AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The lead Aurora police detective in the 2012 Century 16 mass shooting, Craig Appel, confessed that he “screwed up” and billed the federal government for approximately $40,000 worth of overtime that he never worked. He says he did not deserve it when he was on an FBI terrorism task force from 2014-2017.
The veteran detective never faced a criminal investigation, was never criminally charged and quietly retired from his position without ever paying back any of the money, according to a CBS4 investigation.
“He did not retire in good standing,” said Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz during an interview with CBS4. “It’s embarrassing, and it’s also one of those things that lets down the profession,” Metz said.
Appel spent 24 years with the Aurora Police Department and was a veteran homicide detective. He was a central investigative figure in the Aurora theater shooting case that resulted in the death of 12 people. Appel was the lead detective and testified during the trial, which resulted in the conviction of James Holmes, who is serving life in prison.
In 2014, Appel transitioned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The FBI calls the joint terrorism task forces, “our nation’s front line of defense against terrorism, both international and domestic. They are groups of highly trained, locally based, passionately committed investigators, analysts, linguists, and other specialists from dozens of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”
According to an Aurora Police Department internal affairs report obtained by CBS4, the FBI kicked Appel off the task force after three years, accusing him of fabricating and billing for hundreds of overtime hours totaling approximately $40,000.
“You untruthfully submitted requests for overtime when you were not working, and you neglected your duties,” reads the report.
It details how Appel billed $81,043.31 for 1,161 hours of overtime over the course of his time with the terrorism task force. But, after being confronted with GPS data and other evidence showing him going to yoga class, being at home, shopping, bike riding, running, hunting and conducting personal business when he was supposed to be pursuing terrorists, Appel confessed he was legitimately working just half the time.
“Detective Appel said that he was only working 50% of the overtime hours he submitted and was paid for,” according to the investigation. “Detective Appel said 50% of the time he was legitimately working. Detective Appel said that he had screwed up. Detective Appel said you got my confession that he screwed up and took advantage of it,” reads the investigation.
Investigators thoroughly detailed their findings on Appel’s work habits reporting that his government-issued cellphone contained a GPS tracking device, which Appel was apparently not aware of.
- On January 4, 2017 when his regular duty hours were 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., he confirmed that from 8:53 a.m. until 10:02 a.m. he was at his yoga studio. Later that afternoon GPS tracking showed him shopping at a Cabelas store in Lone Tree and then at a Costco store in Parker. Appel told investigators none of this was work-related.
- On April 6, 2017, when Appel was scheduled to work from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. (he was assigned to work four-ten hour days) investigators said the GPS showed he was at the Cherry Creek dam from 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. “Detective Appel said I’m sure I was working out either bike riding or running, probably bike riding because he couldn’t run that long. He was asked if he got paid from 1430 -1700 hours while he rode his bike, and he said yes instead of going to the gym he was doing that.”
- On March 16, 2017 when he was scheduled to work from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., gate and door records showed he did not go to the office the whole day. GPS records showed he was at his home in Parker the whole day.
- Investigators noted that for an entire year of his time with the terrorism task force, when he was supposed to be working 10 hour days, Appel “was only spending an average of 2 to 4 hours per day in the building during his 10-hour shift for an entire year.”
Contacted by CBS4, Appel declined to comment, writing, “Since my retirement from a long career in law enforcement, over a year ago, I have moved onto new endeavors.”
The FBI calls public corruption its “top criminal investigative priority.” The agency says public corruption “takes a significant toll on the public’s pocketbooks by siphoning off tax dollars – it is estimated that public corruption costs the U.S. government and the public billions of dollars each year. The FBI is uniquely situated to combat corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance.”
But queried about the public corruption uncovered in the CBS4 investigation, the FBI released a statement about why criminal charges were never pursued.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, the FBI Denver Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office both concluded that it did not make sense to pursue federal criminal charges.”
But neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s office would explain in any more detail why a criminal investigation was never initiated. Aurora Police Chief Metz shared with CBS4 an email he sent to the local FBI recounting a meeting on the Appel case.
Metz wrote, ”We specifically wanted to confirm whether or not the FBI was intending to criminally charge our employee. We were told that the monetary loss was not egregious enough to conduct a criminal investigation and/or request charges.”
George Brauchler, District Attorney for the 18th Judicial District, told CBS4 he never considered filing charges since the matter was federal, and it was never officially presented to his office.
“They’re big boys and girls out there. They (FBI) make decisions all the time on corruption. And if they made the decision after looking at someone who worked under their roof, being paid with their dollars, that this was something that they didn’t want to move forward on, that’s on them not on me. “
Asked if he would have pursued a criminal investigation, Brauchler said, ”Nobody ever came to us and said ‘We think there’s a state crime. What do you think?’” When asked if he would have considered a criminal investigation, Brauchler said, ”absolutely.”
Appel blamed much of what he did on the Century 16 shooting, according to the internal affairs investigation.
“He said a lot of it was from the Century 16, and he ended up in the hospital, and it still lingered this past summer,” said investigators. Appel also told investigators he was “very, very burned out. He said he didn’t want to be a victim by saying the Century 16 ate him up, but it did and he abused the flexibility he had out there.”
Ruth Brassell, was a civilian administrator with the Aurora Police Department for 13 years, but lost her career and was criminally prosecuted this year for stealing gift cards that had been donated by APD employees to help the needy. Brassel was charged with misdemeanor theft, but pleaded guilty in September to a petty offense charge of theft of under $50. She received a six month deferred sentence.
She questions why she was prosecuted for stealing a fistful of gift cards while Appel was never criminally investigated for his actions.
“If you do the crime, you should to the time. That’s what they always said in the police department,” Brassel said. “That’s a lot of money for him to just walk away with, with no recriminations knowing what he did was wrong. He should go through the court system like everyone else does. It boggles my mind they just let it fly away and nothing happened to him, they did nothing about it. I don’t think it was fair.”
Harvey Steinberg, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, reviewed the CBS4 findings and said, “It appears they gave special treatment to this police officer because he was a police officer. If it were anyone else they would likely be in front of a judge trying to explain their conduct and avoid a prison sentence.”
CBS4 found this was not the first time Appel was found to be untruthful while on duty. When the television station interviewed Metz, the chief was asked, “Have you ever known Detective Appel to be untruthful prior to this?”
Metz responded, “Not that I’m aware of, no.”
Metz was asked a follow up: ”Are you aware of Detective Appel having a sustained internal affairs investigation case into untruthfulness in the late 1990s?”
Metz paused, then said, ”I think that may have happened, but can’t say independently if that is the case.”
CBS4 later obtained those records which showed the Aurora Police Department disciplined Appel in 2001 for “making a false/incomplete/untruthful declaration.” He was suspended without pay for 40 hours, the equivalent of four days of work. The records suggest Appel’s untruthfulness led to the dismissal of criminal charges.
A spokesperson for Metz said during the CBS4 interview, Metz “requested the opportunity to verify if Craig had a prior Internal Affairs (IA) investigation nearly two decades ago. Since then he was able to review and confirm Craig had a prior IA in 2001 where he was sustained for untruthfulness.”
The CBS4 investigation also found that Appel confessed in January 2018 to pocketing the unearned federal overtime. However the Aurora Police Department allowed him to continuing working for their department another eight months, until August 2018. Metz said the department was awaiting additional records from the FBI before it took action against Appel, which Metz said would have “absolutely” been termination. But Appel retired Aug. 3, 2018 before he could be fired.
Asked if he thought Appel should have faced criminal charges for taking overtime monies he admitted not earning, Metz responded, ”Let me just say I have seen similar cases, other cases similar to this from other agencies where people were criminally charged. And I’ll leave it at that.”
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Summary of Evidence Against Agent Craig Appel