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Denise Burgess abruptly ends Senate campaign amid Colorado Sun questions about federal tax liens

The Colorado Sun found four IRS tax liens leveled against Burgess dating back to 1998, at least one of which her campaign acknowledges remained unpaid. The candidate says she had made plans to pay it off by 2020.

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Democrat Denise Burgess on Thursday abruptly ended her bid for U.S. Senate just four days after she launched a campaign, a move that came as The Colorado Sun investigated her history of federal income tax liens.

Burgess issued a statement announcing the end of her campaign for the Democratic nomination, but she did not say explain why she was departing the race. A campaign spokeswoman later said it was not because of The Sun’s inquiries into her tax liens.

“We really thought we had big momentum,” Burgess told 9News. “We did not.”

Denise Burgess. (Handout)

The Sun found at least four federal tax liens under Burgess’ name dating back to 1998 and totaling nearly $165,000. That’s in addition to several liens filed against her construction management business, including for failure to pay employee payroll taxes.

Burgess’ company managed part of the construction of the Westin hotel and transportation plaza at Denver International Airport.

At least one of those liens remains outstanding, her campaign acknowledged to The Sun on Wednesday. The most recent Internal Revenue Service lien leveled against her was for $67,957 in unpaid personal individual income taxes from the 2014 tax year, records show. 

In a written statement, Burgess’ campaign spokeswoman said her construction management firm — Burgess Services — “grew big and fast and like many people and small businesses, it endured a rough patch with its finances.”

“The company has paid all state obligations and has made arrangements to pay the remainder of the federal taxes by 2020,” the statement said. “Overcoming obstacles and building a successful small business makes Denise uniquely qualified to be a champion for other small businesses and their workers in the Senate.”

Burgess’ campaign declined repeated interview requests from The Sun this week.

“As of this afternoon, I decided to end my campaign for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate,” Burgess said in the written statement. “But, make no mistake about it, I am going to keep working to make sure that Democrats win back the Senate seat and that Democrats all across the state are elected next November.”

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The Sun sent the Burgess campaign a series of questions about the federal tax liens on Thursday and was told by Aguirre-Sacasa that they would respond by 4 p.m. Instead, they sent out the statement ending the campaign just before 3 p.m.

Burgess told 9News anchor Kyle Clark in an interview that she “expected this to come forward” and that “the reason we’re dropping out is not because of the tax lien.”

Burgess told Clark she owes approximately $36,000.

Burgess also is the former chair of the board for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and serves as a Colorado School of Mines trustee. 

She had never run for public office before she entered the Democratic primary on Monday, when she declared herself a “workhorse who knows how to get things done.” Her campaign had been rumored for months.

“I’ve made payroll as a business owner,” Burgess said in a video announcing her candidacy. “And waited for my paycheck, so I wouldn’t be late on rent.”

Burgess is well known in Denver’s business and political circles. Burgess Services secured a nearly $40 million mechanical construction contract at Denver International Airport on its Westin Hotel and new transit center five years ago.

Burgess, her business and the city of Denver came under scrutiny when The Denver Post reported in 2014 that even though the contract was awarded to Burgess Services, the bulk of the work and money was going to subcontractors. The project was touted as supporting minority and women-owned businesses but at least one major subcontractor that received more than $23 million of the contract did not qualify as a minority contractor, The Post reported. Burgess is black.

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At the time, investigations were launched by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and then-Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher, according to The Post.

Burgess Services also has faced a number of federal tax liens — dating back to the 1999 tax year and as recently as the 2011 tax year — totaling more than $100,000, state records show. 

The 2011 tax liens against Burgess Services, totaling nearly $20,000, were for failing to pay employee payroll taxes and federal payroll withholding taxes, IRS filings indicate. 

Burgess took over the business after her father’s death in 2002. Under his watch, the company had been focused on heating and air conditioning, according to her biography on the Colorado School of Mines website

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