The e-mail arrived, in my inbox, last month: Subject line, Charles Duke.
The author was a hapless would-be employer in Louisville, Kentucky. He had hired the former state senator from Colorado for a $50-an-hour computer job as a Unix System Administrator. Then he Googled him. Up popped Duke’s past. The would-be employer’s jaw dropped to the ground. Is this guy for real?
The saga that followed involved a car accident that was, in Duke’s opinion, clearly staged; getting arrested for driving with illegal plates, no insurance and trying to leave the scene of an accident; spending 10 days in the pokey battling Kentucky’s kangaroo court system – and finally reunited with family in Arkansas that he hadn’t seen in more than a decade.
There’s more.Duke is 65 now and is, by most accounts, a computer whiz. In his previous life he worked as a professor at Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs. In a recent telephone interview he says that since his departure from public life in 1998 his work has taken him to North Carolina, to Arizona, to San Diego and Chicago. He has also spent time on the road, driving an 18-wheeler.
He left his job in North Carolina after his mother called him up on the phone and told him he had to leave that state immediately, Duke said. At the time, his mother had been dead for many years.
Two years ago he was fired from a computer job in Chicago after someone claimed that he had used the term “mud people” in reference to African-Americans – a charge Duke vociferously denied, to no avail. He offered to take a lie detector test; they said no thanks, and so back to Colorado he came. He’s been most recently living, he said, in the Drury Inn on North Academy Boulevard, sending his resume out to prospective employers.
“I’m not having a lot of luck,” Duke says. “Once you hit 65 you cross a magic barrier and people want to forget about you and send you off and say `go have a nice a nice retirement.’ You fools! You idiots! The skills I have you can’t learn in books.”
But he recently had some luck. A young professional, representing an established technology company in Louisville, Ky., hired Duke for a high-paying job after talking with him on the phone. The man, who asked not to be identified to protect his clients, knew the former state senator was low on cash, and offered to have his company put him up in a hotel for a month.
And so, last month off Duke drove, in his 1991 Eagle Talon and Tahoe trailer, from Colorado Springs to Kentucky and a new job. He was less than a mile from his destination, he says, when, out of nowhere, Bam!
“I’m driving down the street in Louisville,” Duke says. “I’m a very good driver, I have a Class A driver’s license and you can’t get one of those unless you’re a damn good driver,” Duke said. “I realized I’d passed my destination address and was turning around and this woman just came out of nowhere. I had checked every mirror I could look at then as soon as I pulled out, well the only thing I could imagine is she was smack dab behind my trailer and as soon as I pulled out to make a left hand turn she ran smack into me.
“I can’t prove it, but it was clearly staged.”
No one was injured, but when the cops showed up, they found a few problems: Duke was driving without insurance. The tag on his vehicle was not registered to the car. The cops said Duke tried to flee the scene (which Duke denies). They arrested him and took him to jail, where he sat for 10 days. They took his vehicles to the impound lot.
Meanwhile, the young man who had hired Duke was forced, he said, to rethink the employment. He couldn’t hire Duke, he said but he also couldn’t just leave him in jail. He also couldn’t see to post Duke’s $1,000 bond – and then bear the weight of being responsible for a likely scenario of Duke, homeless in Louisville, wandering the streets without money or a way out.
The young man spent a week tracking down Duke’s family, starting with the Texarcana, Arkansas, emergency telephone number had been listed as his emergency contact. He talked to everyone: the stepmother, aunts, and finally a sister-in-law. They hadn’t heard from him in well over a decade.
“His Aunt Rosalie, she just started crying – she thought he was dead and hadn’t heard from him for 12 years,” he said.
Of course they would take him in. “He’s family, he belongs with us,” the young man recounted Duke’s sister-in-law saying.
Duke was released on a personal recognizance bond. He still faces charges of leaving the scene of an accident and driving without insurance. Duke maintains that he was merely trying to move his vehicle out of harms way, but pleaded guilty or risk being thrown back in the slammer. He must appear again before the court for sentencing later this month on the charges, which will likely carry a fine, according to a court administrator in Jefferson County, Kentucky.
Duke said he took a city bus from the jail to the impound lot. And then the most “amazing” thing happened he said. The would-be employer who had hired him over the phone – whom he’d never met in person – was there, waiting for him. “Praise God!” Duke said.
And right there, in the parking lot of the impound lot, the man pulled out his cell phone and called Duke’s sister-in-law Betty. The two had a 15-minute long reunion of sorts. The would-be employer shelled out $600 from his own pocket to get the vehicles released, in exhange for a promise from Duke that he would drive immediately to be with his family in Arkansas. And so off he headed, where he is now, figuring out his next move.
All these years later, Duke didn’t miss a bet, when asked whether he regrets quitting his state Senate seat nearly a decade ago:
“It’s probably the worst decision I ever made in my life, because the people who promised me they would uphold the Constitution do nothing but subvert it.”
“If you really want to help me, though,” he says, “find me a job.”
This is the second of a two-part report. Click here to read the first segment, detailing Duke’s colorful career in the Colorado Legislature.
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org