January 10, 2005
AUGUST 1994: Mike Witty resigns effective July 1 from the $55,000-a-year pension fund administrator job, on the heels of revelations that Witty contracts through Pinnacle Investment Consultants to manage the pension fund's real estate investments. A July report from The Gazette finds that the more real estate the county acquires, the higher Pinnacle's profits. SEPTEMBER 1994: District Attorney John Suthers concludes that as a public employee, Witty was prohibited from being a fund consultant. DECEMBER 1994: The county commission, The Gazette and an employee group sues the Pension Fund Board for access to the agency's records and documents after the organization refuses to release them and denies it is a public agency. JANUARY 1995: A judge orders the pension fund to release some records but not key real estate documents. JULY 1995: The Gazette reports that, even without supporting documentation and receipts, the fund paid Witty thousands of dollars for business expenses. In another story, The Gazette reports that the pension fund had impressive gains in the previous year but increased its real estate investments to 35 percent - more than $30 million. Nationwide, the pension fund investment rate in real estate averaged 1 to 2 percent. Witty was paid more than $500,000 in consulting fees in 1994. AUGUST 1995: The County Commission and employee's group settle the open records suit. With the settlement, Witty is fired from all but one real estate consulting contract. NOVEMBER 1995: The district attorney launches a criminal investigation after discovering someone during Witty's tenure had established a bank account in the name of the fund without the board's knowledge or approval. Board members' ongoing support of Witty erodes; they vote to cancel his final contract and withhold any pending payment to Witty. They then hire an accounting firm to conduct a review of pension records. DECEMBER 1995: Sharon Shipley, county treasurer for 27 years, and fellow board member Carl Hatton Sr. admit they each borrowed tens of thousands of dollars from Witty at the same time they voted to award him consulting contracts that netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hatton resigns Dec. 26, but Shipley refuses to quit until the following year after she and Hatley are convicted of official misconduct. MARCH 1996: The Gazette reports Witty diverted more than $150,000 from pension funds to his private consulting firm through a secret bank account. Bank records indicate Witty was the only person who used the secret account. MAY 1996: Witty is charged with 46 felonies for allegedly bilking $343,000 from the county pension fund and its beneficiaries. It's the biggest embezzlement case ever filed in El Paso County. He's accused of stealing money from death benefits owed to plan members, real estate transaction fees, tenant security deposits, real estate commissions and travel expenses from 1989 to 1994. JULY 1996: The pension fund files suit against Witty seeking $2 million in damages for his alleged crimes while he oversaw the fund. Also sued are Pinnacle Investment Consultants Inc. and PIC Management. JANUARY 1997: Witty is sentenced to 18 years in prison for stealing $343,000 from the county's pension fund. The scandal cost the retirement fund $1.2 million in stolen cash, legal and auditing fees. JUNE 1997: Witty agrees to pay $367,160 in restitution to the county. AUGUST 1997: New charges surface against Witty as he serves his sentence. He's accused of stealing the home and money of Virginia Pierson, a 78-year-old blind woman. JANUARY 1999: Witty is sentenced to an additional two years after pleading guilty to charges he stole from Pierson. The two years will be served concurrently with his 18-year sentence. JUNE 1999: Witty petitions the court to reduce his sentence. He is denied. MAY 2002: Witty almost makes parole. An secret 5-4 vote by the El Paso County Community Corrections Board approved his release, but after The Gazette questioned the voting procedure, county officials acknowledged the decision should have been made at a regular board meeting. JUNE 2002: The El Paso County Community Corrections Board reversed its secret vote from the previous month to reject Witty's parole application 6-2. There was no discussion of Witty's crimes nor an explanation for the reversal, but one member speculated that media coverage may have been a factor. NOVEMBER 2004: Witty is granted parole and released from prison. He was originally scheduled for release in August, 2012.