Former state Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Boulder County Democrat who pleaded guilty Friday to criminal charges that she lied about her residence, collected the same amount of mileage reimbursement from the legislature after she reported moving substantially closer to the Capitol in November 2021 to run for reelection in a more politically favorable district.
Bernett reported traveling 68.4 miles round trip between her home and the Capitol when she listed her address as a large house in Longmont and after she signed a candidate affidavit claiming she moved to an apartment in Louisville that is 12 miles closer to the Capitol, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of reimbursement filings obtained through an open records request.
The mileage reimbursements were an early indication that Bernett, who resigned from the legislature on the first day of the 2023 lawmaking term as she faced criminal charges for allegedly lying about her move, had falsified her address. Prosecutors say she never really resided at the Louisville apartment, and on Friday Bernett pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, including a felony, and was given a deferred sentence that will allow her to avoid prison time.
The mileage reimbursement revelations, which first surfaced in a January complaint filed by the chairwoman of the Boulder County GOP, are among the clearest evidence that Bernett tried to live in one Colorado House district and represent people living in another one.
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Bernett didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment in recent weeks. Neither did her criminal offense attorney.
Bernett on Nov. 3, 2021, changed the address of her voter registration from a 4,000-square-foot home in Longmont to a 700-square-foot apartment in Louisville, so she could run for reelection in House District 12, which leans heavily in Democrats’ favor.
The Longmont home was drawn into the adjacent House District 19 during the once-in-a-decade redistricting process in 2021. The new District 19 favors Republicans and was represented by GOP Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie.
Colorado law requires that candidates for state legislature live in their districts for at least a year before Election Day. (Election Day 2022 was Tuesday, Nov. 8.)
Bernett won reelection to her second two-year term in the legislature on Nov. 8, beating Republican Anya Kirvan by 54 percentage points despite the criminal charges, which were announced on Nov. 4, weeks after ballots had been mailed to voters.
Woog, meanwhile, lost his reelection bid in November to Democrat Jennifer Parenti by about 500 votes despite the Republican lean of House District 19.
The charges against Bernett stemmed from a complaint filed in September 2022 with the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office by Theresa Watson, chair of the Boulder County Republicans. The complaint asked prosecutors to look into whether Bernett broke the law by casting a ballot in the June 28, 2022, primary while registered at an address where she didn’t actually live.
Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, a Democrat, said in a written statement when the charges were filed late last year that his office conducted “a thorough investigation” that included witness interviews, search warrants and the analysis of cellphone location data. The mileage reimbursements don’t appear to have been a part of the original criminal probe.
After the investigation, Bernett was charged with felony counts of attempting to influence a public servant, forgery and providing false information about a residence. She was also charged with misdemeanor counts of perjury and procuring false registration.
Bernett pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony, and perjury, a Class 1 misdemeanor. She was sentenced to two years of probation and 150 hours of community service as part of a deferred penalty that, if completed, will allow her to avoid prison time. The other charges filed in the case were dropped by prosecutors.
Boulder County District Court Judge Nancy W. Salomone, who accepted Bernett’s guilty plea on Friday, accused Bernett of undermining public trust in elected officials.
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“If you’re living and breathing in this country, you know that trust in public servants is fractured and endangered in an unusual way,” Salomone said. “When one person takes an action that encourages that distrust that our country has in its public servants, it endangers all public servants. And it endangers democracy.”
Bernett was elected to the House District 12 seat in November 2020 and submitted her first mileage reimbursement form in January 2021, when she was sworn into office, requesting payment for traveling 68.4 miles to and from the Capitol.
When Bernett returned to the legislature in January 2022 for her second year as a state lawmaker, after she reported moving to Louisville, she once again submitted a mileage reimbursement form seeking compensation for traveling 68.4 miles to and from the Capitol despite having moved closer to the downtown Denver building.
The fastest route to the Capitol from Bernett’s Longmont home is 34.2 miles, according to Google Maps, while the fastest route from the Capitol to the Louisville apartment is 22.1 miles. Round trip, the Louisville apartment is 24 miles closer to the Capitol than the Longmont home.
The legislature’s 2022 mileage reimbursement rate was 53 cents per mile, so Bernett should have been collecting about $13 less in mileage reimbursement per round trip to the downtown Denver building after moving to Louisville.
Records show Bernett filed for reimbursement for nearly 80 trips to and from the Capitol in 2022.
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Watson, the former Boulder County GOP leader who first raised questions about Bernett’s mileage reimbursements, demanded in a letter sent by her attorney that Bernett repay the roughly $1,000 in mileage reimbursement she allegedly wasn’t entitled to.
Bernett was among three lawmakers who ran for reelection in 2022 whose residency was questioned in the wake of the 2021 redistricting process. She is the only one who was criminally charged.
After Bernett’s resignation, a Boulder County vacancy committee selected Louisville City Councilman Kyle Brown, a Democrat, to fill her seat.