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Sandra Brown, Mesa County’s former elections manager. (Handout)

A second key former deputy to indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters pleaded guilty Wednesday to criminal charges stemming from a breach of the county’s election system last year, agreeing as part of a deal with prosecutors to testify against Peters in her upcoming trial.

Sandra Brown, Mesa County’s former elections manager, pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a felony, and one misdemeanor count of official misconduct. 

As part of the plea, Brown agreed to cooperate with authorities in their investigation into Peters. If she doesn’t honor the cooperation agreement, the original charges against her — including conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, a felony — will be reinstated.

In exchange, Brown will avoid a prison sentence and can only be ordered jailed for a maximum of 30 days. She will be sentenced at a later date to a two-year deferred judgment, which means that as long as she doesn’t break any laws during that time, she won’t be subject to additional penalties.

A 15-page arrest warrant for Brown, who was arrested in July, alleged she misrepresented to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office who would be attending a sensitive election system software update in May 2021. An email included in the document shows Brown messaging state elections officials to let them know that Gerald Wood would be attending the update, when in fact, according to authorities, he was never going to be there.

Investigators allege that Wood’s identity was stolen by Peters, a Republican, to surreptitiously get another man, Conan Hayes, a former pro surfer and election conspiracy theorist, into the Dominion Voting Systems software update. 

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Images of passwords from the update were later posted online. A copy of Mesa County’s election system hard drive was also posted online after the software update. 

Mesa County had to scrap its election equipment and buy replacements because of the breach. 

“My job was to protect the integrity of the elections,” Brown said in court on Wednesday. “There were steps that I could have taken that would have done that in a better (way). There were things going on that I should have questioned, and I didn’t.”

Brown’s sentencing was scheduled by Mesa County District Judge Matthew Barrett to happen immediately after she testified against Peters. 

Brown, who was fired in November 2021, is the second former key deputy to Peters, an election conspiracy theorist, to plead guilty in the election system breach and agree to testify against the clerk. 

Mesa County Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley, who was also charged in the case, agreed to testify against Peters and cooperate with investigators as she pleaded guilty in August. Knisley was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation and 150 hours of community service. She was also permanently barred from working in elections.

Peters, who ran unsuccessfully this year to be Colorado’s secretary of state, is scheduled to face trial in March on charges stemming from Mesa County’s election security breach, which she is alleged to have orchestrated.

Peters attended a rally in Greenwood Village on Wednesday where she criticized Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown and urged a crowd of a few dozen people to support new leadership. (Burton Brown urged Peters to drop out of the secretary of state race after she was indicted.)

“I would never vote for anyone that doesn’t acknowledge that there is fraud in our elections,” Peters said. “We are not a blue state, we’re not even a purple state, we are a red state.”

Told by a Colorado Sun reporter that Brown had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against her, Peters said “it just shows the amount of pressure that they inflict upon innocent people.

“It doesn’t change things,” Peters said. “I’ve always encouraged them to just tell the truth. When you don’t do anything wrong you don’t have anything to be afraid of. If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to worry about what you said.” 

Tina Peters stands amid a group of supporters
Tina Peters during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on Saturday, April 9, 2022, in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Peters is charged with three counts of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony; one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 5 felony; one count of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony; one count of identity theft, a Class 4 felony; and one count of first-degree official misconduct, a Class 2 misdemeanor.

If convicted, Peters could be sentenced to a prison term.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — jesse@coloradosun.com 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...

Elliott Wenzler

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her...