The house that graft built

Nepotism and self-enrichment alive and well in city housing | by Nick Rosen, July 16, 1998

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

This story was a classic Boulder Weekly investigation that led to the discovery of corruption within the ranks of the City of Boulder. As a result of this piece, the city made significant changes to ensure that what had occurred could never happen again.


“The house that graft built” was also an example of excellent journalism by a young reporter named Nick Rosen. Most Boulderites today recognize Nick as a partner, writer and producer at Sender Films, where he is co-creator of the Emmy-nominated National Geographic television series, First Ascent, and was co-director of the award-winning film The Sharp End. We at the Weekly are glad that Nick is following his passion for climbing, but this story reminds us that he is equally gifted at investigative journalism. So if you ever get the itch, Nick, you know where to find us. Now more about this story.

By carefully investigating city records for months, Rosen discovered a web of corruption, all leading to one man, Jim Butterfield, then-construction manager for the City of Boulder Housing Authority. The Weekly’s investigation found that Butterfield had a bad habit of making his city programs a family affair, a violation of the Authority’s conflict-of-interest rules. The first, but hardly the last, problem with Butterfield that Rosen discovered was that he had hired his relatives to work on a Housing Authority rehabilitation project, and his daughter was paid at least $30 an hour for painting mobile homes and other miscellaneous jobs, a hefty sum for unskilled work.

But as Rosen dug deeper, he realized that Butterfield’s incestuous Housing Authority shenanigans were just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, at his previous job with the city at the Department of Housing and Human Services, the evidence pointed to Butterfield helping himself to a hefty windfall from official construction contracts. Between 1992 and 1997 Butterfield allocated $65,000 in Housing and Human Services contracts to a company called Hallmark Builders, a company with no past or contact information. Butterfield told the Weekly he couldn’t remember whom he had dealt with at Hallmark.

Rosen kept digging and was eventually able to trace the delivery of City of Boulder checks made out to Hallmark Builders to a private mailbox at Pak Mail in Boulder. Hallmark closed its Pak Mail box shortly after Boulder Weekly inquired about the company to Butterfield. Although records for the closed Hallmark box were confidential, Rosen was able to get the owner of Pak Mail to come up with the name of the person who picked up the Hallmark mail. It was a woman named Kathy Evans. Work associates of Butterfield confirmed to Rosen that Butterfield was married to a woman named Kathy Evans.

Butterfield’s wife picked up Hallmark’s checks and deposited them at the Bank of Boulder. A little more digging by the Weekly found that the handwriting on the endorsement of the checks looked very similar to the handwriting samples of Jim Butterfield that the paper was able to obtain from city documents.

Rosen also found another mysterious company, K.A.Y. Enterprises, that was also being paid by the City of Boulder for work contracted by the Housing Authority after Butterfield had moved to his position there. Checks made out to K.A.Y. were being sent to the same private mailbox as those for Hallmark.

This story eventually prompted Butterfield to resign and caused the City of Boulder to launch audits of both Housing and Human Services and the Housing Authority.