Commissioner says removal from office was a witch hunt

Posted at 12:19 AM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2018-08-09 02:21:37-04

In June, a judge removed Las Animas County Commissioner Anthony Abeyta from his district 1 seat after ruling that he did not live in the district he represented.

News 5 Investigates was first to break this story on-air back on June 20.

Now, Abeyta is breaking his silence, speaking exclusively with News 5.

Unless someone challenges your residency, most people would never know whether you live in the district you represent.

“It took 800 people to vote me in and 1 person to kick me out,” Abeyta said.

Abeyta is upset a judge removed him from his second-term in office.

“I really believe that his ruling was made before the trial even started,” Abeyta said.

Abeyta says his primary residence is in the Sarcillo Canyon area, near Weston, which rests in district 1.

However, a judge said Abeyta actually lives in district 2, more than 20 miles away in Trinidad.

Lead Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked, “On any given week, how many days would you spend at your Trinidad address?”

“Well it would depend on the situation,” Abeyta said. “I would say that there would be weeks where I would spend 3-4 days depending upon my schedule. 60 to 80 percent of my time was spent in the Sarcillo Canyon (Weston) home.”

News 5 Investigates traveled down to Las Animas County and went by that Sarcillo Canyon address. We found a parcel of land and could not see any property behind the trees and high grass. However, an aerial view from Google Maps shows a building or home further back.

“That’s where I spend the majority of my time,” Abeyta said.

As we were shooting video outside Abeyta’s Trinidad property where he says he doesn’t live, we noticed his truck was parked out front.

After shooting footage for less than 5 minutes, Abeyta came outside.

“I do spend a lot of time at the Trinidad residence because of my job,” he said. “I work in Trinidad. The courthouse is in Trinidad. It’s not in Sarcillo Canon and I work at the courthouse so it was convenient for me to stay there whenever I had meetings or late meeting nights.”

As part of the court case, the plaintiff, a Trinidad resident, argued Abeyta’s drivers license and all of his vehicle registrations except for one were registered to his Trinidad address, not the Weston address in the district he represented.

Ross asked, “According to the judge’s ruling, you were in the wrong. Sitting here today, you’re indicating to me that you’ve done nothing wrong?”

“Now I know how someone who is found guilty of a crime they didn’t commit feels,” Abeyta replied.

Abeyta says the hearing to remove him from office was a witch hunt which started a few years ago when Las Animas County sheriff’s deputies blew the whistle about not getting paid on time.

“A few days later, you guys (KOAA News 5) showed up asking why we weren’t paying the deputies salaries,” Abeyta said. “It wasn’t the commissioners job to do it. That was the sheriff’s job to do it. That was his budget.”

The payroll issue was eventually resolved.

While in office, Abeyta said he worked hard for the people he served and says the judge’s ruling is a disappointment.

“I was there to help the county,” he said. “I wasn’t there to help myself.”

Abeyta says the judge didn’t listen to his testimony and said his witnesses were not credible in validating his home address.

Gov. Hickenlooper appointed Dean Moltrer to the district 1 seat. He’ll fill that vacancy until the 2018 general election.