, show the two proclaiming their love, quarreling and yearning to be together.
Almost all of the messages were sent long after midnight - during the months Cardarelle is said to have spent hours at work during the day behind closed doors with the lights off.
"I cherish and adore you, I love looking at you and feeling your warmth and softness. I crave the closeness of our bodies together," said a message from Maketa's phone number sent in January 2009. Also sent was at least one photo in which Maketa is naked from the shoulders up, standing in what appears to be a bathroom. Accompanying the message are the words, "Wish you were with me."
Though Maketa had never traveled to out-of-town budget and grant-writing conferences before, several former employees said, the complaint says the two began traveling together regularly to such meetings, funding the trips with taxpayer dollars.
The Gazette requested documents detailing Maketa's official travel as well as the women's official travel, under the Colorado Open Records Act. The Sheriff's Office said it would comply with the request, but The Gazette had not received the documents by publication deadline.
Cardarelle received special treatment from Maketa, current and former employees said. She regularly took two-hour lunches where she would meet Maketa, several former commanders said.
In 2012, Cardarelle had a baby. Though she stayed away from the office for months, sources said, the complaint says she officially took only three days off.
When commanders attempted to discipline Cardarelle for poor performance, Maketa took away their oversight and had her report directly to him, said Brad Shannon, a commander who retired in January after disputes with Maketa and was Cardarelle's supervisor.
"She worked for me, and I had no control over her whatsoever," Shannon said. "She just went to Maketa, and they did what they wanted."
Goodall, the former undersheriff, said Maketa's promotion of Cardarelle, Presley and Huntz was only half the problem.
Maketa also refused to promote women who turned down his advances, she said.
"There are other women out there who he made advances to that rebuffed him and then never got a promotion. I know of a couple. How unfair to them," she said. "It seems to me that could be grounds for a sexual discrimination suit."
The training supervisor
The county complaint alleges Maketa also got involved with Tiffany Huntz, a 33-year-old dispatcher and one-time amateur nude model. Huntz has been repeatedly promoted despite numerous cases of misconduct.
Huntz denied having a sexual relationship with Maketa and called the accusation "outrageous."
Huntz started working at the Sheriff's Office as a night shift dispatcher in 2004, records show.
At the Sheriff's Office, she was the subject of at least four internal affairs investigations for misconduct, according to records and interviews with former commanders.
According to a Sheriff's Office memo about the issue, provided by an anonymous source, she was investigated in 2007 for not seeking approval to have a second job after it was discovered she was running a home-based sex toy business.
She was investigated in early 2008 for sending more than 470 texts, largely of a personal nature, over the Sheriff's Office computer system, according to another Sheriff's Office memo.
She was investigated in February 2008 for an elaborate prank in which she persuaded at least one co-worker to call in a fake rollover crash involving a person named "Fola Seaman." Another dispatcher sent the call using the name, which Huntz intended to be pronounced "full of semen," over the Sheriff's Office radio, according to a third Sheriff's Office memo.
She was investigated in March 2008 regarding her application to become a deputy sheriff, according to a commander. Supervisors discovered during a background investigation that Huntz had previously applied to the Colorado Springs Police Department and had failed a lie-detector test, Moore said. A background report found she told the police she was a daily Vicodin user who had lived with a drug dealer while he was dealing at their house, according to an internal email obtained by The Gazette.
In her application to become a deputy, she had not mentioned these facts, Moore said.
"She was departing from the truth, I requested an internal affairs investigation and recommended disciplinary action," said Moore, who was her supervisor. "But that got all cleaned up by Maketa and went away."
At around the same time in March 2008, Kastner said he recommended punishment for the dispatch prank.
Emails sent between Maketa and Huntz's county email accounts and obtained by The Gazette from an anonymous source show that Maketa was advising her on how to handle the investigations.
"It will be OK," said an email sent from Maketa's account. "I read what you wrote. All you need to say is that you wish to appeal the sustained allegation of departure from the truth. State that is a very serious allegation that can be harmful. Add that you feel you never knowingly or intentionally departed from the truth. Just put those two concepts into your words in your memo."
Late that night, another email requested that she call his cellphone on a "private line."
Huntz was issued a letter of reprimand for the prank, the lowest level of discipline possible. The investigation regarding Huntz's Sheriff's Office application was never completed, Moore said.
In May 2008, Huntz requested permission from her superiors to pose nude for various websites and magazines. Nude photos of her had already appeared on numerous websites, Kastner said.
Kastner refused to sign the memo granting her permission. "I thought it was totally inappropriate. But I was overruled," he said.
The undersheriff at the time, Zani, approved the request, according to a 2010 article in the Colorado Springs Independent. Contacted by The Gazette through a friend, Zani declined to comment.
Despite discipline problems and performance that Kastner described as "dismal," Huntz was promoted to supervisor of training in 2009. He said she was such a poor trainer that a growing rate of newly hired dispatchers failed to complete their training.
By 2010, she was making more than $50,000 a year, according to published reports.
The county complaint says her husband, deputy John Huntz, has also recently been promoted to "the coveted assignment" of training sergeant.
The complaint says Huntz, who has "boasted about her open marriage," has traveled together with Maketa, his wife and John Huntz "on numerous occasions."
The night in March 2013 that Colorado Department of Corrections chief Tom Clements was killed at his home near Monument, Breister said, Maketa and Huntz were at a conference in Las Vegas. Maketa did not return to head the investigation.
Several former commanders said sheriffs are expected to directly oversee high-profile cases. Instead, he put Presley in charge.
Close colleagues have confronted Maketa about his alleged affairs and their impact on the Sheriff's Office.
In January 2010, Moore said, he confronted Maketa about the relationships. It was an election year, and Moore had decided to back his longtime friend, Fountain Police Chief Todd Evans, for sheriff. Moore said Maketa felt betrayed and became angry, "screaming" at him for being disloyal.
"Let's talk about loyalty. I've kept my mouth shut for years while you've screwed around. Everyone knows it. Everyone," Moore said he told Maketa. Moore said they had a long conversation and that he explained to Maketa that everyone in his command staff knew about the alleged affairs.
"He left very disturbed," Moore said.
The same week, Evans said, he also confronted Maketa, telling him he had proof the sheriff was having affairs. Evans said he met with Maketa because the sheriff had suspended a popular deputy named J.D. Ross after hearing the deputy said Maketa might not get re-elected. Ross has a child with a serious medical condition and was worried he would lose his job and health insurance.
"I basically told him, if you don't reinstate Ross, the proof will come out," Evans told The Gazette. Ross was reinstated.
Evans told The Gazette that Maketa admitted the affairs with Huntz, Presley and Cardarelle and said his wife knew.
Evans told The Gazette he encouraged the sheriff to "take responsibility" publicly for what he had done.
Maketa responded that "nobody can prove anything," Evans said.
A few days later, on Jan. 20, 2010, Maketa announced he would not seek a third term.
Then in February, Evans dropped out of the race because he had been diagnosed with cancer, and Maketa announced he was back in the race. He won easily.
Maketa's relationships with the three women continue to be a key political issue. This spring, Maketa, unable to run for sheriff again, told candidate Jim Reid that he would offer his endorsement if Reid agreed to certain conditions.
"Maketa's requirements were to keep his three women in place," said Breister, saying he had heard this from Reid directly.
Contacted by The Gazette, Reid said Maketa had spoken to him about an endorsement and offered "conditions," but he declined to elaborate.
When Reid refused the conditions, Maketa endorsed former Sheriff John Anderson, who vowed to make a "seamless transition." Anderson did not get enough votes at the El Paso County Republican Assembly to get on the ballot.
The Republican candidate, who is expected to replace Maketa, is Fountain Police Deputy Chief Bill Elder, who has vowed to do a forensic audit of the office budget.
Maketa may feel forced to keep the women in their current jobs, said Moore, who was shown the emails. He noted the emails and texts between Cardarelle and Maketa's accounts, obtained by The Gazette, had been stored in a folder on Cardarelle's work computer.
"He's been compromised," Moore said of Maketa. "That is the big thing here. He is compromised, and so the only thing he can do in the office is beat up the people who have not compromised themselves."
When asked about the allegations in 2010, Maketa told FOX21 that "rumors" of affairs and preferential treatment were false, adding, "I think you can take anything and leave certain facts out and leave certain things in and it can change the outlook or the picture from the public perception."
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