No charges for El Paso County Sheriff candidate accused of bribery

Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
Joe Roybal won the Republican primary election for El Paso County Sheriff in June 2022.

El Paso County Sheriff candidate Joe Roybal will not face criminal charges after allegations of election bribery.

Roybal won the Republican primary in June, beating two challengers for the nomination. Soon after, a video surfaced showing Mel Bernstein, locally known as the Dragonman, offering discounted admission at his gun range to anyone who signed Roybal's petition for candidacy. 

43 signatures were collected as a result, according to legal documents associated with the complaint.

It is illegal to offer anyone something of value–directly or indirectly– in exchange for signing a petition. State law calls for violators to be fined up to $1,000 or spend up to a year in county jail.

A complaint was later filed against Roybal for not intervening. 

"At the time of the video, I was not aware the discount would be offered for each signature obtained," Roybal said in a statement on his website. "I was surprised and did not know he was going to make the statement; it was not planned nor coordinated with me."

Roybal said as a first-time candidate, he did not have a full understanding of the rules.

4th Judicial District District Attorney Michael Allen asked Jeff Chostner to look into the complaint to avoid a conflict of interest. Allen had endorsed Roybal's candidacy earlier this year. Chostner is the district attorney for the 10th Judicial District based in Pueblo.

In a warning letter explaining why he chose not to file charges, Chostner called Roybal's actions "reprehensible," but said he didn't believe a jury would convict Roybal and that the signatures weren't substantial enough to disqualify him from making the ballot. 

The timing of the complaint also limited possible legal action, as it wasn't filed within the amount of time required by state statute. 

"As one seeking a position in law enforcement, your first priority is to uphold the law," Chostner wrote to Roybal. "I believe you have significantly strayed from that responsibility."

"I trust the citizens of our county," Roybal wrote. "They spoke loud and clear when they voted for me on June 28 to be their candidate for Sheriff. I take this mandate seriously. I will serve them with honor and integrity as I have done for nearly 27 years in the sheriff’s office."

Roybal will face Democrat Joe Foley in the fall. Current El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder is term-limited.