Sheriff showdown

The primary race for Ravalli County Sheriff heated up last week when a nasty spat between candidate Joede Vanek and incumbent Chris Hoffman reached the public.

On May 4, Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth denied a list of formal complaints filed by Vanek, a former Las Vegas law enforcement officer, against Hoffman. Among them, Vanek alleged that Hoffman intimidated him during a Republican Central Committee luncheon in early February, when the two first met.

"The Sheriff looked me directly in the face and said 'Let me warn you, be careful what you say before you say it in this election!'" Vanek's letter to Unsworth reads.

Unsworth dismissed Vanek's complaints due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Hoffman says he did warn Vanek, but insists it wasn't a threat. After browsing Vanek's campaign website, which promises to return integrity to the county office, Hoffman grew concerned that the race was taking a turn toward dirty politicking—an outcome he says he preferred to avoid after a contentious 2006 race.

"[Vanek] went into some detail about issues that we addressed years ago—the suicides in the detention center, deputies who had been disciplined and in some cases even terminated," Hoffman says. "I feel like we've been very transparent with the public."

Vanek begs to differ, saying that in conversations with roughly 40 county residents he's heard the sheriff's office referred to as "oppressive" and "threatening."

"It's all about rebuilding the trust of the people in the sheriff's office," Vanek says of his campaign, "and improving that communication."

Vanek's woes have only grown worse since his complaints were dismissed. The Ravalli Republic this week reported on the candidate's financial troubles, including the repossession of a Porsche he purchased in Las Vegas in fall 2007. According to documents filed with the 21st Judicial District Court in Ravalli County in fall 2009, Hoffman collected the vehicle at the request of the court when Vanek failed to make payments to West Star Credit Union in Las Vegas. Vanek says he's "not ashamed" of those losses and never attempted to hide them.

But that's not all: Vanek confirms that following the complaint controversy with Hoffman, all of his campaign staff have quit save one—his wife and campaign treasurer, Ginger.

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