Colorado GOPer Bob Schaffer Tied to Federal Criminal Investigation

Last we checked in with Bob Schaffer, the GOP’s Senate candidate in Colorado was fending off news reports about parasailing in the Mariana Islands on Jack Abramoff’s dime while supposedly personally investigating the plight of foreign workers there.

Now we learn about a federal criminal case in Colorado against former business and political associates of Schaffer’s involving government contracts with a nonprofit foundation where Schaffer was a member of the board of directors.

Schaffer, a former House member who is battling with Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) to replace the retiring Sen. Wayne Allard, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the federal prosecutor handling the case told TPMmuckraker in a telephone interview that Schaffer was added to a witness list in the federal fraud trial of Bill Orr, a Denver businessman accused of bilking the government out of more than $2 million.

Orr’s trial is currently underway, and the jury has been deliberating since last week. Schaffer could still be called to testify in Orr’s sentencing if Orr is convicted.

Orr successfully lobbied Congress in 2000 for a $3.6 million earmark, which he said he would use to develop a new clean-energy fuel that would emit less pollution. It’s not yet known which member of Congress inserted Orr’s earmark. Prosecutors say he “falsely represented” the scientific tests that convinced the EPA to turn over more than $2 million of the earmark money. Orr had created a separate not-for-profit group called the National Alternative Fuels Foundation to utilize the federal money.

And that’s where Schaffer comes in. After leaving Congress, Schaffer was a “director” at the NAFF from October 2004 to March 2005, according to his Senate financial disclosure form. That’s not a very long time, but it overlaps with the time frame when prosecutors say the NAFF was wrongfully accepting government cash — from December 2001 through December 2004.Schaffer’s campaign did not respond to our call Monday for comment, but Schaffer’s campaign manager, longtime GOP operative Dick Wadhams, told Roll Call in a story posted online today that Schaffer joined NAFF in part because of his interest in the development of alternative fuels:

Schaffer is “intrigued by the technology that the company was working on … the fact is Bob has had a longstanding interest in renewable fuels technology,” Wadhams said.

Wadhams also said Schaffer’s interest in NAFF — and his decision to join the board in 2004 — came about on the recommendation of longtime political associate Scott Shires.

Shires ran some of Schaffer’s local and statewide political campaigns, including fundraising operations and campaign committees. …

Wadhams said his departure was a direct result of news that federal investigators were looking into the group and Orr’s handling of the earmark.

“As soon as he learned of the investigation, he resigned. He was barely on the board,” Wadhams said.

Scott Shires was indicted in the case along with Orr back in 2006 and has since pleaded guilty to knowingly failing to file a tax return and agreed to testify against Orr. Shires was the treasurer for NAFF and the registering agent on Schaffer’s successful campaign for the Colorado Board of Education in 2006. Shires has not yet been sentenced in the case.

Among the questions that remain: Did Schaffer play any part in securing the earmark for Orr in 2000, when Schaffer was still in the House? Among those also appearing on a witness list for the trial were Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA).

[Late Update: Schaffer was added to a defense witness list in the Orr case, not the prosecutors witness list, as reported in a previous version of this post]