• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
The Colorado Department of Public Health building is seen on Wednesday, August 11, 2021, in Glendale. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado paid $387,000 in an attempt to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment by the state’s former disease control and public health response chief, who alleged he was fired in 2020 after disclosing the agency had mismanaged federal HIV money.

The amount is the maximum Dr. Tony Cappello could have received under Colorado’s statutory cap, which limits how much plaintiffs who sue the state can receive, Denver District Court Judge Shelley Gilman ruled in late July.

Cappello tried to argue that he was entitled to more money.

The funds were deposited into an account for Cappello earlier this month. In relinquishing the funds, the state did not admit fault. No attorneys fees were awarded. 

The state can reclaim the money if Cappello appeals in the hope he can win a larger sum.

“We are considering our options and haven’t yet decided what next step to take,” said Ken Rossman, one of Cappello’s attorneys. 

CDPHE, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment. 

Cappello sued in June 2020, soon after he was fired by CDPHE. He claimed his termination was in retaliation for his disclosure — or whistleblowing — that CDPHE had been mishandling federal HIV funds for years, in part by using the money for prevention programs instead of treatment.

The money was sent to Colorado as part of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program that is aimed at helping people living with HIV and AIDS. The program is named after an Indiana boy who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion in 1984. 

The state returned about $8 million to the federal government because it failed to spend at least 75% of the money it was allocated, enraging groups who help some of the more than 14,000 Coloradans with HIV. The refunds meant grantees received 25% to 87% less money, and the state stopped granting the money for prevention programs.

The state tried to have Cappello’s lawsuit dismissed under governmental immunity protections, but Gilman declined that request. 

Jill Hunsaker Ryan, who was appointed by Gov. Jared Polis to lead CDPHE, testified in the case in November, claiming Cappello was not fired because of the funding issues. But Gilman wrote in an order that she didn’t find Hunsaker Ryan’s testimony credible.

Cappello began working at CDPHE in September 2017.

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...