Have you seen Serpico? Colorado Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Maes sure has. And even though he’s previously admitted that his tales of working undercover with the Kansas Bureau of Investigations back in the 1980s “might have been incorrect,” he’s now reasserting his version of the events, while comparing his story to the Pacino flick of a good cop fighting the forces of corruption.
“In my mind, all I can see is Serpico. Remember Serpico? He walks up to a door, knocks, and a gun gets stuck in his face,” Maes told the Associated Press about the night in 1985 in which he says he met with agents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. “That did not happen to me, but that’s what’s going through my mind.”Maes’ interview with the AP, along with a Denver Post story, have shed new light on the end of Maes’ career as an officer in Liberal, Kansas in 1985, stories of which surfaced a few weeks ago and caused his campaign significant damage.
Maes originally claimed in campaign material that he had worked undercover with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on a drugs and gambling operation, and that he was fired when he “got too close to some significant people.” A few weeks ago, he was forced to back off parts of his story, after Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) officials told the Post they had no record of working with Maes.
Despite this, Maes told the AP this week that the investigation did in fact happen, and that he did work with the KBI.
Maes said it began after he discovered what he believed was a gambling ring operating out of his future in-laws’ home. He informed his superiors, but was dismissed.
But a month later, Maes recalled, a police captain ordered him to a secret meeting with two Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents at a motel to tell them about the alleged gambling ring. Maes told the AP he was “curious and very scared” when he knocked on the motel door and was ordered to “take off your gun, take off your tie, and you get comfortable” while he talked to the KBI agents.
That’s when he remembered Serpico. Maes said he told the agents what he knew, and they asked him to keep them informed. A month later, Police Chief Rick Kistner fired him.
“My best recollection was, I was being dismissed because I was associating with people of bad character, and that reflected poorly on the Liberal Police Department,” he said.
Bob Blecha, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, told the AP that while there is no record of the agency working with Maes, there was an “unsuccessful” investigation of bookmaking in Liberal at the time.
Meanwhile, officers from Liberal contacted by the Post this week also say the investigation took place — though their stories complicate Maes’ role. Sonny Ralston, now chief of police in St. John, Kansas — and formerly head of detectives in Liberal — told the Post that Maes was fired for blowing the investigation. Ralston told the Post that Maes’ then-future brother-in-law was one of the people involved in the bookmaking operation — and that Maes told a member of the family about the investigation.
[Ralston] said the slip-up cost the department the investigation, which Ralston oversaw. No arrests were made. No charges were filed.
“That’s the best I can remember,” Ralston said. “You got to remember, it’s been a long time.”
Maes disputes Ralston’s story. “I would say that’s completely untrue based on what I remember,” Maes told the Post. When asked by TPM why Ralston would tell a story that wasn’t true, Maes spokesperson Nate Strauch said: “Dan wouldn’t want to speculate on why Sonny Ralston fabricated this story — suffice it to say, it’s a fabrication.”
Strauch said Maes admitted to errors in his story after “he was put in a corner by the Post reporter.” He said there were powerful people in the community placing bets in the gambling ring, and that Maes had put them at risk.
And yet despite the disagreement, Ralston’s comments do support Maes’ story about an investigation. Another officer interviewed by the Post provides further information. John Hardy, a master watch commander in Liberal at the time, said top officers knew the KBI was in town for an investigation — and then found out the family being investigated was connected to Maes. After Maes was dismissed, Hardy said: “to settle the troops down, they said Dan was part of the investigation (and) he was fine.” However, Hardy added: “If Sonny’s saying Dan leaked information and that resulted in the investigation being washed, that probably happened.”
Still another version of the events comes to the Post from Will Cokeley, who was in his early twenties when he and Maes’ future brother-in-law “ran what he described as a sophisticated NFL betting pool.” Cokeley told the Post that Maes did not tip him off to any investigation. And yet even Cokeley pokes holes in Maes’ characterization of the events.
“The most laughable part to me is that a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old kid are going to be influential enough in town to get a policeman fired,” Cokeley told the Post. “He’s trying to make himself look like Elliot Ness.”
One thing that might clear this all up is Maes’ personnel file, which Strauch said was requested this week (despite the Post’s prior requests), and will be released publicly when it arrives, potentially next week.
The TPM Poll Average for this race Maes (22.1%) trailing Democrat John Hickenlooper (46.2%) and leading third-party candidate Tom Tancredo (21.0%)