By Jesse Paul| The Denver Post
For three years, Leadville’s police chief was stealing department firearms, including high-powered assault-style rifles and semi-automatic handguns, and pawning them at shops in the Denver area, authorities say.
Michael Robert Leake continued a scheme of embezzlement even as leaders in the mountain town were concerned about his use of public funds, according to an arrest warrant.
But as the sole person responsible for the department’s weapons and evidence cache, the 50-year-old’s activities flew under the radar until late last year when he was forced to resign following an arrest for driving under the influence.
Leake has been charged with 14 felony counts in the case, including accusations of theft, embezzlement and forgery, prosecutors say. He surrendered Friday on the warrant.
“In small towns, for any type of business including a police department, there’s not always sufficient oversight,” 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said Monday. “That’s due to small budgets and small staff size. We as communities invest so much trust in our public officials, and if people in their heart are not doing the right thing, there’s a lot of latitude to jeopardize public safety or public finances.”
Brown said the public’s trust was broken by Leake’s breaking the very laws he was bound to uphold.
Leake’s alleged scheme came to the attention of Leadville’s leaders soon after they learned of his February 2015 DUI in Aurora and subsequent guilty plea and sentence. In December, the mayor allowed Leake to resign to avoid being fired, the warrant said.
When an interim chief took over the police department, she began auditing weapons and evidence only to find a number of missing items.
In all, 19 department firearms, including seven AR-15 rifles, four Remington shotguns and six Glock pistols, were unaccounted for.
Leadville Mayor Greg Labbe asked prosecutors to begin investigating the department, at which point the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was called to help.
Authorities say they found that Leake pawned many of the weapons between 2013 and 2015 in Aurora and Englewood, lying on documents about owning the weapons and pocketing the money he made. Other department-owned guns were found at his home, the warrant says.
Leake became Leadville’s police chief in 2008, according to his arrest affidavit. A top deputy told investigators he had a documented history of financial problems.
In June 2014, town officials audited Leake after concerns were raised about his financial dealings as chief. However, the warrant says, Leake “seemed to put the audit off” and never followed through with signing a formal oversight agreement.
Then, in December, Leake sought more than $2,200 for ammunition — money that was later found to have been deposited in his personal account, according to the warrant.
Leadville’s former mayor, Jaime Stuever, who was in office until Jan. 1, said Leake’s handling of department finances had concerned him at least once. He told investigators he felt Leake needed greater oversight.
“Stuever admitted that in hindsight, some of Leake’s behavior should have raised concerns,” a CBI investigator wrote in the warrant.
A formal investigation, however, was not prompted until the weapons were discovered missing in January, almost a year after Leake was arrested in Aurora — where he lives — on suspicion of driving under the influence, court records show.
Leake pleaded guilty in the case in August and was sentenced in October to two years of probation and 48 hours of community service, according to court records.
Sarah Dallas, the town’s administrator, declined to say if Leadville leaders knew of Leake’s DUI case before his resignation.
“It’s just confidential human resources information that I am not allowed to disclose,” she told The Denver Post on Monday. Dallas said Leake’s resignation was for “personal reasons.”
Leake’s arrest warrant, however, says Stuever on Dec. 21 demanded that Leake resign or face termination after finding out about the DUI case. He agreed to quit and was given 24 hours to “put things in order.”
Dallas also told investigators that on Dec. 22, the day Leake resigned, there was an “unusually large amount of shredded papers” in the city’s waste bins, the warrant said.
The Lake County town of about 2,500 is in the final process of hiring a new police chief, having narrowed the field to two candidates. Its police force has seven full-time sworn officers and one code enforcer.
Prosecutors are now working through cases Leake was involved in investigating to ensure there was no misconduct, Brown said.
“At this point in time, I’m not aware of any case that causes me concern,” he said. “It’s through the process that we next endeavor on that I (will be able to determine) that with confidence.”
Jesse Paul| The Denver Post, April 4, 2016, “Affidavit: Leadville police chief pawned department guns despite concerns “, http://www.denverpost.com/2016/04/04/affidavit-leadville-police-chief-pawned-department-guns-despite-concerns/