Pueblo manager for McCain campaign arrested on molestation charges

Jeffrey Claude Bartleson, 52, was arrested on separate charges of sexual assault on a child Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 in Pueblo. (Photo/Pueblo County Jail)

Jeffrey Claude Bartleson, 52, was arrested on separate charges of sexual assault on a child Jan. 28 and Feb. 4 in Pueblo. (Photo/Pueblo County Jail)

Police arrested the former manager of Sen. John McCain’s Pueblo presidential campaign office Wednesday on charges he sexually assaulted a 5-year-old boy left in his care so the boy’s mother could attend a rally for McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, The Denver Post’s Howard Pankratz reported Thursday afternoon.

It’s the second arrest on charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in position of trust in a week for Jeffrey Claude Bartleson, 52, who has faced similar allegations at least five times since 1982 without being convicted of a crime, according to the Pueblo Chieftain’s Nick Bonham.

Two detectives have been assigned full-time to the investigation and are looking into allegations Bartleson lured victims through church groups, his work as a sponsor at a hospital drug rehab unit, and during involvement in political work.

Bartleson listed his occupation as “political consultant” at the Pueblo County Jail, the Chieftain reported, but state Republican groups were quick to distance themselves from him. Bartleson indeed ran the McCain office in Pueblo and directed the Republican nominee’s southern Colorado campaign, the chairman of the Pueblo County Republican Party told Pankratz, but doesn’t hold an official party position and had only attended a few GOP meetings. The state Republican Party told Pankratz they had had “no contact” with Bartleson.

In an arrest affidavit, one alleged victim said Bartleson was “wearing clothes the same as John McCain,” the Chieftain reported.

After reading about Bartleson’s arrest last week, a McCain campaign worker from Pueblo contacted police and said she believed her son had been assaulted by Bartleson in October when the boy spent the night at Bartleson’s house.

Pankratz reports:

According to the woman, she and a co-worker were planning in October to attend a Sarah Palin rally in Colorado Springs but wanted to travel to the Springs the night before.

She told police that she mentioned the planned trip to Bartleson. He offered to keep her 5-year-old son overnight in Pueblo and then drive up to Colorado Springs the next day and meet them there.

She accepted Bartleson’s offer.

The woman said that her son told her that while at Bartleson’s home, Bartleson insisted on giving him a bath, during which he was sexually molested. Later, said the child, Bartleson forced him into Bartleson’s bed, where he once again was molested.

In interviews this week with investigators, the child said that when he tried to get away from Bartleson, he kept pulling him back into the bed. He was finally able to leave when Bartleson fell asleep.

The boy told police that “Mr. Jeff” told him he had done the same things to five others, according to an arrest affidavit cited by Pankratz.

Court documents filed after his arrest last week describe interviews with witnesses and other possible victims, including boys Bartleson met when he worked with the chemical dependency unit at the Parkview Medical Center and as a youth counselor at King of Kings Lutheran Church. One alleged victim told police Bartleson said “if he tells anyone about him touching him then he will murder him.”

Bartleson is being held in lieu of $300,000 bond in the Pueblo County Jail, officials said.

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Ernest Luning

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