Witnesses: Campaign inquiry wasn’t why database was accessed
February 1, 2008
DENVER – Members of the Denver district attorney’s staff testified Friday that a secretary in their office accessed a restricted federal database after an inquiry from a Democratic political campaign, but they said it wasn’t because of that inquiry.Three staffers spoke at a hearing for federal immigration agent Cory Voorhis, accused of improperly accessing the same database for information that ended up in an ad for a rival Republican campaign.Voorhis’ attorneys argue that he shouldn’t be prosecuted if the DA’s staff is not. Friday’s hearing was on Voorhis’ attorneys’ motion to dismiss, but no decision had been reached.Voorhis is on unpaid leave from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His trial, originally scheduled to start Feb. 11, has been postponed until U.S. District Judge John L. Kane decides whether to proceed.Voorhis faces charges of intentionally exceeding authorized access to a computer and of obtaining information from a federal agency.The National Crime Information Center database is supposed to be used only for law-enforcement, but some of the information Voorhis is accused of accessing wound up in campaign ads for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez.The ad criticized the way Beauprez’s Democratic opponent, Bill Ritter, handled the case of Carlos Estrada-Medina when Ritter was the Denver DA. Estrada-Medina used the alias Walter Ramo, a detail that could be know by using the restricted database.District attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough testified she got a phone call from Ritter campaign staffer Stephanie Villafuerte on Oct. 10, 2006, the day that Beauprez’s ad began airing, but said the call was one of 60 she received that day.Kimbrough said she began researching Estrada-Medina after inquiries about whether he also used the name Walter Ramo. Ramo was arrested for heroin possession in Denver but was able to plead to a far less serious charge, agricultural trespassing.Kimbrough said she asked assistant DA Charles Lepley for help on Oct. 12, 2006, and he returned in a few minutes to tell her Estrada-Medina and Ramo were the same man.Lepley testified that executive secretary Brenda Wellington got the information from the National Crime Information Center database, and he used it to investigate Ramo’s status, including whether he was the subject of an arrest warrant.Lepley also had phone conversations with Ritter campaign headquarters, with Ritter and Villafuerte starting on Oct. 6, 2006, four days before the ad aired, and also on Oct. 13, 2006, the day after results of the background check came in. Lepley testified that while he couldn’t recall the exact topic of each phone call, there had been a security threat involving a man who walked into Ritter campaign headquarters and made threats.Lepley said the DA handles security issues involving judges and witnesses and said he was handling a request from Ritter’s campaign at the time.As part of their case that Voorhis has unfairly been targeted for prosecution, Voorhis attorneys argued that an investigator with the Harris County, Texas, district attorney’s office accessed the database at the request of a private investigator under contract with the Colorado Republican Party.The GOP has repeatedly denied that.During questioning Friday, CBI agent Jan Simkins said the request came from a researcher hired by Trailhead, a Republican political group founded in 2005 by Republicans Gov. Bill Owens, beer magnate Pete Coors and GOP fundraiser Bruce Benson.She said the case has been refered to Texas investigators.