Mystery attorney in Elbert County election security case is former state House minority leader

Joe Stengel attests in affidavit he was in possession of unsealed metal box for more than three months

By: - May 16, 2022 12:02 pm

Ballots await counting at the Jefferson County Elections building on Oct. 21, 2020. (Eli Imadali for Colorado Newsline)

Joe Stengel, a former Republican Colorado House minority leader, is the mystery attorney at the center of an election security lawsuit in Elbert County, newly unsealed court documents reveal.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold in January opened an investigation into the activities of Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder as a potential security breach after learning that Schroeder, with the help of activists who reject the results of the 2020 election, had made full copies, or “forensic images,” of the hard drives of Elbert’s Dominion Voting Systems machines. She deemed the copies “unauthorized,” and in February she sued Schroeder after finding the Republican clerk’s response to her inquiries unsatisfactory.

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A primary piece of information Griswold, a Democrat, sought was the name of a “private attorney” to whom Schroeder had given possession of one of two hard drive copies Schroeder made. Schroeder had refused to reveal the identity of the private attorney.

Elbert County District Court Judge Gary Kramer ordered Schroeder to supply to Griswold material she sought in her investigation, including the name of the attorney, and the court suppressed the material. Griswold and Schroeder subsequently asked the court to make most of the material open to the public, and on Monday Kramer granted that request.

The material includes several affidavits that indicate there were in fact two unnamed attorneys who were in possession of election system hard drive copies — Stengel and Ric Morgan, an attorney in Elbert County.

An affidavit submitted by Joseph P. Stengel Jr., a Greenwood Village real estate attorney, says he was retained by John Case, Schroeder’s lawyer, on Jan. 25. On that date Case delivered to Stengel a red metal box, which contained one of the election system hard drive copies, and Stengel stored it in a fireproof safe, the affidavit says.

On Feb. 3, Case instructed Stengel to take photographs of the metal box, and Stengel noticed from the photograph that a yellow seal on the box was broken.

In his own affidavit, Case offered an explanation for why the seal was broken.

“I assume that I must have broken the yellow plastic latch on January 25, 2022, when I tried to force the Red Metal Box under the driver seat” of his vehicle when he delivered the box to Stengel, Case wrote.

Stengel took more photographs of the box, again at Case’s instruction, on April 13.

He returned the metal box to Case on May 4 “in the exact condition in which it was delivered” to Stengel, according to Stengel’s affidavit.

“At no time since the Red Metal Box has been in my possession has the Red Metal Box been opened to examine the contents,” he wrote.

Griswold considered the “unauthorized” election system hard drive copies a potential security breach partly because Schroeder “did not disclose how the copy was made or what security measures were taken at the time.”

In 2006, Stengel stepped down from his post in the Legislature amid an ethics investigation that found he claimed “excessive” pay in the off-season and “discredited the reputation of the General Assembly,” according to a contemporaneous Denver Post story.

An affidavit from Morgan says Schroeder delivered a pouch “relating to his official duties” to Morgan for safekeeping. The pouch contained a SanDisk hard drive, according to a Griswold spokesperson. Morgan says he secured the pouch in a storage cabinet in his office, where it remained unmoved and unopened until Morgan returned the pouch to Schroeder. The affidavit does not indicate on what dates these activities occurred.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:51 p.m., May 16, 2022, to include new information about what was contained in the pouch that was in the possession of Ric Morgan.

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