Word traveled fast in tiny Glendale, Colorado, when an undercover FBI agent identifying himself as Charles Johnson began knocking on doors and asking questions.
For nearly a year, as a part of the FBI's investigation of the armed standoff between a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy and Bureau of Land Management agents in 2014, Johnson pretended to be a documentary filmmaker. At one point, he assured Bundy's suspicious son Ryan, "I want a truthful documentary." The more than 100 hours of video and audio recordings that Johnson and his team produced while posing as journalists are being used as evidence in criminal trials against Bundy and his supporters. While Johnson was finished with the fake documentary production by the time he arrived in Colorado, he wasn't done with pretending to be a member of the news media.
It was February 2016, just a couple of weeks after members of the Bundy family and their supporters were arrested following the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, Glendale's civic life was dominated by debate over a $175 million development proposal, called Glendale 180, to create a new nightlife and entertainment district. Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon has led the campaign to remake the city. An eccentric politician who lives in a home that looks like a castle — it has its own website — Dunafon ran as an independent for Colorado governor in 2014. Wyclef Jean even produced his official campaign song.
But Dunafon's plans for remaking Glendale have been stalled by a local businessman named Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi, who runs a Persian rug store on land he owns that would be a centerpiece of Glendale 180. Glendale wanted to purchase the land for the entertainment district, but Kheirkhahi had proposed developing a high-rise condominium tower on the site. The city's tiny newspaper, the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle, opposed the condo development proposal, referring to it as the "Tehranian Death Star." The newspaper quoted several citizens in its pages expressing opposition to Kheirkhani's residential development. For reasons that remain obscure, Johnson started door-stopping people who were quoted in the newspaper, according to police records obtained by The Intercept.
On February 20, 2016, Johnson showed up at the apartment of Sherry Frame, the Glendale city clerk. Johnson didn't identify himself as an FBI agent. Instead, he said he was an "investigative consultant" who was hired to look into an ethics complaint. As part of that inquiry, Johnson said he needed to talk to Frame.