State Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat and the chair of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, has been indicted on a felony charge alleging that he lied about where he lives for the purpose of voting.
Prosecutors in El Paso County said Tuesday that Lee is accused of providing false information as to his residence, a Class 5 felony.
Lee had previously been accused of not living in his state Senate district — Senate District 11 — which is a requirement under state law. The Colorado Springs Independent reported in June 2020 that Lee listed his address as a house near downtown Colorado Springs that is in his Senate district rather than a home he owns in Cheyenne Cañon that is listed as his wife’s home. The Cheyenne Cañon home is in Senate District 12.
According to The Independent, a blurb about Lee that was on the El Paso County Democrats website when he was running to represent Senate District 11 said he and his wife lived in Cheyenne Cañon.
“I go back and forth quite a bit,” he told The Independent.
State law also requires legislative candidates to live in the district they wish to represent for at least a year.
A few weeks after The Colorado Springs Independent story ran, a phone conversation in which Lee was discussing the article with a woman was recorded on a hot mic. He said that he was “really stressed out” about the story and noted that it’s a Class 5 felony to vote from a place you don’t live.
Lee was recorded unknowingly while he was using video conference software to participate remotely in Colorado Senate floor proceedings. The recording, which was obtained by The Colorado Sun, appears to have been made during a recess.
He admitted in the call that while he paid taxes from the downtown Colorado Springs home, which he believes means he can establish residency there, “I don’t spend the nights there.”
Lee also said on the call that he notified then-Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat who is now president of the Senate, of the issue and that Fenberg referred him to an attorney for the Colorado Democratic Party.
The grand jury indictment, which is five pages long, alleges Lee on March 3, 2020, “voted giving false information regarding the elector’s place of present residence.”
March 3, 2020, was the date of the presidential primary.
The 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which is led by Republican District Attorney Michael Allen, said the indictment was handed down Aug. 3. Lee’s first court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Lee didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment on Tuesday afternoon. In a written statement, he said he couldn’t comment on the charge because he had just learned about it.
“I have been informed that Republican El Paso County District Attorney Michael Allen has alleged that two years ago I violated the voter residence law for voting in a district where he claims I did not reside. There is no accusation of voting at more than one location,” Lee said.
David Kaplan, an attorney who appears to be representing Lee, in a written statement said “the charge will be vigorously challenged.”
“At a time when the public expresses concern about an increase in violent crime, along with a drug abuse epidemic, it is disappointing that this district attorney expends precious resources, deploys investigators, detectives and assigns prosecutors to search for a complaint against Senator Lee,” Kaplan said.
Fenberg called Lee “dedicated public servant who has spent his career supporting his community and working to improve the lives of all Coloradans.”
“I trust he’ll have a fair opportunity to be heard and that the legal process will allow for an airing of all of the facts,” Fenberg said in a written statement. “At his request, Senator Lee has been removed from his interim committee assignments until this matter is resolved.”
Lee was appointed in June to chair an interim committee charged with weighing whether the state should change the ways in which it investigates and disciplines judges.
Lee was elected to the Senate in 2018 after serving in the House. The term ends in January. Lee is not running for reelection.
During his time in the Senate, Lee was the sponsor of a host of marquee criminal justice reform bills, including ones changing the juvenile justice code and dramatically changing the felony murder statute.
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