Ken Buck Goes Public on U.S. Atty. Friction with Strickland

Ken Buck, the leading Republican candidate for Colorado’s U.S. Senate race,  just made files available to the public from his years at the U.S. Attorney’s office documenting his concerns about a weak case former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland wanted to file against some pawn shop owners.  Buck turned materials on the case (that included private personnel records otherwise not subject to disclosure) over to the Denver Post, as reported today by Allison Sherry.

The story starts with a pair of Russian immigrant brothers who ran a gun store and pawnshop in Aurora in the 1990s. Gregory and Leonid Golyansky were friends and contributors to the Republican Party — Buck says he knew Gregory Golyansky at the time from Republican society gatherings. …

Federal investigators went to the gun shop in several undercover sting operations from 1996 through 1998, posing as “straw purchasers.” That means two people would come in together, but only the person paying for the gun would have to pass a background check.

Authorities figured this was how career criminals commonly gained access to weapons.

Agents first presented the investigation to the U.S. attorney’s office in 1998, when Buck was chief of general crimes. At the time, Buck and a prosecutor below him declined to file charges because of weaknesses in the ATF probe, Buck said.

Henry Solano, who was then the U.S. attorney appointed by President Bill Clinton, said the ATF never appealed the decision to him. Solano, a Democrat, served in that post until December 1998.

In his view, declining the case “was an appropriate decision,” Solano said in a recent interview.

But when Tom Strickland was sworn in as U.S. attorney the day after a pair of Columbine High School students killed 12 kids and a teacher before killing themselves in April 1999, one of his first priorities was to mount an offensive against gun violence.

So Buck thought the case was lousy, and so did his Dem boss,  Solano.  Then Strickland comes in with Columbine on his mind, and obviously sees political opportunism beckoning.  This is the same Tom Strickland that now serves as assistant Interior Secretary under Ken Salazar.  This would be the  same Tom Strickland that had to be air-lifted out of a rafting trip on the Grand Canyon on April 20 so he could attend to his duties in the gulf oil spill.

This case is also what has had some Jane Norton supporters all abuzz in the comments sections of the conservative blogosphere, including the People’s Press Collective.  So what is Buck’s non-crime here?  He told an attorney for the defense his opinion that the case was weak.  Strickland thought this violated the attorney client privilege under some tortured interpretation.  I say tortured, because the “client” wasn’t Tom Strickland.  The client is the United States of America, and the duty of a prosecutor is not to prosecute a case as hard as possible just because your boss wants you to do that.  A prosecutor has a duty to seek justice on behalf of the public.

Is this the big smoking gun in Ken Buck’s tenure as head of Criminal Prosecutions at the U.S. Attorney’s office that we’ve heard cryptic allusions to?  Ironically, even Bill Ritter’s big bud, Stephanie Villafuerte, thought this case was a dog.  She wrote a memo about the case that the defense attorneys sought to obtain.  Strickland charged the case as a 37-count felony indictment, but it was plead down to the lowest possible misdemeanor, and one day of probation, for one defendant.  Charges against two other defendants were dropped.

By this time Strickland was busy in his failed U.S. Senate run in 2002.  Suthers was aboard as U.S. Attorney, and based on Strickland’s filing of an internal ethics complaint against Buck, issued a letter of reprimand in late 2001.  This letter would have remained a private, personnel file matter but for the disclosure by Buck (though details surrounding it seem to have been leaked by the Norton campaign, possibly via her endorser, Suthers).  And this internal reprimand was in no way a Bar-discipline of any kind against Buck. Ken Buck has a spotless record with the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.

Buck now admits his disclosures were a mistake, though I think that’s debatable.  We need more prosecutors who take their responsibilities seriously and speak out when the boss is pursuing cases for his own political motives and not the pursuit of justice.  As the recent felony mountain biking prosecutions by fellow Penryite and Suthers endorsement recipient, Mark Hurlbert, illustrates, overcharging by prosecutors is a pernicious form of government overreach.  Buck himself recently spoke to me about his concerns about the “overcriminalization” of society.

My only beef with Buck would be that he received about $700 in reported contributions for his Senate run from the Golyanskys.  While this is technically legal, I think it creates an appearance of impropriety,  and I have argued the same about the $2,000 in contributions Mark Hurlbert received from Ali Hasan and family (whom Hurlbert investigated, but declined to prosecute, in 2008).  Unlike Buck, Hurlbert failed to reveal details of his investigation (thereby preventing the public from making its own decision of the merits of Hurlbert’s conduct).  Still, returning  the $700 contributions would be the high road for Buck to take.

Buck’s stance in the Golyansky prosecution was a brave one, and given two well-known Democrat prosecutors agreed with him, and the one who didn’t was Tom Strickland, speaks volumes.  The Penry-led Norton campaign, as Don Johnson recently pointed out, seems truly desperate.  If this is the big dirt they have on Buck, and given the latest polling numbers, maybe Norton  should just bow out now.

Updated: Dems on the attack in predictable fashion.  Good coverage by The Independent’s John Tomasic.  Read the whole DP piece by Sherry, including the 53 comments after the article.  A lot of people seem to get it about how political prosecutor’s offices work.

7 responses to “Ken Buck Goes Public on U.S. Atty. Friction with Strickland

  1. Gregory Golyansky

    I was just wondering, why should Ken Buck return my $700.00 contribution? Ken knows that I have done nothing illegal. The only reason I got misdemeanor conviction, was because after fighting the Government for more then two years, at the cost $600,000.00, I had no money left to continue the fight and was forced to give the Government goons something in exchange for dropping the case against my brother. Tom Strickland also knew that I was not guilty; however, he needed such a case to help him get elected to the US Senate. Jane Norton is doing the same thing as did Tom Strickland and, it would seem, for the same reason.

    Gregory Golyansky.

    • Gregory,

      Thank you for commenting. I am convinced that you were wrongly prosecuted and Ken Buck did the right thing by not going along with it. I appreciate your letting the public know the cost of fighting a powerful government entitity who gets to play its legal games with taxpayer money – with no obligation to even account for how much money they spent going against you. I’m also well aware that a prosecutor will virtually always require a plea to “something.” That’s why I noted in my post that you received the lightest possible plea. I appreciate your elaborating on the circumstances of the plea.

      It’s important for the public to understand what I call the “extrajudicial punishment” you received monetarily and I can only imagine the time, anguish, and stress to you and your family. Getting this kind of information out to fellow conservatives is one of the missions of this blog.

      So I hope it was clear that my post was supportive of you and of Ken Buck’s actions. I didn’t even think he should have admitted any wrongdoing. I don’t see any wrongdoing based on the article.

      As to the campaign contributions, I am already on record, based in part from consultation with legal expert Scott Robinson, that a prosecutor should not take contributions from someone he investigated. I wrote about this in the context of Ali Hasan and Mark Hurlbert. That case was a far more clear cut one than I set out in the post, as I didn’t want to stray too far off the topic. But I will elaborate a bit here. It was two years from the time of Hurlbert’s no-file decision to the receipt of the campaign contributions. Hurlbert was the head DA and chose to handle it personally, rather than pass it on to a subordinate. Hurlbert helped Hasan in his campaign in the same year he investigated him. The case record is sealed and Hurlbert has not relesed anything about it – thus the public has no way of judging the merits of the case. Finally, $2,000 was a huge proportion of Hurlbert’s campaign fundraising – he only raised a total of about $15,000.

      The issue is simply to be absolutely scrupulous in avoiding an appearance of impropriety. Nothing more. Ken Buck’s accepting and keeping the contribution is perfectly legal, and I think any appearance of impropriety is a mild one at the most. But keep in mind, a private practice attorney is prohibited by ethics rules from even accepting more than modest gifts from clients or past clients. I think there should be an ethical rule that draws a bright line for prosecutors that they can never accept gifts or contributions from anyone with whom they were involved in a prosecutorial decision as a potential defendant. There is no such ethical rule currently, so the issue is my opinion only. But it clearly would take away a political weapon used by the other side I don’t feel strongly on the issue in this particular case, but felt obligated to mention it to be consistent given my extensive writing about Hurlbert.

  2. Gregory Golyansky has been persecuted enough. He has a right to contribute to any campaign he chooses.

    Ken Buck was correct in not allowing himself to be used for Democrat operative Tom Strickland’s political gain. There is a reason Strickland lost two Senate campaigns. People know about him.

    Ken Buck sought justice. Could anyone ask for more? Ken buck is an honest man.

    Jane Norton, Josh Penry and John Suthers should be ashamed.

  3. Val,

    Thanks, as always, for your smart, articulate and thoughtful comments. As a big supporter of First Amendment rights inherent in campaign finance, such as the Citizens United decision, I realize after receiving Gregory’s comment, maybe I focused too much on the recipient of the donation instead of the rights of the citizen making the donation.

    You bring out that point well. And I think we all agree about who the culprits are here. I hope to focus more on prosecutorial abuses in the coming months, and why they largely go unchecked in our justice system and how we can help change this.

    The way Ken Buck handled this case turned me from leaning towards Buck to leaning strongly for Buck. The way the Norton campaign handled it, turned me into a solid Buck supporter.

  4. Jim- American citizen

    Perhaps, Jane Norton, could comment on her husband(Mike) and money connected to Silverado , which was a billion $ lost to the USA.(taxpayers).,
    Ahhh, you know like Mike the politican, who was U S Atty for Colo.
    Where does Jane get her legal/ ethical advice she said she needs no lectures.
    Well, seems she never attended any, that she disclosed, but how about her cocktails with Charlie– D C– Black, oh, really that must have been something. So D C-esque, or its equivalent.
    As to money, and shake downs, are any going to look at money to Strickland, from assorted movers in the lanes, given his current high DOI position. the whole ball of wax.
    Also, Buck never accepted money from one he was prosecuting. He is not a U S Atty, currently.
    Your premise is wrong on that as if Scotty is out to lunch, i e Scott Robinson, the crimanl white collar guy, hardly objective in matters, way you seemed to make attributes to him, as that came down.
    Is he too, some anti Brady Rule, will we hear some more lectrues on that, as if the Brady rules is chopped liver in Colorado, the latest double shuffle.
    Ask Barney Frank how much he has accepted from defendants in actions involving matters.
    Lets get into this Laura.
    Also, lets look at the whole profile on the Norton campaign, and on Buck.
    However, how much has GAP given to politicans in CA, or some big players in CA ?
    Which brings up Aspen and DIFI’s pad with her investment banker hubby.(oh that is a juicy one when one gets into the stock holdngs, DIFI watch
    Oh, this is going to be fun.
    Buck was involved as a prosecutor when a DOJ guy.(the PAWN thing). Want to put up the year on that, perhaps.
    He was presumed innocent, is Mr Denver Post spinner eliminating that rule of criminal procedure, too ?
    Buck is no longer in that office, gratis of some who wanted to kill his career.
    How did that happen, and why the stoenwalls on that, as to covered up entire letters, as the Denver Post does soem spin city.
    Is this some exercise of some Denver weanies just trying to do some smear–hit— on those with publicv service.
    Well, the issue is out there, and nice to hear from the Pawn Shop guy.
    Gee, let me ask you Laura how much money did GE give to assoorted politicans after it so ripped off USA accounts on so many matters.
    That, should prove to be interesting data.
    Who in the hell appointed you and Scott as Grand Inquistors to run staw man things, looks like you place both sides of the fence

  5. Laura,

    Thank you for acknowledging my comments.

    I agree with you that prosecutorial abuses should be brought to the surface. I’m sure you remember the Fort Collins man who spent many years in prison due to prosecutorial misconduct? (He finally got a settlement.)

    Ken Buck refused to participate in prosecutorial abuse and for that, I applaud him.

  6. Jim- American citizen

    The head of the Dem party(Co) and others make assertions that:
    1) Mr Buck accepted money donations to his u S Senate race from one he prosecuted, or something akin to such claims.

    Lets look at the facts.

    More than 10 years ago, Mr Buck was an assistant U S Atty in Denver.
    It is now 2010, long down teh road from the 1990’s. Combline was a tragic moment in a lot of lives in the Denver area. People stil have on their licesne plates a flower, the Columbine, with the etched words: respect life.
    If Mr Buck was now, in the year, 2010, an Attorney in any DOJ office prosecuting Mr G, then there might be a problem.(if he had accept campaign contributions
    He is not in fact.–in that position, or in the year 2010 prosecuting Mr G.
    Thus, that assertions are deeply flawed, so floated around Denver, and in its press
    Going on to the next assertion, Mr G asserts that a political operative of the RENO DOJ knew of innocence, to charges. Tis implicates many other things.
    Thus, it would be interesting to hear more.
    Like dates, charges, etc,
    How many D. A’s from some place in America, left their D A job, and at some point in their life ran for political office ? A lot, it is called democracy
    Wait, the Governor of Colorado.
    A person was concerned about the D A stint of Mr Ritter, and information found its way to the Governor’s race to raise issues.
    Mr Vorhis was indicted by the DOJ process, in the fedeal criminal courts,(he was found innocent), he was fired from Homeland Security, he has legal bills of near a million dollars, hand over his head.
    It is not quite as simple as Jane Norton, and her supporers in this matter, the head of the Dem party, make matters out to be.
    Just for your information, on April 20th, at the dawn of the greatest environmenatl disaster to befall America, political official Tom Strickland, now a high offical in the Dept of Interior, leveraging his DEM party connections, was rafting in the Grand Canyon. He is a known political animal, around Colorado. So, one may want to look at more facts in this matter.
    I want to back up a second.
    I am sure a fine criminal defense attorney in Denver, Mr Robinson, would agree , that there are second chances in life.
    Why, I would only note the amicus brief filed by Alan Simpson, in a recent Supreme Court case who notes his string of things leading to criminal convictions, as a young man—- before he was elected to the U S Senate from Wyoming.

    On the other assertions in the Denver Post, one has to be careful, we all know everthing in some of these papers are not true, and corners are cut to sell papers in this time when so many papers just fold.
    Thank you for allowing me to clarify some prior comments. The reference to weanies was to political Officals in the RENO DOJ, who so play politics. That may have been confusing, so I want to clear that up.
    Aso, you have done an excellent job of covering legal issues on this blog.
    Another point should be cleared up, it was not your premise, but rather that of the Denver Post.
    Justice is an important issue in people’s lives.
    It is vital that it be covered from more than the slant of the Denver Post.

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