Outgoing Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and challenger Michael Buglione have many talking points about the campaign, whether it’s regarding the current operations of the jail and whether the facility should be replaced, their approach to the law enforcement and other aspects of the job.
Typical sheriff-running stuff, but only in Pitkin County will voters hear that the state is investigating the sheriff’s stake in a vodka company majority-owned by Lance Armstrong and another Aspen resident.
The Colorado Department of Revenue has confirmed that it is reviewing DiSalvo’s association with Lift Vodka, which was founded by Armstrong and another Aspen partner.
“This is still an active investigation, so out of policy we can’t comment,” said Suzanne Karrer, spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue, which has a liquor enforcement division and tobacco, in an email Friday.
What is less clear is when the investigation began. Last week, state agents contacted the administrative offices of Lift Vodka in the Aspen business center to obtain company documents relating to DiSalvo, the sheriff said.
“Last Tuesday or Wednesday someone called or came into the office and said they wanted the following documents about my involvement with the company,” he said.
The request, according to Lift Vodka’s general counsel, Avery Nelson, was for an inspection of Lift’s financial records for a possible audit.
“All we’re doing right now is giving them a very general set of partnership documents and some accounting records,” Nelson said. “I expect them to say ‘everything is fine here’. We don’t have a response yet, but documentation has been provided.
Nelson said the state’s request is not unusual, but is usually made when a complaint is filed against the liquor license holder in question.
“It’s the type of audit that doesn’t just happen by chance,” she said. “If we wanted to know more, the only way would be to apply for CORA (Colorado Open Records Act), but I don’t think anyone would want to do that.”
DiSalvo’s involvement since 2020 with Lift Vodka shows his lack of commitment to the sheriff’s office, Buglione said. DiSalvo countered that his role as a minority owner borders on ceremonial, as he did not invest any money in the Lift Vodka company and his 5% stake was given to him by Armstrong.
DiSalvo and Armstrong, who owns a home in Aspen, are friends and golf buddies. DiSalvo said he has a 5% stake in Lift Vodka that Armstrong gave to him before the company launched on Labor Day 2020. Armstrong’s gift was a token of appreciation for ideas and sheriff’s advice on starting the business, DiSalvo said.
The sheriff said he was not involved in the day-to-day management or operations of the business and had not received any compensation since the business started.
State issued Lift Vodka a wine and spirits wholesale license on Feb. 26, 2020, according to public records. The license identifies Aspen bartender Zack Neiditz as manager and member, and Armstrong as member. DiSalvo’s name does not appear on the license. The elevator does not have a city or county liquor license.
“To be a liquor licensee, you also have to be a landlord,” Buglione said. “To be an owner, you must also hold a liquor license. You can’t say “I’m a co-owner” and not have a liquor license. …Joe has admitted in the past that he’s part owner, which means he has to be on the license.
Under Colorado lawliquor licenses must disclose the officers and managers of the business and list all persons or entities owning at least 10% of the business.
“At first the offer was made, and even the 5% was a handshake,” DiSalvo said. “There are no papers.”
The sheriff added that “I’m just a person who received 5% donation, and I don’t manage day to day or anything.”
Nelson said ownership of DiSalvo has not been documented in company records, but will be.
“Our understanding of Colorado’s liquor code is that Joe’s minority interest does not violate any provision of the law, in particular the prohibition against law enforcement officers holding certain types of licenses,” she said. .
Still, if DiSalvo received the property as a gift, he should have declared his stake, Buglione said.
“Even giving him something is unethical,” Buglione said. “You can’t give the sheriff a bike. You cannot give them gifts unless they are declared.
DiSalvo said there was nothing to report as he received no compensation from Lift Vodka.
“I don’t collect money until the business sells,” he said. “I will receive 5% of the profits. »
Under the Article “Ethics in Government” in the Colorado Constitution, public employees and officials are not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $59, a figure that is adjusted every four years. The ban does not apply when the gift is “offered by a person who is a relative or personal friend of the recipient on a special occasion”. DiSalvo said he was free from any ethics violations because Armstrong is his friend.
Certain positions within the government authority are also prohibited from having a liquor license – auto industry investigators, the executive director and chief enforcement officer of the Department of Revenue, the director of gaming of the state, the state lottery investigator, the director of racing events, and eight positions in the office of the state attorney general. The sheriff is not one of them.
Sheriffs, however, are not permitted by state law to own or operate a licensed liquor establishment in the same jurisdiction where they are employed.
Lift Vodka has an office in the Aspen Airport Business Center and “we don’t have paid employees,” DiSalvo said.
“Water is shipped from Aspen to Mira Loma, California, and that’s where it’s mixed and returned in bottles,” he said.
Lift Vodka is available in Colorado but not out of state, the sheriff said. It is most widely distributed in Aspen, he said.
As county sheriff, DiSalvo has a responsibility to serve the public first, Buglione said. DiSalvo’s association with Lift Vodka illustrates its lack of commitment to county residents, he said.
“Our biggest problem in the country is alcohol abuse,” Buglione said. “Joe knows it, Joe saw it. … I’m going to be a full-time, hands-on sheriff. I’m not going to get into any other business. My wife has a business. It’s hers. I’m not going to not be interested in other companies.
Says DiSalvo: “I can understand that, but that’s not how I feel. It’s not my main job. It’s not even an investment. … If I have mutual funds and they are in General Dynamics, does that make me a warmonger?
One of DiSalvo’s most vocal critics, former Aspen mayor and former county commissioner Mick Ireland, took aim at the sheriff in a column he writes for the Aspen Daily News. Ireland, who as mayor in 2009 called for a Lance Armstrong Day in Aspen before the performance-enhancing drugs scandal broke, suggested in a June column that DiSalvo had asked companies to sell Lift Vodka .
“Selling vodka to businesses subject to your enforcement authority may or may not be legal under the state’s convoluted liquor code, but it looks like pulling someone over for speeding and be asked if you want to buy tickets for the police. ‘fundraiser,’ Ireland wrote, adding, ‘DiSalvo believes it is acceptable to solicit sales of its Lift Vodka from local bars and restaurants. Joey is quoted in the Aspen Times as having personally ‘sold’ cases of vodka to local establishments.
The Times article on Lift Vodka cited by Ireland was published in April. DiSalvo said if it wasn’t campaign season, his ownership in Lift Vodka wouldn’t be an issue.
Election day is November 8.