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In DiSalvo’s fourth election, he faces his first fight

Joe DiSalvo cruised to lopsided victories in his previous three runs for sheriff of Pitkin County, but the aftermath of this year’s June primary election has shown an organized and aggressive challenge from candidate Michael Buglione’s campaign.

Whether they are staunch supporters of Bulglione or in disapproval of the sheriff, critics have blasted DiSalvo for his ownership stake in a vodka company started by Lance Armstrong, his rental home in the West End, the political affiliations of some of his campaign donors, and his management style.

There was little campaigning or media coverage of the sheriff’s race leading up to the June open primary that saw Buglione, running as a Democrat, garner 1,917 votes, or 37.4% of the ballots cast. DiSalvo, who is politically unaffiliated, collected 2,912 votes, or 56.8%.

Yet following the June 28 primaries, held less than four weeks after the June 3 death of the wildly popular and former longtime sheriff Bob Braudis, foes of DiSalvo mounted a campaign against him like no opponent has to date. 

Also unlike previous races, DiSalvo has been on the defensive in the face of highly charged criticism and allegations. DiSalvo’s acceptance of gifts from people like Armstrong crossed an ethical line, Buglione supporters allege. They argue DiSalvo has a double-standard when it comes to receiving gifts, citing his acceptance of both a 5% stake in the Lift vodka company and a bicycle from Armstrong, all while the sheriff has disciplined deputies for also taking gifts, including longtime school resource officer Paul Hufnagle. Hufnagle’s controversial departure from the sheriff’s office was triggered by a $400 holiday gift he accepted from a school parent group to all Aspen High School staff. 

DiSalvo said he only accepts gifts from family and close friends.   

“I wouldn’t take a gift from somebody that wasn’t considered my friend or family,” DiSalvo said. “Like I said, I think it’s preposterous that you can’t take something from friends, family, brothers, sisters. That’s not the way I interpret it.”

The Hufnagle incident was an example of how DiSalvo and some of his employees clashed. A number of those were deputies who first worked under Braudis, a famously non-confrontational sheriff who was often said to treat employees like family. Hufnagle was a Braudis hire, as were other former employees, including Buglione, who left the office bitter about DiSalvo. DiSalvo worked under Braudis and the two were good friends and confidants until his death. 

While DiSalvo maintained Hufnagle lied to him about the gift and failed to disclose it, Hufnagle said he decided to quit because DiSalvo treated him condescendingly and angrily over the incident.

“I am not a disgruntled ex-employee,” Hufnagle said. “I think the sheriff’s department has many people that are overly qualified and great at their jobs. I just don’t think Joe is the person to lead them.”

Had DiSalvo treated him with respect, Hufnagle said, he would have been willing to explain himself to the sheriff and try to reach an understanding. He said his plan was to donate the money anyway.

Hufnagle, known as “Huff”among the students at Aspen schools, instead quit in December 2018 after DiSalvo confronted him, he said. Hufnagle said he felt like he had become a marked employee because he had previously expressed dissatisfaction about how DiSalvo was administering the SRO program. Hufnagle’s acceptance of the $400 gave the sheriff an excuse to push him out, he said.

Hufnagle, in a recent letter to the editor, said: “Accepting a gift? Seems to me, I know a certain SRO who lost his job for doing exactly that! $400 from the parents of Aspen High School. I would bet that 5% of Lance’s vodka company is worth much more than that monetary wise! What’s the difference? A gift is a gift!”

When DiSalvo initially confronted him about the $400, Hufnagle said he donated it to a church, the sheriff said. Church officials, however, said there was no such donation, DiSalvo said, adding that Hufnagle failed to show to scheduled meetings with the sheriff and didn’t return texts, messages or emails from the sheriff’s office. Hufnagle said once he made up his mind to quit, he cut off all communications with the sheriff’s office.

According to the state of Colorado Constitution’s ethics policy, “No public officer, member of the general assembly, local government official, or government employee, either directly or indirectly as the beneficiary of a gift or thing of value given to such person’s spouse or dependent child, shall solicit, accept or receive any gift or other thing of value having either a fair market value or aggregate actual cost greater” than what is now $65.

There are exceptions to the policy, such as for gifts “given by an individual who is a relative or personal friend of the recipient on a special occasion.” 

That is why DiSalvo has said he believes the 5% ownership stake Armstrong gifted him passes muster. There’s not even a contract or any written agreement about his ownership, said DiSalvo, adding that it was a handshake deal.

“If you’ve never been to my house, if we never shared a meal or a drink together, you’re probably not a friend of mine,” DiSalvo said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

John Hickenlooper, now a U.S. senator, was targeted in a complaint for receiving improper gifts in 2018 when he was governor. 

In its 2020 ruling, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission determined that Hickenlooper violated state ethics laws when corporations funded a private jet trip, limousine ride and meals for the governor in 2018. Yet it also said two complimentary trips he received on friends’ private aircraft were permissible because the gifts were exempt under the state’s “friends” and “special occasion” provisions. Hickenlooper said the complaint was politically motivated, and DiSalvo said the same about the complaint made to the state’s liquor enforcement division.

“A gift from a friend on a special occasion is acceptable” under the Colorado Constitution, said Dino Ioannides, executive director of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission, in an email response to questions from The Aspen Times. “The IEC (Independent Ethics Commission) has interpreted ‘special occasion’ somewhat broadly, but I cannot speculate about how the IEC would rule in specific cases.  If a complaint were to come before the IEC, the IEC would consider all the facts and circumstances in evaluating whether the ‘gift to a friend’ exception applied (in other words, the IEC would not accept the statement alone at face value).”

Ioannides would not comment if any ethics complaints have been filed against DiSalvo with the commission. Complaints are kept confidential until “until the IEC determines that a complaint is non-frivolous,” he said.

The Pitkin County Attorney’s Office did not answer questions about DiSalvo and Lift.

Armstrong, whose once-decorated career as seven-time Tour de France winner was capsized by a performance-enhancing-drugs cheating scandal, keeps a home in Aspen where his younger children also attend school.

“I’m wondering how much of this is really about Lance Armstrong,” DiSalvo said.

 The Lift probe

DiSalvo’s link to Lift Vodka is being investigated by the state liquor enforcement.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue said the liquor and tobacco enforcement division’s investigation into Lift Vodka and its association with DiSalvo is ongoing. The Times reported in September that the state was collecting the company’s financial and book-keeping records.

“This is still an active investigation, and I don’t have an idea of the timeline for completion,” said Suzanne Karrer, the Colorado Department of Revenue’s communications director.

As well, Tony Marsh, who is the state’s investigator in Grand Junction handling the matter, declined comment this week.

DiSalvo said he wished the investigation would wrap up before the election because he believes he did nothing wrong. He has maintained his 5% stake in Lift Vodka was given to him over Labor Day 2020 by Armstrong ahead of the company’s launch. Armstrong’s gift was a thank-you for DiSalvo’s ideas and advice about starting the company, DiSalvo said. The sheriff also has said he is not involved in the company’s management or daily operations and has not received any compensation since the company started.

Liquor licenses can’t be held by authorities in the following positions, according to state law: auto industry investigators, the Department of Revenue’s executive director and senior director of enforcement, the state’s director of gaming, the state lottery investigator, the director of racing events and eight positions in the state’s attorney general office.

It does not, however, prohibit sheriffs from having a liquor license. Another state law forbids sheriffs from owning or operating a liquor establishment licensed in the same jurisdiction where they are employed. Still, Lift Vodka’s only business presence locally is at its administrative offices at the Aspen Airport Business Center, he said. DiSalvo has said the vodka is made in California with water from Aspen and distributed only in Colorado. Aspen retailers also carry the product, he said. As a 5% owner in Lift, his name is not required on the state-issued liquor license. 

Campaign finance

More recently, DiSalvo came under criticism over a campaign finance report for the current election. In a report last month on campaign finance reports due Oct. 17 with the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office, an Aspen Daily News story noted DiSalvo’s report of contributions and expenditures had not been posted online, unlike Buglione’s, which could be perceived that the sheriff had not submitted the paperwork in a timely manner.

DiSalvo told the Daily News the finance report had been filed with the county clerk’s office but had not been uploaded to its PitkinVotes.com website. His comments prompted a letter to the Aspen newspapers from Ingrid Grueter, the county clerk, who wrote that DiSalvo “in fact, did not file his report to our office until Monday morning,” one day after he spoke to the Daily News.

Grueter told the Aspen Times on Friday she wrote the letter to explain the clerk’s position, and that politics had nothing to do with it.

“He turned it in the next day and we just wanted to make sure that people understood that we are doing what we are supposed to do,” Grueter said. “We immediately post reports online to make sure people are getting the correct information. I didn’t have anything to do with it, and I understand he thought one of his staff had brought it over.

DiSalvo said it was just a misunderstanding. He thought a campaign staffer had submitted the report, and the staffer thought he had done the same. That was the basis for his comments to the Daily News, he said.

The sources of DiSalvo’s campaign contributions also have come under criticism from Buglione supporters, who say that some of his donors are Republicans aligned with Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, a MAGA politician unpopular with Democrats. DiSalvo also rents a home in Aspen’s high-priced West End neighborhood from Tatnall Hillman, a Boebert supporter and major GOP donor. Additionally, Kim Vallario, the wife of conservative Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, also a Boebert supporter, works for DiSalvo as jail administrator.

DiSalvo said opponents who are using his donors against him are showing “awfully narrow minds. Whether it’s Lou Vallario or my landlord, I am not eliminating people just because I disagree with them. Someone can still vote for Lauren Boebert and still be my friend.”

Critics also have claimed DiSalvo has a sweetheart deal on rent at the West End home. DiSalvo declined to disclose what he pays, but argued whatever he pays is not a crime and the wealthy Hillman should be credited for helping a public servant afford to live in Aspen.

The sheriff said the reaction to his associations with Republicans — who include Thomas Barrack, the billionaire and Trump friend now on trial for allegedly working for the United Arab Emirates as an illegal foreign agent — is indicative of the tribal political behavior enveloping the country.

“I remember when it was almost an insult to ask who you were voting for,” he said. “That was top secret. Now it’s almost that you have to tell and I don’t want to do that. I think Sheriff Vallario, who I often disagree with, I’m not going to cancel him because that is a bad look with the Democrats.”

He added, “I am the people’s sheriff, not the Democrats’, the Republicans’, or the independents’.”

DiSalvo collected 79.2% in his first race for sheriff in 2010, he ran uncontested in 2014, and he drew 78.5% of the vote in his 2018 re-election campaign. Those were all general elections held in November. This year’s election will be decided Tuesday.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Sheriff candidate lived in APCHA housing while owning free-market home in Basalt

Sheriff candidate Michael Buglione owned and rented out a free-market home in Basalt while he was also living in an employee-housing unit governed by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, according to public records and interviews.

Doing so would have put Buglione in violation Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority rules that prohibit owners or renters of deed-restricted employee housing from possessing developed residential property in all of Pitkin County and elsewhere in the Roaring Fork River drainage area. The Basalt home — which property records show that Buglione and his wife, Holly Davis, bought for $720,000 in November 2020 — is located in Pitkin County.

“He wasn’t allowed to own property in Basalt,” said Julie Kieffer, who was APCHA’s qualifications specialist when she spoke to Buglione in late 2021 about the employee-housing unit at 410 S. West End St. in Aspen. Kieffer now works for Pitkin County and is no longer with APCHA.

According to Buglione, he lived in the Aspen employee unit until this summer, when he relocated to his Elk Run neighborhood home in Basalt.

“I met with APCHA at their office at Truscott and they gave me until June to move out,” said Buglione in an email response to questions from The Aspen Times.

Also, according to Buglione, the Basalt home he and his wife own was being renovated this spring, which was his response to a question about if someone else was living there while he resided at South West End Street.

It was APCHA’s understanding that Buglione could live at South West End Street until renovation was complete on the Basalt home, which is where he would relocate.

“We knew (Buglione) was going to be moving out and allowed him to stay there for an extra two months or something like that,” said Cindy Christensen, APCHA’s deputy director of housing, operations and property management. “We treated him like anyone else in dealing with someone who is moving but their place isn’t quite ready to move into, if we can do that.”

Yet Buglione also told Kieffer that he was allowing the seller of the Basalt residence to remain there while the seller was building a new home in Carbondale, according to Kieffer.

Kieffer said Buglione informed her about the Basalt home ownership late last year, one year after he and Davis had acquired the residence. She said Buglione told her that “the previous owner (of the Basalt home) was living there because he was building a home.”

Asked if the previous owner had rented the Basalt unit from Buglione and Davis, Kieffer responded, “Yes.”

Reached Monday, the previous owner, Alexander Hoffman, requested that questions be asked through email. Hoffman, however, did not reply to a follow-up email message asking if he continued to live in the residence after selling it to Buglione and Davis.

Public records show that as recently as late as May 22, Alexander and Kelly Hoffman used 503 Wren Court as their mailing address for their Garfield County property tax bill. The bill was for an undeveloped lot where they are building a home at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale.

Responding to an Aspen Times inquiry seeking information on the Aspen employee-housing property, APCHA on Friday was able to provide an email exchange from November 2021 between the residence’s property manager and Kieffer. That was the extent of the information APCHA could provide on the property.

Kieffer said the email concerned the rental and tenant status of the South West End home. She said her impression was that Buglione had moved out because he previously told her had, and she was seeking updated information on whomever was living there at the time.

A Nov. 3, 2021-dated email from Kieffer’s APCHA account contained a subject line reading “NOTICE 410 S W End St 105 IS OUT OF COMPLIANCE,” because APCHA did not have an updated rental packet for the property.

According to an email response the next day from property manager Jim Iglehart, the “lease was still active” and “Michael is providing his application rental soon I am told.” Iglehart’s email included an attached lease agreement that Buglione signed Jan. 1, 2014. Terms of the agreement had the lease effective through Dec. 31, 2014, after which it became a month-to-month lease, according to the document’s terms. Iglehart declined to comment for this story.

Kieffer said Buglione was never cited for noncompliance for subletting the South West End home, which under the lease agreement would have required APCHA approval.

During his tenancy at the South West End residence, however Buglione was cited twice for noncompliance — once for earning too much money to be eligible for that particular piece of employee housing, and also for not moving out for being in noncompliance, Kieffer said. It was after those noncompliance notices were issued that Buglione updated his qualifications to remain at South West End Street, said Kieffer, noting she did not know about his ownership in the Basalt home until he told her about it late last year.

Buglione was asked about the South West End home at the Squirm Night candidate forum held Oct. 6. The moderator’s question concerned whether Buglione had been subletting the employee housing to a family member, which also potentially would break APCHA rules.

“My stepdaughter and son actually applied through APCHA and were accepted and the landlord gave them their lease. I’m not sure how that was out of compliance,” he said. 

Another property where Bulglione has lived, 729 W. Francis St. in Aspen, was identified as his physical residence on the certificate of designation concerning his May 2020 election to the board of directors for the Aspen Fire Protection District. It is unclear who if anybody was living at the South West End home while Buglione was residing at West Francis. Iglehart’s email from November 2021 said Buglione still was leasing the South West End home. 

Buglione also referred to the West Francis address at Squirm Night, saying he had not sublet the South West End residence.  

“I released my time there and moved into 729 West Francis with my then girlfriend and now wife,” Buglione said at Squirm Night.

The South West End Street employee housing unit is part of a townhome complex of primarily free-market units. Assessor’s records identify New York-based AYR Reserve R E Entity as the owner of the South West End unit where Buglione used to live.

Buglione also listed 410 S. West End St. as his physical address in a Feb. 28, 2022, candidate filing with the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office. The same address was listed as his residence in an acceptance of nomination papers filed with the clerk and recorder on March 7, as well as in campaign filings April 26, while the campaign’s mailing address was identified as 410 S. West End St. in June 7 and June 24 campaign filings.

Filings were amended in late July and early August to show that his physical address is 503 Wren Court in Basalt, which is where Buglione said he currently resides.

Buglione is running against three-term incumbent Sheriff Joe DiSalvo in the November midterms. Buglione is a former employee of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Aspen Police Department. He once worked under DiSalvo.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Buglione: Why I’ve earned your vote for Pitkin County sheriff

I’m writing to express my gratitude to our community for the overwhelming support I’ve received while running for Pitkin County sheriff.

My supporters are the courageous people within our community who are not afraid to stand up against the hypocrisy and the intimidation of the current sheriff. My supporters know that their vote is the fastest way that we can gain new leadership within the Sheriff’s Office.

Though some remain more understated in their public support for fear of retribution from the current sheriff, they give me daily encouragement that further fuels my lifelong deep desire to serve this community as your sheriff. Supporters in a confidential poll recently taken by The Aspen Times, where the majority ruled in my favor, further proved that Pitkin County is ready for a change in leadership!

My supporters, whether softer spoken or outspoken, understand that their vote is the power that they hold to ignite the desired shift in leadership. They stand beside me because they know that, as your sheriff, I will be completely dedicated and connected to our local community, invest in mental health, prioritize tax dollars, mentor and retain deputies, elevate the safety of our community, and increase school safety.   

Now, more than ever, we need people in leadership roles who are empathetic, transparent, and humble. Leaders who operate out of integrity and whose actions are aligned with their leadership duties.

We continue to need leaders in our unique and enlightened community (and beyond) who spend their time investing in their local teams, who listen more than they talk, who prioritize the community’s most pressing needs, clearly define action plans that support those priorities, and then carry them out with a sense of urgency. I have proven to be this type of leader and will remain resolutely dedicated to these practices as your sheriff. 

I have served this community in law enforcement for 17 years with both the Aspen Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office. My skills have been further sharpened in the private sector, where I’ve managed large teams, budgeting, and adhered to timelines. Over the last decade, I’ve continued to serve our community while on the Board of Directors of the Aspen Hope Center and the Aspen Fire Department.

While I did serve in advanced leadership roles as director of operations and as a sergeant, much of my work experience was gained by directly helping our community while serving in the field. The passion for my law-enforcement career was sparked while helping the people of our community. As the deputy coroner for 10 years, although difficult, my goal was to support all members of our community, remain focused on my duties, and provide comfort to so many during horrific tragedies.  

My heart remains in serving the public and our community. I want to be your sheriff because our community needs someone at the helm whose principles stay aligned with the requirements of their elected position.    

Although some of the unwarranted attacks from my opponent’s campaign have been difficult for my family to observe, we stand stronger knowing that, when you speak the truth, act out of integrity, and continue to live a life of service with highest good of the community at the forefront, that you have already won.    

Again, I want to express my deepest gratitude to our entire community for this opportunity! It will be an honor to serve Pitkin County as your next sheriff.    

Thank you for exercising your right to vote by electing me, Michael Buglione, for Pitkin County Sheriff. Please vote by Nov. 8.    

Michael Buglione is the Democratic Party candidate for Pitkin County sheriff.

Election Day ’22: Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: DiSalvo, Day 2

Today’s question: When it comes to law enforcement in Pitkin County, what’s the one thing (or two or three) that keeps you up at night?

1. The loss of a deputy in the line of duty; 2. A deputy taking a life in the line of duty; 3. Losing an inmate while in my custody; 4. Wildfire

I’m grateful that in the history of this office, we’ve never lost a deputy in the line of duty. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about taking a life. In September 2001, three deputies were confronted by a man with a high-powered rifle. I was serving as Bob Braudis’ undersheriff at the time. The three deputies took fire at a home on McLain Flats Road. The deputies returned fire, killing the man. The shooting was investigated and was deemed justified. The toll on the deputies involved was great, and it affected the whole staff, including Sheriff Braudis and me. Taking a life, even when it’s deemed justified, is a heavy burden that affects everyone involved. 

Regrettably, in the last 30 years we’ve lost two inmates, while in Pitkin County custody. One was under Sheriff Braudis and one was under my administration. Both people had mental illnesses, were in jail for minor offenses and were in no danger of going to prison. Staff shortages and a facility that is no longer adequate added to a tragic result. Per statute, the sheriff is responsible for the care and safety of inmates. When somebody takes their own life while in custody, the sheriff bears the sole responsibility. We need to make our jail safe, and take measures to prevent future in-custody deaths. 

In 2018 the Lake Christine Fire destroyed over 12,000 acres and several homes. Luckily not one life was lost. Wildfire continues to be a concern for me and for Pitkin County; we’ve seen these fires destroy entire towns and cost many lives. Fall is our high-risk fire period. The Pitkin County Incident Management Team has been working relentlessly with local and state fire professionals to ensure that we are properly prepared in the event of a wildfire. We as a community also need to be proactive and prepare for a wildfire event by mitigating our properties and heeding evacuation orders from local, state and federal officials — when issued. Fire danger is real. I am fully confident that the Pitkin County Management Team can initially manage the response to a wildfire. Our working relationship with state and federal agencies assures Pitkin County will get the help it needs in the event of a wildfire or other natural disasters.

For more information, read our previous coverage:

Election Day ’22: Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Joe DiSalvo (Oct. 17, 2022)

Election Day ’22, Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Michael Buglione (Oct. 17, 2022)

Election Day ’22, Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Michael Buglione, Day 2

Today’s question: When it comes to law enforcement in Pitkin County, what’s the one thing (or two or three) that keeps you up at night?

The safety of our community and the safety of the deputies — We live in a very safe place, we can make it safer. My concern for our community and deputies is my biggest concern. I introduced a security system to the Aspen school district that would notify first responders within seconds of a catastrophic event at the schools. This same system could be used at Food $ Wine, Ideas Fest  X Games and any other mass gathering where we are a soft target. I would focus traffic efforts on Highway 82 and not waste taxpayers’ dollars on boat patrol on Reudi, or backcountry patrol. The chances of one of those deputies on boats or snowmobiles being in the right spot at the right time for their intended use are infinitesimal. Let’s focus on where the problems are and where they could be. I would make sure the patrol deputies, jail deputies and dispatchers have the latest and best equipment to do their jobs safely and efficiently.

Correction: Buglione reported Monday that he had erred in his years on the Aspen Fire Board, and that should read two years instead of four. He said he takes full responsibility for the mistake.

For more information, read our previous coverage:

Election Day ’22: Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Joe DiSalvo (Oct. 17, 2022)

Election Day ’22, Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Michael Buglione (Oct. 17, 2022)

Election Day ’22: Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Joe DiSalvo

With the Nov. 8 Election Day drawing closer and ballots being mailed out this week, The Aspen Times will be running a series of questions and answers from candidates seeking local office. This week, we will be publishing answers from the two candidates in the race for Pitkin County sheriff — incumbent Joe DiSalvo and challenger Michael Buglione. Today, readers will get to know the candidates a little better, with remaining questions this week focusing on law-enforcement policy and style.

Name: Joe DiSalvo

Age:  61

Town of residence:  Aspen

Current occupation: Pitkin County sheriff

Leadership and volunteer board experience: As the elected Pitkin County Sheriff for the last 12 years. The Sheriff’s Office consists of approximately 70 paid members, broken into five divisions. The five divisions are patrol, jail, communication/dispatch, emergency management and civil. The sheriff is also statutorily responsible for search and rescue, which includes 50 Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers. During my 37-year career, my leadership experience includes the management of many large-scale incidents, including X Games, presidential visits, wildfires, pro cycling bike races, river flooding, aircraft accidents, murder investigations, sexual assaults and property crimes and more.

I have also had the privilege to serve as a board member of the County Sheriffs of Colorado from 2017-2020 and currently sit on the Pitkin County Public Safety Board and the Communications Board.

Over the last seven years, I have volunteered my time by helping organizations like the Aspen Hope Center, Huts for Vets and COVID-19 relief for local restaurant workers via the annual Sheriff’s Cup fundraiser. In the last seven years, I am proud to have helped raise awareness and over $600,000 for these amazing local organizations. I look forward to continuing this event in my next term. 

Education: High school graduate

Family: I’ve been married to my wife, Marcy, for over 20 years. My sister, Petrina, and her husband, Erik, also live in Aspen. My parents lived in Glenwood Springs until they passed away a few years ago. 

What drew you to a career in law enforcement? When I first started working for the Aspen Police Department in 1985, I was excited for the opportunity to get involved in this community. In 1988, when I changed over to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, I was drawn to the caring and respectful philosophy of the department. Now, after 37 years in law enforcement, I have a deeper desire to effect positive change in the lives of our community. It has been my pleasure to serve Pitkin County, and I know I’ve made an impression on this community, as well as its residents and visitors. It’s been a rewarding journey, and I’m proud to have made an impact, just like the leaders before me. 

As Muhammad Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Name three figures, living or deceased, who have influenced your approach toward law enforcement and administration:

Sheriff Joe Pelle, Boulder County — Sheriff Pelle is perhaps one of the most compassionate and respected sheriffs in Colorado. Sheriff Pelle managed the Marshall Fire, where over 1,000 people lost their homes. Pelle never lost sight of the community’s needs in this tragic loss and took a compassionate leadership role in representing his community. Sheriff Pelle has shared his experiences during this fire, and we, as sheriffs, have all learned immensely from them.  

Sheriff Justin Smith, Larimer County — Sheriff Smith has the best leadership skills of any sheriff in Colorado. He has taught me to lead with transparency and honesty. We both believe we should freely share information with my staff and community. Sheriff Smith shares the value that people will perform best if you explain the “why’s” behind the request. We often share ideas and leadership styles. Clear communication is his most basic leadership tenant.  

Sheriff Bob Braudis, Pitkin County — It’s no secret Sheriff Braudis influenced me dramatically, both personally and professionally. I worked with Sheriff Braudis for 24 years. During his last 10 years in office, I worked shoulder to shoulder as his undersheriff. Sheriff Braudis was my direct link to the past, as well as past leaders. He mentored me to the enlightened brand of policing we all enjoy today. Sheriff Braudis also believed we should always be progressing and moving forward with new ideas and not get stuck too far in the past. I was fortunate to have a front-row seat to listen to some of the most intelligent and progressive conversations about policing with his well-known contemporaries. I learned so much from these informal conversations. These brilliant contemporaries often offered an alternative and unique view of community and national issues. Bob would routinely repeat this phrase ”all politics are local.” These conversations helped form who I am today in so many ways. In the 12 years after his retirement, Bob and I remained very close and saw each other often. Sheriff Braudis often told me that he appreciated the work I’ve done since his retirement and he was proud. Those words were said with pride and were humbling. I’m eternally grateful for the wealth of knowledge he passed on to me. I’m committed to continuing this enlightened brand of policing in his honor.  

When did you make your last arrest? Technically, last night (mid-September, when this questionnaire was answered). When my deputies act, they act as my proxy representing my philosophy and acting as I would if I were there. Unlike a police officer who is working on behalf of a city government, a deputy is an extension of the sheriff they serve.

How do you relax? I love yoga, biking and golf. I get the most relaxation from spending time with small groups of close friends. 

Election Day ’22, Sheriff’s candidates in their own words: Michael Buglione

With the Nov. 8 Election Day drawing closer and ballots being mailed out this week, The Aspen Times will be running a series of questions and answers from candidates seeking local office. This week, we will be publishing answers from the two candidates in the race for Pitkin County sheriff — incumbent Joe DiSalvo and challenger Michael Buglione. Today, readers will get to know the candidates a little better, with remaining questions this week focusing on law-enforcement policy and style.

Name: Michael Buglione (pronounced Bul-yo-nee)

Age: 59

Town of residence: Elk Run, Basalt, Pitkin County

Current occupation: Construction superintendent

Leadership and volunteer board experience: Aspen Hope Center, 12 years; Aspen Fire Department, four years; Critical Incident Stress Management team, 12 years; sheriff deputy/sergeant/director of operations. Aspen Police officer, five years. Coroner, FBI Leadership training trilogy.

Education: Three years college

Family: Wife, Holly Davis; daughters, Nicole and Linda Lou Buglione, stepson, Keillor Wright; stepdaughter, Olivia Van Domelen; son-in-law, Travis Van Domelen; and grandchildren, Hayes and Wells VanDomelen.

What drew you to law enforcement? While talking with a deputy in his office in 1994, then-Aspen Police Chief Tom Stephenson walked in and asked if I ever thought of becoming a cop, I replied, “Never,” and Tom said, “Perfect, would you like to become an Aspen police officer?” I was with the Aspen Police Department for five years and then moved over to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years.

Name three figures, living or deceased, who have influenced your approach toward law enforcement and administration:

Sir Robert Peel — The father of modernday policing, known for his quote “the police are the public and the public are the police.”

Tom Stephenson —Tom hired me, and I was always grateful to him. Tom’s style of policing was thoughtful, use of common sense and a laid back approach. Tom stressed to the department that you treat people kindly no matter what they did. He believed that the Aspen Police Department were ambassadors for the city.

Bob Braudis — Bob always told people, “I liked Michael so much I hired him twice,” and he did! Bob was the consummate philosopher. His nuggets of wisdom will always live within me. What I learned from Tom and Bob was to always treat people with dignity, respect and compassion. It was something that I passed along to my fellow deputies.

When did you make your last arrest? My last arrest was made in 2018, and the person was charged and was guilty of second-degree attempted arson.

How do you relax? I relax by cooking and reading. I am an avid “Jeopardy” fan (Nerdy, I know). I enjoy spending time with my kids and grandchildren and hiking and biking with my wife.

Barbs fly between sheriff hopefuls Buglione, DiSalvo at Squirm Night

The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.

The Squirm Night debate was civil if not intensely chippy between the two. Moderated by Aspen media professionals under the studio lights of GrassRoots TV, the debate had DiSalvo portraying Buglione as a lawman who refuses to take accountability and lacks the experience and judgment needed to run the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff also criticized Buglione for having not risen past the ranks of patrol sergeant except for the time he was director of operations, a position he voluntarily demoted himself from, DiSalvo said.

“What qualifies you to be sheriff when you’ve only risen to one level above patrol officer?” DiSalvo asked Buglione.

He hammered DiSalvo by suggesting the sheriff runs the department like it’s a Fortune 500 company.

“I don’t think the Sheriff’s Office is a 200-person organization where you can’t know the day-to-day operations,” Buglione said.

He referred to what he called the sheriff’s “disconnect” from the department he oversees — whether that’s not knowing how much the county was paying Garfield County to house its inmates when the jail was temporarily closed for repairs in 2021. The answer was $60 per inmate, Buglione said.

“I’m not disconnected,” DiSalvo said. “Talk to the people I work with.”

Buglione also blasted the sheriff over his cavalier remarks about marijuana use when he spoke at the September memorial service for the late Sheriff Bob Braudis, who died in June.

“That’s not cool to say that at a public event where there could be children,” Buglione said.

Michael Buglione, who is running for Pitkin County sheriff, takes part in Squirm Night on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, at Grassroots TV in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Buglione also cited DiSalvo’s comments from a previous Squirm Night before marijuana became legal in Colorado: That he would not investigate illegal drug use by adults — even if they’re sniffing cocaine lines off of their coffee table — if it’s done in the privacy of their home.

“Joe, I thank you for your for service; however, I want to be better a role model for the the children in our community,” Buglione said, noting he doesn’t support strict drug enforcement but believes the Sheriff’s Office falls short on its educational efforts about the downside of substance use.

“I still think drug use is an adult decision,” DiSalvo said but added he thinks 25 should be the minimum age to buy pot; he also touted the drug-addiction counselor who works as a county school-resource officer at Aspen schools.

DiSalvo started in local law enforcement in 1985 at Aspen Police Department before switching over to the Sheriff’s Office in 1988 and working under Braudis. Buglione also started with the APD, in 1994, later to join the Sheriff’s Office under Braudis, who retired in 2010. DiSalvo has been the elected sheriff ever since then.

Supporters, friends and relatives of DiSalvo and Buglione started filing into the venue for the debate nearly two hours before it was set to begin. DiSalvo’s sister, also an ex-wife of Buglione’s, attended the debate, as did the sheriff’s wife.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo takes part in Squirm Night on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, at Grassroots TV.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Buglione’s wife also was there, as well as several former employees of DiSalvo’s who are supporting Buglione’s campaign. A handful of current sheriff’s deputies and staff also were in DiSalvo’s corner.

One of the touchiest subjects the two have argued over has concerned an incident at Bumps restaurant at the base of Buttermilk ski area on March 7, 2019.

Buglione had said he would have a chaperone-type presence at his senior daughter’s high-school club’s fundraising event but didn’t make it because he was in Golden for law-enforcement training. Other parents who agreed to chaperone also didn’t show up, and the fundraiser turned into a party with booze and drugs, kids coming home drunk and one student cited for being a minor in possession.

Buglione previously said he should have let the Sheriff’s Office know he wouldn’t be able to attend the event — but also noted because the Sheriff’s Office assigned him to a training session, he thought his chaperone duties would be covered by someone else. Buglione also said he told his daughter he couldn’t make it because of the conflict, and she assured him other adults would be there.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, far right, listens to his challenger, Michael Buglione, during Squirm Night on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, at Grassroots TV in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“I can’t be at two places at once,” he said at the debate. “I was approved by Joe to go to training. Joe even told my daughter, ‘I’ll even do walk through at Bumps that night.'”

The Bumps incident led the sheriff to place Buglione on administrative leave and then demote him from sergeant deputy to a jailhouse position, and Buglione to ultimately resign from the Sheriff’s Office, ending his 17 years in local law enforcement.

“Sheriff DiSalvo considered Mr. Buglione’s attendance of the event an employment assignment,” wrote Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart, who was the hearing officer on Buglione’s appeal of the internal investigation’s findings and recommended disciplinary actions in his findings of facts dated April 18, 2019. “Mr. Buglione does not consider his attendance of the event an employment assignment.”

Englehart’s findings of fact said Buglione had a responsibility to notify his supervisors of the conflict.

A report that preceded Englehart’s findings said Buglione said he actually forgot about the commitment. Then-Capt. Jesse Steindler recounted Buglione’s statements in a memo dated March 13, 2019, which The Times obtained through an open records request.

“The day before the event while you were in Denver, on Wednesday, 03/06/19 Linda Lou called you and reminded you of the event. You said you told your daughter that you forgot about the event and suggested that Linda Lou ask your wife Holly but Holly had a prior engagement and could not attend. You also asked Linda Lou if there was a need for law enforcement to be present at the event. Linda Lou replied that there was no need for law enforcement to attend. I asked you if you thought that you played a significant part in the whole situation. At the time, you got upset and said, ‘I won’t own this’ and ‘you know me, if I screw up I admit it’ and ‘this has nothing to do with the Sheriff’s Office.'”

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, right, and his challenger, Michael Buglione, joke with the moderators during Squirm Night on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, at Grassroots TV in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Running as a designated Democrat, Buglione received 37.45% support with 1,917 votes in the June primary; DiSalvo, an independent, sat comfortably at 56.82% with 2,912 votes.

While DiSalvo has scored convincing victories at the polls in his previous three campaigns for sheriff, Buglione said he is feeling momentum grow in his favor.

“The way I’m running my campaign, I’m pushing a rock uphill,” he said. “I’m getting more and more support.”

For more information on the sheriff’s race, read our previous coverage:

Fallout between sheriff, challenger came after Bumps fundraiser turned into teen party

As election looms, state digs into sheriff’s link to vodka company

The race is on for campaign money in Pitkin sheriff, CD3 contests

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Pitkin County Sheriff allows civil deputy to keep job after DUI

A civil deputy kept her job and was mandated to undergo counseling after Aspen police arrested her in July on suspicion of driving under the influence and reckless driving.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo on Friday said, “There’s no reason to think she has a drug or alcohol problem. I consider this an isolated incident, and I’m giving her a second chance.”

Civil Deputy Sarah Bushman, 36, of Snowmass Village, is due Oct. 18 in Pitkin County Court for an arraignment hearing on charges of DUI and careless driving. She did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Responding to an anonymous caller reporting a drunk driver, police officer Ryan Turner pulled over Bushman at 10:21 p.m. July 27 on the 500 block of East Francis Street, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Ryan wrote in the affidavit he stopped Bushman, who was driving a Nissan Pathfinder, after seeing the westbound vehicle cross swerve into the eastbound lane on East Main Street near the Garmisch Street intersection. He wrote that he “eventually found a safe place to stop her on the 700 block of East Francis Street.” As Bushman was pulling over, she struck a parked car, the affidavit said.

She had alcohol on her breath and struggled to find paperwork for her vehicle, the affidavit said. After she refused to take a breathalyzer test or do a voluntary roadside sobriety test, Ryan arrested her, the affidavit said.

“Based on the totality of the circumstances, I made the decision to place Bushman under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol,” the affidavit said. “Bushman responded and said, ‘So you guys, my question is: Do you need my Pitkin County ID, do you need my Sheriff’s badge, what do you need?’ Bushman had previously disclosed to me that she was employed by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office as a civil process server.”

Because she refused submitting to an alcohol test, her driver’s license was automatically revoked for one year.

As a civil deputy, Bushman is a badged employee of the Sheriff’s Office. Her duties include processing and preparing civil papers for sheriff’s deputies to serve. Those documents can include divorce and eviction filings and civil protection orders, for instance.

Driving was part of the job duties for previous employees with Bushman’s position, but that responsibility was eliminated, making the role strictly office-based. Bushman was hired less than six months ago, DiSalvo said. Nothing in her background showed previous DUI infractions, he said.

“Fortunately for her, we changed the driving part before she got hired,” he said. “We decided we needed another administrative person in the office and take the driving part out.

“She does not have to drive. She not have to possess a driver’s license to work there.”

DiSalvo said she “was extremely contrite over this, very sad, very upset, and prepared to quit.”

Other than the sheriff mandating Bushman undergo counseling, no other disciplinary action was taken, he said.

The Sheriff’s Office does not have a policy for disciplining employees arrested on DUI-related charges, he said. But, terminating or suspending a deputy patrol officer cited for DUI would be a likely scenario, he said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Fallout between sheriff, challenger came after Bumps fundraiser turned into teen party

Michael Buglione’s failure to chaperone a fundraiser for one of his daughter’s high school clubs in March 2019 not only cost him his job as a deputy, but it also sacked his 40-year friendship with the Pitkin County sheriff he is trying to unseat in the November elections — Joe DiSalvo.

DiSalvo is seeking his fourth four-year term as sheriff. In 2010, he amassed 79.2% of the vote in his first election win, which came against Patrick Leonard, who had law-enforcement experience in Florida and New York. DiSalvo ran unchallenged in 2014, and, in 2018, he easily fended off opponent and then-Aspen police officer Walter Chi by garnering 78.5% of the vote.

Buglione is the third lawman DiSalvo will face in the general sheriff’s election — but the first one who is the sheriff’s former brother in-law. DiSalvo and Buglione met each other 40 years ago in New York, where they grew up and became close friends, later working together at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.

They used to see each other at family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas, but, now, the only they time they have scheduled together is at forums and debates ahead of the Nov. 8 election, including at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at an event hosted by the Woody Creek Caucus at the Aspen Community School gymnasium.

“We were buddies,” Buglione said. “We were like brothers. I was like the brother he didn’t have.”

“I really considered Michael blood,” DiSalvo said.

Then came March 7, 2019.

That was the date Buglione said he would have a chaperone-type presence at his daughter Linda Lou’s high school club’s event to raise money for communities in the Fiji Islands.

The fundraiser went on as scheduled at Bumps Restaurant at the base of Buttermilk, but not as envisioned. Buglione did not make it because he was in Golden for law-enforcement training. The other parents who said they would chaperone also didn’t show, according to documents about the incident that The Aspen Times obtained through an open-records request.

About 80 students attended the fundraiser, and “there were supposed to be adult chaperones and a uniformed Pitkin County Sheriff’s Deputy on scene; however no other adults arrived,” according to a deputy’s report of the incident. A Bumps restaurant manager was there but not in a chaperone role.

The manager still did a walkthrough and found an intoxicated girl in the bathroom, while a deputy reporting to the restaurant that night spotted a girl vomiting out of a car window. The girl was issued a ticket for minor in possession. Further inspection showed evidence of cocaine use in the bathrooms and other alcohol use, according to the documents obtained through the open-records request.

It never would have gotten to that point if Buglione had shown up, DiSalvo said, noting that, the next morning, the complaints started rolling in from parents of the students. DiSalvo said he was taking the heat, while Buglione would have none of it.

“How do you expect to be sheriff if you can’t get in front of the community and admit your mistakes?” DiSalvo said.

How he and Buglione understood the chaperone duties became a point of contention and remains one to this day. The Bumps incident led the sheriff to place Buglione on administrative leave and then demote him from sergeant deputy to a jailhouse position, and Buglione to ultimately resign from the Sheriff’s Office, ending his 17 years in local law enforcement.

Buglione said his mistake came when he didn’t let the Sheriff’s Office know he wouldn’t be able to attend the event. For his part, he said because the Sheriff’s Office assigned him to the training session, he thought his chaperone duties were being covered by someone else.

“I said, ‘Joe, if someone calls in sick, whose responsibility is it to get that deputy’s replacement? It’s the Sheriff’s Office, not the sick deputy. So, it wasn’t up to me to get a replacement for Bumps. Besides, there was another couple who were supposed to chaperone, but they went out to dinner and showed up late.”

Buglione said the disciplinary action taken against him was too harsh, and he was not the only person to blame, adding he let his daughter know about a week before the event that he wouldn’t be able to chaperone because of the scheduling conflict.

“I go to the training, and, Friday morning (March 8), Joe called and said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at training on the Front Range.’ He goes, ‘When you get back here, come by my office. We gotta talk.’”

The sheriff launched an internal investigation into the matter in which he didn’t participate. The findings showed that DiSalvo, after talking to Buglione’s daughter, gave Buglione the go-ahead to work at the event.

“Sheriff DiSalvo and you agreed that you would chaperone the event,” said a report from then-Capt. Jesse Steindler, noting it was Buglione’s responsibility to notify his sergeants of the Bumps commitment and put it on the work schedule. The report was dated March 13, 2019, as supporting documentation for Buglione’s loss of rank and reassignment to the county jail.

Buglione said it was his understanding he would be attending as a parent-chaperone and not in uniform, which wasn’t the impression DiSalvo had.

“Sheriff DiSalvo considered Mr. Buglione’s attendance of the event an employment assignment,” wrote Deputy County Manager Rich Englehart, who was the hearing officer on Buglione’s appeal of the internal investigation’s findings and recommended disciplinary actions in his findings of facts dated April 18, 2019. “Mr. Buglione does not consider his attendance of the event an employment assignment.”

In email correspondence with Englehart, Buglione said, “It was never clear to me that I was required to go to this event as a deputy (whether in uniform or not), and it was not put on my schedule as an assignment. However, my training was.”

Englehart’s findings of fact said Buglione had a responsibility to notify his supervisors of the conflict.

“The only Sheriff’s employee who knew there was a conflict for Mr. Buglione to attend the Training in Denver and the Event was Mr. Buglione,” Englehart’s report said.

DiSalvo said it didn’t matter if Buglione had planned to chaperone out of uniform; he was still required to find a replacement if he couldn’t attend.

“We are never not police officers, whether you are in uniform or not,” DiSalvo said. “I’m sorry, but you’re always on duty.”

Linda Lou Buglione, who is now a senior at the University of Colorado, said she remembers feeling confused about the disciplinary actions taken against her dad, given that he was attending law-enforcement training. She also said DiSalvo gave her permission to have her dad chaperone, either in or out of uniform, but that did not mean he was committing to the event.

“Afterwards, I remember my dad being put on administrative leave due to the circumstances that happened that night,” she said. “I remember being so confused, and I was a senior in high school, and I didn’t understand why my dad was being blamed for the actions of that night when he wasn’t supposed to be there.”

The Bumps issue was too close for DiSalvo, he said.

“(Englehart) investigated and came to the same conclusions: Michael was supposed to be there; he was supposed to be there in uniform. His informal recommendation was a termination. I said, ‘I’m not firing him. I can’t do it.’ Those kids are about to go to CU. Dad needs the money. I can’t fire him. I’m still stuck in this dysfunctional relationship.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

For more information on the sheriff’s race, read our previous coverage:

The race is on for campaign money in Pitkin sheriff, CD3 contests (August 22, 2022)

As election looms, state digs into sheriff’s link to vodka company (September 20, 2022)