At Least He’s Not Our State Treasurer

Brian Watson, thankfully NOT Colorado’s State Treasurer in 2020

Democrat Dave Young defeated Republican Brian Watson in 2018 in the race for State Treasurer. What looked initially like a close race ended up with Young defeating Watson by a seven-point margin, so perhaps Colorado was never that close to ending up with Watson in charge of the state’s finances. But we came close enough to what could have been an absolute disaster for the state.

Watson has always been a shady character with a litany of financial-related problems in his past, none of which were a very good selling point for a candidate for State Treasurer. We learned more about Watson’s troubles in April after the FBI served a search warrant at his home for information related to potential fraudulent activity tied to Watson’s Northstar Commercial Partners business.

We haven’t heard much since then about the FBI’s investigation, but as the website BusinessDen reports today, Watson could be in serious trouble:

Amazon has sued Denver-based real estate firm Northstar Commercial Partners over what the retail giant is calling “a significant fraud and kickback scheme,” providing details on what likely prompted an April FBI raid at the home of Northstar CEO Brian Watson.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia, where Northstar was developing multiple data center projects for Amazon, the retail giant said the April 2 raid “was executed on the same day that Watson and other Northstar-related Defendants received notice that their roles related to developing several properties in the Dulles corridor were being terminated based on evidence of their misconduct.”

“The evidence revealed that Defendants paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to obtain non-competitive contracts that Defendants used to obtain tens of millions of dollars in illicit gains from development projects at Virginia real estate sites Amazon leased or purchased since 2018,” the lawsuit read.

According to BusinessDen, court filings detail nine kickback payments totaling $415 million. Amazon is accusing Northstar Commercial Partners of racketeering and fraud.

We noted just before the November 2018 election that Watson’s shady past indicated that he could be a Scott Gessler-like figure if elected as State Treasurer. We’re reminded of what Susan Barnes-Gelt told The Denver Post about Watson in October 2018:

“If I had cash, I’d bury it in my mattress and run the risk of my mattress catching on fire before I’d give him a dime. He’s a snake-oil salesman. He belongs in a carny show.”

Keep this in mind in 2020 when you see endorsements from individuals and editorial boards — including the Colorado Springs Gazette — that touted Watson in 2018. Nobody could have predicted the kind of trouble that Watson faces today, but it was always pretty obvious that he was a questionable choice to hold public office in Colorado.

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Treasurer Dave Young: Cleaning Up Walker Stapleton’s Mess

Former Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R).

As the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports:

The Great Colorado Payback started in 1987 as a way to tell Coloradans about all the unclaimed property the state is legally required to keep, such as forgotten bank account balances, deposits to utility companies and even unused gift cards. Most people didn’t know the state held onto all this stuff until the treasurer’s office starting running television ads in the early 2000s and the number of annual claims tripled. The backlog of unprocessed claims grew to more than 12,000 — almost as many as the division receives in a calendar year.

“We agreed with all the recommendations in the report,” said Dave Young, the Democratic treasurer who took office in January. “We have been moving rapidly to change the course of the work in the office.”

For example, he said the unclaimed property team has essentially worked double time to knock down the backlog down to 2,200 claims — a success noted by the auditor’s office in its report.

Colorado Public Radio recaps how the audit of the Great Colorado Payback was initiated during the term of the predecessor to the current Democratic state treasurer, GOP Treasurer and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton:

The results were released to the Legislative Audit Committee on Monday. Committee Chair Sen. Nancy Todd gave a nod to the work that the new administration has done over the past year but said there are still plenty of improvements to be made.

“There has been some remedy, but obviously still very concerned about the backlog,” said Todd, a Democrat from Arapahoe County. “And there was also a real genuine concern of, just the process, of how long and how cumbersome it is for people to get their property back.”

Bianca Gardelli has been the director of the division for just over a year and in that time she has taken the backlog of claims from more than 12,000 to less than 2,000 claims — a reduction of over 80 percent.

According to State Treasurer Dave Young, this was all done while processing the more than 16,000 new claims — within the required 90 days — that came in this year. [Pols emphasis]

During last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, runner-up Vic Mitchell slammed Walker Stapleton over his handling of the Great Colorado Payback program, which provided the Treasurer with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in free positive television advertising even while the program essentially ground to a halt due to mismanagement. Stapleton admitted the situation was “a big problem,” but didn’t offer any ideas for solving it other than welcoming an audit. Former Rep. Dave Young of the number-crunching Joint Budget Committee, on the other hand, has worked diligently since taking office in January to pull the Great Colorado Payback off the scandal sheets.

The moral of the story? What a difference a little competence at the top makes.

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