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Mesa County grand jury indicts Tina Peters, Belinda Knisley in relation to election tampering

Two face multiple felonies in 13-count indictment
Tina Peters Belinda Knisley mugshots
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Posted at 10:48 AM, Mar 09, 2022

DENVER – A Mesa County grand jury indicted clerk and recorder Tina Peters and her deputy clerk, Belinda Knisley, on 13 counts including multiple felonies in relation to their alleged tampering with election equipment last year.

Peters faces three counts of attempting to influence a public servant; one count of conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant; criminal impersonation; conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation; identity theft; first-degree official misconduct; violation of duty; and failing to comply with the secretary of state.

The first seven counts are felonies.

Deputy Clerk Belinda Knisley faces three counts of attempting to influence a public servant; one count of conspiracy to commit attempting to influence a public servant; violation of duty; and failing to comply with the secretary of state. Four of the counts are felonies.

Dan Rubinstein, the 21st Judicial District Attorney, announced the grand jury investigation on Jan. 13.

In a statement Wednesday, he and Attorney General Phil Weiser said the grand jury had found probable cause that Peters and Knisley had committed criminal offenses. They said more charges could be forthcoming.

“A grand jury is comprised of citizens who determine whether probable cause of criminal activity has been established. Once indicted, the case must be proven in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt,” the two said in the statement. “This investigation is ongoing, and other defendants may be charged as we learn more information. We remind everyone that these are allegations at this point and that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Rubinstein said in an interview that his office’s parallel investigation with the FBI is ongoing and that they might go back to the grand jury to present additional evidence, as the investigation is ongoing.

“It’s possible that we return to the grand jury for other potential defendants,” he said.

Rubinstein said the grand jury told him it was unanimous in its decision to bring forth the charges.

The district attorney’s office said arrest warrants have been issued in the cases. As of 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, Knisley had turned herself in to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. Peters turned herself in around 4 p.m., according to the Mesa County Sheriff's Office. Both had $500,000 cash bonds set in their separate cases.

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Belinda Knisley

Jason Jovanovich, the attorney representing Peters, said he believes there is evidence that will "show Ms. Peters acted properly." He said she was planning to comply with court orders.

According to the indictment, many of the charges stem from Peters’ and Knisley’s alleged activities surrounding tampering with the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment, which led Secretary of State Jena Griswold to bar both from participating in last year’s election.

"Officials tasked with carrying out elections do so in public trust and must be held accountable when they abuse their power or position," Griswold said in a statement. "As secretary of state, I will always protect Colorado's election infrastructure and Coloradans' right to vote, which means upholding election laws and rules to ensure the security and integrity of the state's elections."

The secretary of state's office said Peters' alleged actions "constituted one of the nation's first insider threats where an official, elected to uphold free, fair, and secure elections, risked the integrity of the election system in an effort to prove unfounded conspiracy theories."

According to an investigation last year, Peters and another employee of the county clerk’s office helped a man named Gerald Wood get into a May 25 “trusted build” of the voting system by misrepresenting his role. The indictment charges Peters with criminal impersonation with respect to Wood.

On Aug. 2, video of the trusted build and the passwords for the voting system were posted on Telegram and right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, and the hard drive image copies were posted online a week later while Peters was at Mike Lindell’s symposium.

Knisley was suspended on Aug. 23 and barred from being at work or performing any work from Mesa County, but she was criminally charged with second-degree burglary and cybercrime after she was allegedly at a county building and using Peters’ computer two days after she was suspended.

According to the indictment, which was returned by the grand jury on Tuesday night, Peters and Knisley “devised and executed a deceptive scheme which was designed to influence public servants, breach security protocols, exceed permissible access to voting equipment, and set in motion the eventual distribution of confidential information to unauthorized people.”

It also says that Peters and Knisley are accused of using the name of Wood “to further their criminal scheme” and exposed Wood “to various forms of liability and criminal exposure.”

The indictment says Peters had asked in April, about a month before the trusted build, for members of the public to be able to watch the trusted build – something the secretary of state’s office declined.

Peters and Knisley, among others, talked about alleged “vulnerabilities” in election systems in a meeting on April 23, according to the indictment, and Peters was told it was against the law to open the machines. The secretary of state’s office warned Peters again on April 30 that no members of the public would be allowed into the trusted build, according to the indictment.

The indictment says that in early May, Peters and Knisley had discussions about getting a “temp employee” a security badge and email access, and allegedly falsely claimed to an IT employee that the person would be a temporary employee for the elections department.

Knisley started shutting off security surveillance cameras within the elections offices on May 17, according to the indictment. From that date on, they were not working during the trusted build, according to the indictment.

That same day, Knisley told Stephanie Wenholtz, the front-office elections manager, that Wood would be the new administrative assistant in the clerk and recorder’s office, which excluded Wenholtz from the trusted build and put Wood in her place, according to the indictment.

Wood was subpoenaed by the grand jury, according to the indictment, and agreed to testify.

He told the grand jury that Peters phoned him and said “she may need him to do some contract work that Mesa County IT either could not do or would not do,” according to the indictment.

He said he had no familiarity with Dominion voting machines, but Peters put him in touch with Knisley, who told him to go to Mesa County HR to obtain an access badge on May 19 and another multi-factor authentication key called Yubikey. However, he said he never received the Yubikey, and after meeting with Peters and Knisley that same day, he returned his access badge to Knisley, he told the grand jury.

“Mr. Wood was never hired by Mesa County in any capacity, he has never done any work for Mesa County, and he has never been employed by the state,” the indictment states.

But, according to the indictment, his key card badge was used along with those of Peters and Sandra Brown, then an elections manager, on May 23.

During the May 25 trusted build, Peters introduced a man she referred to as Wood to a Dominion employee and said the man was an administrative assistant who would be involved in the election process. Peters also introduced a man she referred to as Wood to Danny Casias, a secretary of state’s office employee. She said Wood was an employee of the Motor Vehicle Division transferring to the elections division, according to the indictment.

But Wood, when he testified to the grand jury, said he did not go to the county clerk and recorder’s office on either of those days and did not have access to his security badge, since he had turned it back over to Knisley on the 19th.

Rubinstein said in an interview that he could not comment on who was in the room posing as Wood.

Once the passwords and images of the election systems were posted on the internet, the secretary of state’s office ordered the initial investigation, which led to Mesa County having to replace its election system ahead of the 2021 election and appoint new people to oversee the election.

Knisley was charged with burglary and cybercrime in September. Peters announced in February she was running for Secretary of State after she was arrested on obstruction charges. Peters was issued a citation for contempt of court after allegedly recording a court hearing involving Knisley’s case in a Feb. 7 hearing.

Colorado's Republican Party leadership, including chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown, released a statement Wednesday saying they believe any Republican indicted on felony counts by a grand jury, who is also charged by a Republican district attorney, should suspend their campaign while they face the legal issues.

"Today, we are asking Clerk Peters to consider what is best for the Republican Party in Colorado and act accordingly as she avails herself of our judicial system," GOP leadership said.

Colorado GOP Executive Director Joe Jackson said the party would stay neutral during primary races and "continue to afford Clerk Peters the same information and opportunities afforded other statewide candidates unless notified by her campaign that her status as a candidate for office has changed."

“It was important to me to handle this personally, given that there's allegations that because our president is a Democrat, and that our attorney generals Democrat, that Miss Peters would not get a fair shake and would not have the evidence fairly looked at,” Rubinstein said. “I believe my community has confidence in me that this is not politically motivated, and is simply motivated by the facts.”

In a lengthy news release issued Wednesday afternoon, Peters made a series of claims to say the indictment was politically motivated, though that notion was already dispelled by Rubinstein.

“Using legal muscle to indict political opponents during an election isn’t new strategy, but it’s easier to execute when you have a district attorney who despises President Trump and any constitutional conservative like myself who continues to demand all election evidence be made available to the public. But a grand jury is one of the last cards the Democrats have to play here,” Peters said. “They hope to influence voters enough with indictments and arrests and media drama during the primaries, to elect a weaker general election opponent for Secretary of State Jena Griswold.”

Matt Crane, the executive director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, which have pushed for Peters to be investigated wholly once the allegations came to light last August, said the organization was "devastated by this breach of trust."

"County clerks are committed to our role as the guardians of our most sacred right as Americans, the right to vote in free, fair, and secure elections," Crane said. "This news has encouraged our association to redouble our efforts to push for changes that will both ensure better training for all election officials as well as increase penalties for those election officials who choose to break the law."

The indictment details the counts that Peters and Knisley face as follows:

  1. Attempt to influence a public servant (F4) – Peters and Knisley are accused of attempting to influence Jessi Romero, a Colorado Secretary of State employee sometime between April 23 and May 18, 2021.
  2. Attempt to influence a public servant (F4) – Peters and Knisley are accused of attempting to influence David Underwood, of Mesa County, sometime between May 10 and May 19, 2021.
  3. Attempt to influence a public servant (F4) – Knisley is accused of attempting to influence Stephanie Wenholtz of the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder’s Office on May 17, 2021
  4. Conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation, causing liability (F6) – Peters and Knisley “agreed with the other co-defendant named above, Sandra Brown and/or a person or persons to the Grand Jury and District Attorney unknown that one or more of them would engage in conduct which constituted that crime or an attempt to commit that crime" between April 23 and May 19, 2021.
  5. Attempt to influence a public servant (F4) – Peters is accused of unlawfully attempting to influence Danny Casias of the Colorado Department of State on May 25, 2021.
  6. Criminal impersonation – cause liability (F6) – Peters “unlawfully, feloniously, and knowingly assumed a false or fictitious identity or capacity, legal or other, namely: Gerald 'Jerry' Wood."
  7. Conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation – cause liability (F6) – Peters “agreed with Sandra Brown and/or a person or persons to the Grand Jury and District Attorney unknown that one or more of them would engage in conduct which constituted that crime or an attempt to commit that crime.”
  8. Identity theft – uses information to obtain a thing of value (F4) – Peters “used the personal identifying information, financial identifying information, or financial device of Gerlad “Jerry” Wood without permission or lawful authority with intent” between May 23-25, 2021.
  9. First-degree official misconduct (M2) – Peters “unlawfully and knowingly committed an act relating to her office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of her official function…” between April 23 and Aug. 15, 2021.
  10. Violation of duty (M) – Peters “violated, neglected, or failed to perform such a duty” as a public or election official between April 23 and Aug. 15, 2021.
  11. Failure to comply with requirements of secretary of state – Peters, between April 23 and Aug. 15, 2021, “Willfully interfered or willfully refused to comply with the rules of the Secretary of State…”
  12. Violation of duty (M) – Knisley “violated, neglected, or failed to perform such duty or is guilty of corrupt conduct in the discharge of the same” between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, 2021.
  13. Failure to comply with requirements of the secretary of state (M) – Knisley “willfully interfered or willfully refused to comply with the rules of the Secretary of State” between Aug. 9 and Aug. 15, 2021.

Denver7's Colette Bordelon contributed to this report. This is a developing news story and will be updated.