December 21, 2011
DENVER • Douglas Bruce has gone by many labels: anti-tax crusader, El Paso County commissioner and state lawmaker among them.
He has a couple new ones: Tax cheat. Convicted felon.
A jury found Bruce guilty Wednesday of tax evasion, filing a false return and attempting to influence a public servant and filing a false return. The convictions carry a penalty of three to 12 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
He will be sentenced Feb. 13 and had no comment as he made his way to the probation department, as ordered by the judge, for a pre-sentencing report.
“I will not make a comment prior to sentencing, except to say I will appeal,” he said.
The nine-day trial centered around Bruce funneling his 2005-2007 commissioner salary to Active Citizens Together, a charity he founded to push his political ideas. State officials also claim he earned $178,000 in interest from $2 million in loans he made to ACT and didn’t disclose the income.
Bruce defended himself in court, and the court proceedings were long-winded and contentious.
But it took jurors less than four hours to find him guilty on all counts, thanks to the sheer weight of documents and the money trail of Bruce’s financial dealings.
“The evidence kind of spoke for itself,” said juror Geno Tapia. “I thought he was a nice guy. I agree with a lot of his beliefs, but it wasn’t his demeanor that was on trial.”
“If you’re going to get a loan, go through a loan officer, go to a bank. Don’t make a loan out to yourself,” he said.
“All of it together. There wasn’t one part per se, it was looking at the sum of everything,” said juror Tricia Bennett.
First Assistant Attorney General Robert Shapiro praised the jury for sitting through a “very trying experience.”
“If you take a look at the misuse of a nonprofit by Mr. Bruce it is reprehensible,” Shapiro said. “ACT was simply a mechanism for him to cheat all of us.”
So, could the man who authored the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, once a colossal figure in Colorado politics, actually go to prison?
Judge Anne Mansfield allowed Bruce to remain free on bond after he agreed to surrender his passport.
With no prior convictions, authorities have a lot of leeway in how Bruce is sentenced, Shapiro said, from probation to the maximum. He declined to say what sentence he will seek until he has seen the pre-sentencing report, which takes six weeks to complete.
Generally, he said, for defendants willing to admit their wrongdoing and be rehabilitated, his office asks for leniency, including probation.
For those who don’t?
“The ball is now in Mr. Bruce’s court,” he said. “If the person is showing contempt for the court system and the state, it will leave me no option but to ask for the opposite sentence.”
He said Bruce might have been better off not representing himself.
A former attorney who is no longer licensed, Bruce seemed confounded by the rules of evidence and testimony, and had few of his pieces of evidence admitted.
Said Tapia, the juror: “It would have been a lot easier to defend if he had counsel. It would have been a lot easier for everyone.”