EL PASO COUNTY — A viewer news tip led our News 5 Investigates team to dig into a possible case of nepotism and conflict of interest between the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, current Chief of Staff Janet Huffor and her husband, Lieutenant Bill Huffor.
We've learned Lt. Huffor and his wife recently took ownership of a pet food store and shortly after, the sheriff's office started buying K-9 food there at a higher price than what they paid with a different vendor.
The business venture change came around the time Lt. Huffor was under review for a case profiled in a News 5 Investigates report in the fall of 2020.
Last year, News 5 obtained exclusive video showing Lt. Bill Huffor arresting a man and appearing to make up a crime that never happened.
Lt. Huffor resigned from the sheriff's office in the middle of an administrative review into his actions, but we uncovered he's still able to collect taxpayer money through a private pet food supply business he and his wife opened.
According to a social media post from Sheriff Bill Elder, Huffor and his wife bought a pet store near Woodmen and Rangewood.
A few weeks later, records obtained by News 5 Investigates show the sheriff's office stopped buying K-9 food at Big R and gave their business to Lt. Huffor's store.
Some viewers may push aside the potential nepotism with this deal if the switch in K-9 food vendors was saving tax payers money. However, our investigative found it's actually costing you more.
The transition from Sheriff's Lt. to pet store owner:
An administrative review into Lt. Huffor's integrity and actions began with the arrest of a man named Tony Twiss.
"If I assaulted him, I deserved it, but I didn't assault him," Twiss told News 5 in a 2020 interview.
We spoke with Tony shortly after he was arrested and charged with felony assault on an officer---a case the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office tossed out.
So what did Tony do?
One night, Tony says he noticed an unmarked SUV parked outside his daughter's bedroom window.
He says he grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see what was going on.
That's when Tony says Lt. Huffor got out of the unmarked SUV and demanded Tony's ID. Keep in mind, Tony had not committed a crime.
Tony still provided his ID to Lt. Huffor and got his wife to come outside and record the interaction.
Lt. Huffor ended up arresting Tony, claiming his flashlight caused him instant pain, a headache, and briefly disoriented him.
However, cell phone video contradicts Huffor's version of events. At no time does Huffor appear disoriented, and we never hear him call for medical attention.
August 31, 2020: Tony is arrested
September 3, 2020: News 5 reaches out to EPSO to discuss the arrest
September 7, 2020: EPSO Spokesperson says the case is under administrative review
Nov. 6, 2020: News 5 receives official confirmation that Lt. Huffor has resigned
Nov. 8, 2020: Sheriff Bill Elder goes on Facebook to promote Lt. Huffor's pet store that he and his wife, the current chief of staff opened up
Nov. 18, 2020: Lt. Huffor sends an invoice for K-9 dog food to EPSO
K-9 Dog Food Purchase:
Invoices obtained by News 5 for 2020 show the Sheriff's Office always purchased K-9 food from Big R in Peyton, CO.
The only purchase order for dog food at Furry Friends Inc. occured after Lt. Huffor and his wife took ownership.
Invoices from Big R:
Under the Colorado Open Records Act, News 5 obtained copies of three invoices from Big R so that we could accurately compare the cost of dog food from that store to Lt. Huffor's business.
May 2020: Big R bills EPSO $359.92 for 8 bags of Victor High Pro + dog food
July 2020: Big R bills EPSO $351.92 for 8 bags of Victor High Pro + dog food
September 2020: Big R bills EPSO $351.92 for 8 bags of Victor High Pro + dog food
November 2020: Lt. Bill Huffor (Furry Friends Inc) bills EPSO $379.92 for 8 bags of Victor High Pro + dog food
News 5 Investigates reached out to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on Jan. 19 to share our findings with Sheriff Bill Elder and get a better understanding of why the EPSO would buy the same type and amount of dog food for a higher price from a business that has direct ties to a current and former sheriff's office employee.
A spokesperson released the following statement after our inquiry:
Dog food for our K-9's is purchased by the K-9 Sergeant on an as needed basis, and over the course of a year is approximately $1,400-$1,500. This particular purchase was made at the Division level. Purchases of this amount for any vendor don't rise to the level of the Sheriff's knowledge, nor would it need his approval. Therefore, there is no need for you to sit down with him.
After seeking clarification on purchases Sheriff Elder would be "in the know on", the spokesperson released the following additional information:
The Sheriff’s Office has a budget of 80+ million with many vendors who supply items from pens and paper, to car parts, to the medical contract for the jail. We are a full service agency meaning we have the Detention Operations, the Law Enforcement Operations and the Wildland Fire Operations. As you can imagine this would require many different vendors, at different costs to effectively run the operations the Sheriff, by State Statute is responsible for. Any amount over $5,000 would have to go before the Board of County Commissioners for approval. This may be a trigger to alert the Sheriff of a cost exceeding that threshold, but those meetings are typically attended by someone from the Budget and Finance office. But the Sheriff’s knowledge does not mean he is involved in the vendor selection or approval of expenditures, this is the job of the Division Commanders in conjunction with the Budget and Finance Office. His main priority is that we are abiding within the confines of the budget we are given annually. The Sheriff was not aware of this purchase until we received your CORA request.
It is unclear whether the Sheriff's Office will continue purchasing dog food from Furry Friends following this story. However, News 5 will be submitting a revised open records request at the end of the first quarter to find out.
Transparency and FAQ's:
Q: Why are you referring to Bill Huffor as a lieutenant when he's no longer employed with EPSO?
A: Huffor earned his rank as lieutenant and despite resigning during an administrative review, he was not terminated and he is eligible for rehire according to a county spokesperson.
Q: Who is Bill Huffor currently married to?
A: Bill is married to Sheriff Elder's chief of staff, Janet. You can read her bio here.
Q: How did you verify that the sheriff's office was paying more for the same type and amount of dog food?
A: We plugged in the SKU number on the Big R invoices which took us to the Victor High Pro + 40 lb. dog food bag. We then looked at Huffor's invoice and discovered the SKU number is the same. We plugged that number in online just to make sure and found it matched with the same 40 lb. bag of Victor High Pro + dog food.
Q: How did you find this story?
A: Many of our investigations come directly from viewers like you, and this is no exception. We actually received this tip directly from a law enforcement source who has provided credible information to us in the past. However, we always independently work to verify information that is passed on to us before publication.
Have something you want us to look into. Email: News5Investigates@KOAA.com