Meth-head justice: The strange case of Mark Jason Seibel
Homeless man exposes breakdowns in the system, from Pat Sullivan to American Tradition Partnership to drug sentencing
Seibel was instrumental in secretly taping former Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan, who was busted in 2011 for meth possession and soliciting a prostitute, and then in late 2010 he found a cache of campaign fliers in a Denver-area meth house that triggered an ongoing Montana grand jury probe of an infamous political nonprofit called American Tradition Partnership.
But none of the notoriety has garnered Seibel any good will from law enforcement officials, who last month rounded him up in a SWAT-team standoff in Denver. He now faces habitual criminal charges and potentially decades in jail for meth possession in Arapahoe County.
Life for Seibel, 37, definitely has not been a box of chocolates.
Abandoned by his parents in Oklahoma City at the age of 11, Seibel moved to Denver as a teen to try to track them down. Living on the streets and surviving any way he could, Seibel soon ran afoul of the law. His rap sheet is lengthy, but none of his crimes are particularly heinous.
Between 1995 and 2000 Seibel was convicted of four low-level felonies ranging from burglary to drug possession to criminal impersonation to theft by receiving.
“I don’t condone acts of violence,” Seibel said. “I don’t go out and intentionally impose my will on people or perpetuate the cycle of the victimization of the community. I just get picked up for dumb stuff. Like with the drugs … I just had a maintenance-level amount of drugs.”
Well-spoken and clearly intelligent, Seibel keeps his massive case file on a cell phone and laptop computer. Moving from wifi hotspot to hotspot, he’ll bombard a reporter with documents he says show endless breakdowns in the state’s criminal justice system – including his diagnosis but lack of treatment for a whole host of mental-health issues.
“I self medicate, and when I’m on my meds I’m fine – that’s the only time that I don’t use [illegal] drugs -- but when I don’t have medical care or some sort of direction then it’s easier for me to fall back into other things,” Seibel said.
“I spend most of my day just trying to survive,” Seibel said of his existence as a fugitive. After bonding out of the Denver jail last month, he missed a court date in Arapahoe County on April 1 and now has another outstanding warrant with his bond set at $65,000. And he missed an April 11 revocation hearing for probation violations on misdemeanor charges in Larimer County.
State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, says Seibel is the “poster child” for a bill he’s running to reform Colorado’s sentencing structure for drug offenses.
Steadman calls Arapahoe County – or “Arapahell” as it was dubbed by Westword in 2011 – the “worst jurisdiction on earth to be caught in. We went from ‘Hang-’em-High [District Attorney] Carol Chambers’ to Hang-’em-High [George] Brauchler’.”
What many in the state deem overzealous prosecution of habitual criminals for nonviolent offenses and drug possession leads to sentences known as The Big Bitch (four times the maximum) and The Little Bitch (three times max).
Arapahoe County prosecutors and all Denver-area police are out to get him, Seibel contends, because he made the tapes that led to the downfall of former Sheriff Sullivan. Seibel says his ex-girlfriend was a woman whom Sullivan befriended and released from jail. It was at her house, Seibel claims, that he made the first tapes of Sullivan’s gay lover talking about meth use.
Seibel says Denver police were talking about him being “the guy who got Sullivan” when they arrested him last month, and he believes Arapahoe County officials want revenge.
“They intend to get me in the jail once named after the predator sheriff and probably kill me,” Seibel said. “To beat them to it is the only way to win.”
A spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County DA did not respond to questions about the Seibel case.
Steadman says people like Seibel need treatment for addiction, not more jail time.
“If [my bill] would have happened for your poster child, Mark Seibel, when he was first in trouble back in the 90s, maybe he wouldn’t be in this spot today,” said Steadman, who introduced SB 250 (pdf) on April 1. “I’m sorry we didn’t have the resources and that philosophy back in the 90s. We’re a little late trying to get to a different approach for how we view drug offenses in the criminal justice system.”
SB 250, which passed out of committee and is being weighed by the Senate, is the product of a task force study stemming from legislation Steadman championed last session. It would create a separate sentencing structure for drug felonies and also allow first-time offenders to have such felonies reduced to misdemeanors. The bill, and companion legislation (SB 253 pdf), builds on a law Steadman helped pass in 2010 that reduced the number of drug offenders in prisons and diverted those funds to community corrections, counseling and treatment.
“Hopefully, we can continue this philosophical shift where we look at drug offenses differently and realize that substance abuse disorder, addiction, is a medical issue that drives behavior that we consider criminal, but it’s not the same as the felons who are hurting people or murdering or raping or kidnapping,” Steadman said. “Just separating them out is a huge philosophical shift.”
In late 2010, Seibel was the last man standing in a Denver-area meth house, cleaning up after a police raid, when he came across buckets of campaign mailers for state legislative races in Montana. Well-tuned to incriminating paper trails, Seibel figured he might be able to parlay the cache of suspect attack ads and internal communications into some sort of deal.
He mapped out a CSI-style tree connecting all the players, from politicians to candidates to the 501(c)4 now known at American Tradition Partnership (ATP) but first registered in Colorado in 2008 by Republican political operative and Aurora businessman Scott Shires. In 2010, the name of the “social welfare” group was changed to ATP by a lawyer for Hackstaff Gessler (pdf), the former law firm of Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
“Pardon my French, but I called them the ‘Fuckers’ and the ‘Fuckees,” Seibel said of the grid he mapped out.
The documents, which allegedly show illegal coordination between Republican candidates in Montana and WTP/ATP, eventually became the subject of a PBS Frontline documentary and a ProPublica investigation in the fall of 2012. But now they’ve been locked up by federal prosecutors in Montana while a grand jury weighs the evidence.
The office of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices is considering five separate complaints against the nonprofit; two Washington watchdog groups have filed complaints with the IRS stemming from an allegedly fraudulent letter naming American Furniture Warehouse owner Jake Jabs; and lawmakers from Montana to Colorado are weighing various campaign-finance and election reform laws in response to the group’s activities.
Much of that antipathy comes from a WTP/ATP’s successful lawsuit that overturned Montana’s 100-year-old anti-corruption law – a decision that was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court found in favor of the nonprofit and consequently its own controversial Citizens United ruling in favor of corporate campaign speech and unlimited political spending.
But it all started with Seibel finding those documents and turning them over to Aspen attorney Alan Schwartz, the husband of 2010 WTP smear target and state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass.
“I evaluated how dirty politics affects people on down the line and I decided to roll with the Fuckees, who surprisingly were outnumbered like three to one on the tree that I built,” Seibel said, adding Schwartz seemed to be the most pissed-off. “I figured like a scorned female senator, why wouldn’t you want one of those on your side? She’d probably move mountains.”
Instead, Seibel said not much has come of the entire affair, other than the documentary and his relative notoriety. Representatives of Schwartz’s law firm recently advised Seibel to apply for a public defender and offered to provide assistance with his case.
Bad, bad people
Shires last month said he worked with Gessler for years, registering various campaign groups, from social-welfare nonprofits to political committees, but he maintains that – no matter what the grand jury in Montana comes up with – he was always “just the registered agent” and Gessler was always “just the attorney,” with attorney-client privilege to fall back on.
Seibel said the dirty campaign mailers and attack letters he found in the meth house were there because his ex-girlfriend put them there after obtaining them from a friend who stole a car in Denver belonging to Montana resident Allison LeFer. Allison and her husband, Christian, ran a Montana company called Direct Mail & Communications that processed many of the mailers.
Elizabeth Sheron, a former employee and former Miss Colorado, called the LeFers “bad, bad people” who verbally abused workers and engaged in political “character assassination” for groups like Western Tradition Partnership.
“Basically, what they described that they do is they find [candidates] that go along with their agenda, people that no one’s ever heard of, and they bragged, ‘Yeah, we get them elected,’” Sheron said, adding she was surprised to find out Gessler’s former law firm was involved with WTP/ATP. The address for the Hackstaff Law Group is still listed as the address for ATP.
“I’ve met him a couple of times. I didn’t meet him through [the LeFers], though. I just met him at totally unrelated things,” Sheron said in a previous interview. “I didn’t even know [he was the WTP/ATP attorney]. I wouldn’t have voted for him [in 2010].”
Gessler’s office has failed to respond to numerous attempts to interview him regarding WTP/ATP and the ongoing grand jury probe. In an email, Allison LeFer politely declined to discuss Sheron’s allegations: “Thank you for contacting me. I have no comment at this time.”
Shires says he knew about the Montana operation but that’s about it.
“I knew of its existence, that’s all,” Shires said. “I’ve met them all. I know them. Their role, their exact job description, their actual duties as defined by other people, I could care less.”
Mark Seibel, meanwhile, hopes something positive for him will eventually come of all his whistle-blowing efforts – that some state lawmaker somewhere will take a personal interest in his case.
“Just as dirty politics were utilized against them, I believe that I too am the victim of a similar situation,” Seibel said. “I fully intended to have them look into my situation, and that’s what they agreed to do, and in the end it just seemed like I’ve been shuffled around.”
Editor's note: This is part three of a three-part series on the political ripple effects of Western Tradition Partnership. Parts one and two first appeared on the Denver iJournal. Part three was first published there on Sunday, April 21.
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