State Rep. Tracey Bernett faces felony charges over alleged lies about living in Louisville

· Nov. 4, 2022, 3:36 pm
220318-LEGISLATURE-HOUSE-DEMOCRATS-BERNETT220318-LEGISLATURE-HOUSE-DEMOCRATS-BERNETTHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Tracey Bernett, center, on the House floor March 18, 2022.

State Rep. Tracey Bernett, a Democrat representing part of Boulder County, is accused of making false claims about where she lives — a move that allowed her to run as the incumbent in House District 12.

Bernett, 67, was charged on Friday with three felonies and two misdemeanors by Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty’s office.

Bernett was first elected in 2020 in House District 12, which included her residence in Longmont. But the district was redrawn during last year’s redistricting process and, as a result, Bernett’s residence no longer fell within its boundaries.

“There is probable cause to believe that Rep. Bernett set up a false residence in (House District 12) to maintain her candidacy in HD 12,” read an affidavit filed in the case.

The state representative surrendered to local authorities and was released on a personal recognizance bond. The charges come just days before the 2022 election. Bernett, who is up for reelection, is heavily favored to win against Republican rival Anya Kirvan. Voting is already well underway.

“These are very serious allegations and should not be taken lately,” said Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett in a written statement. “I trust the legal process to follow the facts, and I know Rep. Bernett will have an opportunity to be heard in that process.”

Jarrett Freedman, a spokesman for House Democrats, declined to comment further on whether party officials had previously advised Bernett on her claimed change of residence. Party leaders have not said what might happen to Bernett’s seat should she win reelection. 

State law requires candidates to live in their district for at least a year before Election Day. However, removing a sitting lawmaker — like Bernett, assuming she wins — could require action by the legislature itself. However, she might also be barred from continuing to serve if she is convicted of a felony charge.

If Bernett leaves the legislature, Democrats could select her replacement through a vacancy committee.

Bernett did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She faces the following charges:

  • Attempting to influence a public servant, a Class 4 felony
  • Providing false information about a residence, a Class 5 felony
  • Forgery, a Class 5 felony
  • Perjury, a Class 2 misdemeanor
  • Procuring false registration, a Class 2 misdemeanor

Class 4 felonies are punishable by up to six years in prison and a $500,000 fine, according to sentencing guidelines. Class 5 felonies may be sentenced up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Investigators said Bernett set up a fake residence

A year ago, Bernett started renting an apartment in Louisville, which is within the new boundaries of the district. But an investigation by the DA’s office found that she “did not actually live there,” according to a press release. D.A. Dougherty, like Bernett, is a Democrat.

The investigation included witness interviews, search warrants and the examination of cell phone location data, according to the DA’s office. Investigators reported seeing “cobwebs” in the apartment at the North Main at Steel Ranch complex. 

They found very little food and no evidence of family photographs or computers, according to the affidavit. The apartment is about 700 square feet, compared to the 4,000-square-foot home Bernett and her husband own in Longmont.

Bernett’s husband, Frank Bernett, still lives at the Longmont address, which they have owned since 1996. Additionally, Bernett told a police officer in July that her current address was still her original residence in Longmont.

The investigation was spurred by a complaint to the DA’s office by Theresa Watson, a resident of the district.

The charges stem from allegations that Bernett filed sworn documents attesting to her address with the Secretary of State’s office in order to run for District 12. Filing falsified documents is illegal, and the affidavit argues she did so “knowingly.” Bernett is also accused of illegally voting in District 12 during the primary elections this June.

Bernett’s house on Crestview Lane in Longmont — where she is alleged to still live — was redrawn from House District 12 into District 19. District 19 leans slightly toward Republicans, making it a much tougher election fight than District 12, which heavily favors Democrats.

What other politicos and lawmakers are saying

Kristi Burton Brown, state chairwoman for the Republican Party, said that Bernett had denied voters their rights.

“Bernett disenfranchised Colorado voters by lying about where she voted and where she lives and in effect, undermined our democracy,” Brown said in a written statement, adding that she questioned why the Secretary of State’s Office didn’t detect the alleged deception.

 A representative for the Secretary of State’s office said that staff had followed longstanding procedures to check Bernett’s campaign filing: They compared Bernett’s claimed residence to the address on her voter registration. Bernett had filed the same false claims on both data sources, according to the DA’s office.

Multiple lawmakers have faced residency questions and complaints this year.  

State Sen. Dennis Hisey, a Republican, was accused by a Democratic-aligned group of not living in District 11, where he is running. Hisey’s residence was drawn out of his previous district, and he said he moved into District 11 last fall.

Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for the left-leaning Colorado Ethics Institute, said that the Hisey case resembled the Bernett case — but pointed out that the El Paso County DA hadn’t taken similar action

“At least two sworn affidavits have been provided for the Hisey investigation since then, and I would hope the Colorado Springs DA is acting with similar urgency to his counterpart in Boulder.” 

State Sen. Pete Lee, also in El Paso County, was charged by the local district attorney with lying about his residence, but the case was dismissed after evidence was found to be based on faulty paperwork. 

“This year, it just became this clobber-fest,” said state Rep. Colin Larson, a Republican, referring to the dueling complaints. “Everyone’s getting nailed with it.”

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