Vindicated? Mark Bujanovich, former Granby trustee, says plea deal proves innocence
March 12, 2008
The legal ordeal of Mark Bujanovich, the former East Grand school board president accused of supplying alcohol to teenagers at a graduation party last spring, has ended in a plea agreement.
Last Thursday, March 6, Bujanovich pleaded “no contest” to a six-month deferred judgment and sentence on a misdemeanor charge of parent allowing alcohol violation. He was ordered to pay $26 in court costs and required to make a $100 contribution to the Advocates.
In offering the deferred judgment, the District Attorney’s Office dropped the original charges of six counts of providing alcohol to a minor. Although they are Class One misdemeanors, a conviction on multiple counts could have resulted in large fines and jail time.
The charges filed against Bujanovich stemmed from a June 2, 2007, graduation party attended by more than 40 Middle Park High School seniors and other young adults. Alcohol was consumed by some of those attending the party, which was held overnight at the Vagabond Ranch, managed by Bujanovich. Local authorities learned about the incident when one partygoer was taken to the Granby Medical Center after he broke an ankle doing a backflip off a picnic table.
The case immediately became controversial because Bujanovich was the president of the East Grand Board of Education at the time. It garnered not only a great deal of local attention but was reported widely across the state on television and in newspapers.
Bujanovich, who has always maintained his innocence in the case, said he feels the deferred judgment and the dropping on six charges vindicates his side of the story.
“I just did not do the things they said I did,” he said. “The DA was nice enough to work this plea agreement out before we had to go to trial. They decided to do it because they saw the way things were going in their case.”
Last week’s deferred judgment and sentence has brought Bujanovich’s case to an end less than two weeks prior to a three-day jury trial that was slated March 19-21 in the courtroom of the 14th Judicial District Court in Hot Sulphur Springs. The deferred judgment was the result of a plea agreement worked out between Bujanovich and his attorney Jack DiCola with the district attorney.
Commenting on the case’s outcome, Chief Deputy DA Elizabeth Oldham explained the DA’s Office was not actually accusing Bujanovich of “providing” alcohol to the teenagers at the party, but was only pursuing that portion of the statute that specified that he had “permitted” them to drink.
Oldham explained the DA’s Office said the decision to go for the deferred judgment was made after some individuals claiming to be witnesses had apparently changed their stories.
“We did not have any direct evidence or testimony to the charges,” Oldham said.
“However, we did not outright dismiss the charges against him, but we realized that it would be difficult to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt. But by his accepting the no contest to the plea agreement, we were satisfied that he took some responsibility for the charges.”
From his perspective, Bujanovich interprets his pleading “no contest” to the plea agreement differently, describing the charge of “parent allowing alcohol violation” as a “petty offense” that did not even warrant a real fine or public service.
“We were prepared to go to the trial on March 19,” he said. “But after the disposition and we saw the prosecution’s witness list, we wondered where this was going. I think they finally realized there was no chance they were going to get a conviction.”
Even with his legal case now decided, Bujanovich continues to maintain his innocence, flatly stating that he did not know about or condone the use of alcohol at the June 2 graduation party.
“From the beginning, I have said that I would not and did not serve any alcohol,” he said. “The kids that were there know they did wrong and disobeyed the rules for the party that I had set.”
Bujanovich adamantly maintains that no alcohol was condoned or even visible while he was present at the party. However, he admitted that “no searches of the trunks of the kids’ vehicles” were made of those arriving for the party.
“When I retired to bed at 11 p.m., everything was cool,” he said. “Everyone there was 18 or above. These were young adults who were getting ready to go off to college, start a career, go into the military or get married. At some point, you’ve got to trust them to be responsible for their actions.”
Despite believing the young adults attending the party would obey the graduation party’s rules, Bujanovich said he had also invited a dozen adults to the party to act as chaperones. However, only one showed up.
“If they had been there, maybe things would have ended differently,” he said. “But the biggest point I want to make is that had I known ahead of time what was going to happen at the party or known what was going on, I would have put a stop to it.”
Bujanovich admitted the past eight months since the party “have not been very pleasant” not only because of charges filed against him, but over the accusations and gossip that he suffered as a result.
“I understand that the Sheriff’s Office and district attorney have to investigate when they hear reports about things like this,” he said. “But I caution people in this county not to listen to those with third- and fourth-hand accounts, and those who make embellishments and take information out of context.”
Bujanovich said he was not only a victim of the “Grand County rumor mill,” which “makes things up and passes them along,” but also of some individuals in local government and nonprofit organizations who were “overzealous for their causes.”
What were especially painful, he said, were the personal attacks and the attempts by those who wrote letters to his employer advising him to “get rid of” Bujanovich.
After the controversy erupted, Bujanovich also resisted the repeated calls for him to resign from both the East Grand Board of Education and the Granby Town Board. In turn, both boards stood by him, saying as far as they were concerned he was “innocent until proven guilty.”
Bujanovich only stepped down from the East Grand Board of Education after his term of office expired in November. He also eventually resigned from the Granby town board in January, but only after his official residence moved outside the town’s boundaries and he was no longer eligible to be a member.
Although the past few months have been personally tough, Bujanovich said he is proud of his record of public service to both the school district and the Granby town board.
“I worked hard for both the school district and the town, but like they say, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,'” he said. “But for all the negative things that were said about me, I’ve also gotten hundreds of comments from people who said they were on my side.”
Now that the case is settled and behind him, Bujanovich said he has every intention to “continue what I have always done, which is to contribute to this community.”