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New Chief of Staff at Custer County Sheriff’s Office is still under investigation by Colorado Bureau of Investigation and District Attorney’s Office

Two weeks ago, in response to the Tribune’s questions about the hiring of the former Florence Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis, Custer County Sheriff Rich Smith stated, “[Regarding] Mike DeLaurentis, there is no evidence that Chief DeLaurentis was involved in any crime in the Town of Florence. While there, outside investigations were completed by the Fountain Police Dept, 11th JD DA, CBI and the new city manager.” This statement by Sheriff Smith is not accurate.

The Tribune’s inquiry into the former Florence Police Chief Michael DeLaurentis shows that the investigation into DeLaurentis and other members of the Florence Police Department is still ongoing and has not been resolved.

The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) responded to a Colorado Open Records Request (CORA) last week, stating, “Although case information has been presented to the District Attorney’s Office, no decision has been finalized; hence this remains an active investigation. Because this is still an active investigation, disclosure of certain criminal justice information could affect the integrity of the investigation; therefore, the CBI denies your request for the above requested documents at this time because it would be contrary to the public interest.”

The Tribune also requested the CBI investigation report from the District Attorney’s Office with a particular focus on any investigations involving Michael DeLaurentis. The District Attorney’s Office has not responded to the Tribune requests. The District Attorney’s office is not required to respond to requests for active investigations.

Documents from the City of Florence show that in February 2022, the town council ordered the Interim City Manager, Thomas H. Piltingsrud, to open an investigation into the Florence Police Department and to enlist the help of an outside agency to help with the investigation. City Manager Piltingsrud contacted the City of Fountain for help. The Fountain Police declined, but the Fountain Town Clerk assisted with some of the ongoing questions about the city’s finances. The Pueblo Police Department also declined to help.

In a Document dated March 8, 2022, Piltigsrud gave a Memorandum for the Record to the town council on his progress on the investigation. He starts off by stating, “Councilmember Brian Allen called me around February 23, 2022 regarding concerns he had with the ‘Delaurentis (sic) Agreement Upon Retirement’ that had been dated on September 23, 2019 to include concerns regarding the authorization, payment to Delaurentis (sic) and any other details I could find.” The report continues that after investigation of the severance payment of $32,284.50, he could not find any record that the town council had agreed to this severance package. Piltingsrud concludes that he would enlist the CBI for assistance.

On March 11, 2022, City Manager Piltingsrud gave another report that concluded that “Florence Chief Prickett has confirmed that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has taken jurisdiction of the inquiry.”

Because this is still an active investigation by the CBI, it is likely that until charges are filed or the investigation is closed, no other documents about the CBI investigation will be forthcoming.

During the Tribune’s investigation over the past several weeks, other documents were uncovered showing DeLaurentis had been on thin ice with the town manager and was repeatedly reprimanded for his behavior as Chief of Police. This culminated in a signed reprimand by the City Manager, Mike Patterson, with DeLaurentis’s signature confirming he understood the reprimand and the consequences if he repeated his actions. The letter, dated August 8, 2019, states:

Chief DeLaurentis,

As we have previously discussed there are certain behaviors that you have demonstrated that must come to an end. Specifically yelling at people and the use of profane language.

According to the City of Florence Personnel Policies you have violated Section 2. A. Abusive Language/Behavor.

As we have also previously discussed there can be no more incidents of you using abusive language in either the form of yelling or swearing in the ordinary course of your job. You have committed to me that you will control yourself and that you will not have further incidences of abusive language. You have stated that you understand that there must be a zero tolerance on abusive language and you have pledged that you will resign if you have even one more incident of the use of profanity or yelling at people (except in the case of making arrests in stressful situations).

If an incident of this nature occurs and you do not immediately resign, you understand that I will have no choice but to move forward with termination proceedings.

Forty-six days later, Michael DeLaurentis resigned, citing back problems as the reason for his unexpected retirement. The severance agreement between Michael Patterson and Michael DeLauren­tis was kept hidden from the town council and could be part of the ongoing investigation by the CBI.

As noted in the Tribune story published on April 11, 2024, DeLaurentis’s retirement also came at a time when he and Patterson were secretly settling a $100,000 claim using city and insurance money with a woman who claimed both men had sexually harassed and wrongfully fired her. The settlement was hidden from the town council. In addition, the City Manager also settled another $150,000 worth of claims against DeLaurentis and his Police Department for police brutality, according to insurance records.

On top of the secret sexual harassment and police brutality settlements, it was later revealed that DeLaurentis had wrongfully secured interest-free loans to finish construction on his new house in rural Fremont County. While it appears that most of the funds were paid back, some several thousand dollars of these types of loans made by the City Manager to favored staff members are still missing and unaccounted for. Sheriff Rich Smith states that these loans were a legal benefit to employees. However, the previous and former Florence Town Councils stated that such loans using public funds were against city policy and had been hidden from the council by City Manager Patterson. These loans might also be part of the current CBI investigation as the full extent of what had taken place in Florence has never been released by authorities.

The Tribune continues to investigate and request documents from state and regional authorities into DeLaurentis and other former colleagues Sheriff Rich Smith has hired in the past year from the Florence Police Department.

– Jordan Hedberg

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