BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (CBS4) – An Idaho Springs man could face up to 24 years in prison after complaining about a hair in his food.
During a three-day trial scheduled for the end of August a Summit County jury will hear testimony in “The Case of the Stray Hair” and try to determine how it got into a tray of beef stroganoff.
On Jan. 28 the Summit County jail was serving inmates beef stroganoff for supper. Inmate Ray Wolfe, 37, says he was surprised when he lifted the lid off his tray and found a long, dark hair mixed in with the beef and noodles.
“I just assumed that someone was messing with me,” said Wolfe in a phone interview from the Park County jail where he was transferred after the incident.
“I just wanted a new tray,” recalled Wolfe, who reported the hair to his jailers.
Little did Wolfe know he was stirring up a pot of trouble. His accusation led to a full investigation by the Summit County Sheriff Office. In audio recordings obtained by CBS4, the sheriff’s office questioned the kitchen staff, asking each person working that day whether they put hair in Wolfe’s tray.
Investigators then pulled surveillance video, monitoring the kitchen staff, the inmates distributing the food, and finally of Wolfe receiving his tray. In what could be the crucial piece of evidence, investigators believe the surveillance video shows Wolfe tampering with his own tray.
“As seen in the reflection in the windows, Wolfe stands at the drinking fountain with his tray for approximately eight seconds,” according to Summit County Sergeant Ron Hochmuth’s incident report. “During this time Wolfe can be seen making small movements with his arms and hands. It is with these movements and during this time I believe Wolfe placed the hair found on top of the food in his meal tray.”
“Next thing I know I was charged with tampering with evidence,” said Wolfe, who is charged with three felonies, including tampering with physical evidence, false reporting, attempt to influence public servant and a bail bond violation.
Wolfe is also being charged with three habitual criminal sentence enhancements. In all he could face up to 24 years for reporting the hair in his food.
Summit County District Attorney Bruce Brown says Wolfe did something that “offends the integrity of Summit County government on a very fundamental level.” Brown calls it a case of fraud and explains putting the hair in the food is not the crime, “It’s making up the story that there was hair in the food that is the real crime.”
CBS4 asked Brown if the cost of the investigation and three-day jury trial is worth the expense.
“We don’t evaluate cases based upon dollars and cents. We evaluate cases based upon justice,” he said.
Brown said prosecuting crimes that happen behind bars is important.
“Sometimes if you don’t prosecute conduct it repeats,” said Brown. “We certainly don’t want to be facilitating a pattern of false allegations.”
Wolfe is also charged for five separate incidents while in custody at the Summit County jail, in addition to the assault and menacing charges that landed him behind bars in the first place.
“For people who have demonstrated difficulty in adhering to the social expectations,” Brown said, “They are treated differently than maybe someone who is a first-timer.”
Despite the charges, Wolfe is sticking to his story and says he didn’t tamper with his own tray. But he regrets speaking up.
“I would probably go hungry if I knew I was even going to be charged.”
– Written by Mark Ackerman for CBSDenver.com