Grand County Building Dept. case turned over to district attorney |

Grand County Building Dept. case turned over to district attorney

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The county sheriff's office reports they have turned over the "exhaustive" investigation of the county building department to the district attorney. According to Sheriff Rod Johnson, the case was submitted the afternoon of Friday, April 25. A press release issued on Monday morning, April 28, said the District Attorney's Office of the 14th Judicial District will decide what charges are to be filed after reviewing the investigation. The case, which involves $500,000 stolen from the building department by an employee over the course of 12 years, was initially discovered and reported to the sheriff's office in late October 2013. No arrests have been made or charges filed to date. The Sky-Hi News attempted to contact both District Attorney Brett Barkey and Assistant District Attorney Han Ng, who will be handling the case, for further information. Neither Barkey nor Ng were available for comment. At a county commissioner's meeting on April 15, however, Barkey told commissioners his office expected to make a decision in around a month after receiving the sheriff's investigation. "We won't sit on it," Barkey said at the meeting. "I expect we'll make decisions fairly readily." A press release issued by the 14th Judicial District said the district attorney's office expects to finishing reviewing the case "in the next several weeks." "We greatly appreciate the thoroughness of the Sheriff's Office's investigation, as evidenced by the huge volume of information gathered," said Barkey in the press release. For the investigation, the sheriff's office reviewed six computer hard drives, 1,775 paper files and over 25,000 pages. Reviewed digital computer data totaled 120 gigabytes. The sheriff had previously told the Sky-Hi that his investigation lagged due to poor record-keeping at the building department. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Checks discovered at County Admin Building on May 6

On May 6 the Grand County Sheriff's Office was contacted by county officials regarding several checks that had just been discovered at the County Administration Building in Hot Sulphur Springs. According to a press release issued on Friday afternoon by the Grand County Sheriff's Office: "These checks are believed to be related to a prior case involving the Grand County Building Department." However, the checks has not been confirmed. The checks in question have been turned over to the Sheriff's Office for further review to determine if additional investigation is warranted. All inquiries should be directed to Grand County Sheriff, Brett Schroetlin or 970-725- 3343. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Missing bank checks prompt investigation in county building department

On Wednesday, October 30, 2013, Grand County personnel discovered that a number of checks written to the Grand County Building Department went missing. Upon initial investigation, none of the missing checks were cashed, deposited or processed, according to a press release issued by Grand County on Nov. 5. "The County is cooperating and assisting the Grand County Sheriff's Department with its internal and criminal investigation," the release states. "To protect the integrity of the investigation, no further details are being released at this time. Upon conclusion of the investigation a full report will be given to the public. Further inquiries should be directed to the Grand County Sheriff's Department at 970-725-3343. The County will be contacting those who wrote checks to the building department within this time-frame."

Court proceedings start for suspect in county embezzlement-case

Grand County Court Judge Ben McClelland has set former Grand County Building Department employee Brigid Irish's trial-setting conference for Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2014. The new date will give Irish's defense time to review evidence before her trial. The Grand County Sheriff's Office issued an arrest warrant for Irish in May in relation to around $500,000 in misappropriated funds at the Grand County Building Department. Irish has been charged with one count of attempting to influence a public servant, 12 counts of forgery, and 915 counts of embezzlement.

No fire ban for GC yet

Amid the several wild fires currently burning throughout Colorado, the Grand County Sheriff's department addressed the county's particular situation at the BOCC meeting on July 12. As of now, there is no fire ban for Grand County, but the issue will be addressed and monitored weekly at BOCC meetings. The recent Jim Creek fire in Winter Park was contained on July 11, but fire crews found several fires in the area that were smoldering, still hot, or currently burning. Grand County Sherriff Brett Schroetlin pointed out that with the vast size of the county the fire conditions change throughout each town, but as a whole, Grand County is not in the need of fire restrictions as of now.

Grand County likely to recover stolen funds through insurance

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS ­— Although the county lost an estimated $500,000 from employee theft in the building department, officials say there's a good chance the funds will be recovered through insurance. At a county commissioner's meeting on March 25, Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola reported that the county has "crime and employee dishonesty insurance," and staff is working to file a claim on the building department scandal. Costs from a forensic accounting audit, which began on April 1, will also be submitted as part of the claim. The forensic accounting consultants will be examining all county departments that handle money. The scope of work places a special focus on the building department and its theft, which went on for 12 years. County commissioners and staff said they'll have a better picture of how much was stolen from the department after the audit is completed on May 1, an amount they'll submit with their claim. "We believe that it will cover 100 percent (of the theft), but until you submit a claim you don't know," said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, in an interview. Underbrink Curran said that during her tenure as county manager, she doesn't recall a case where the crime and employee dishonesty insurance was used. "I don't remember any thefts where we had to use it, not that the county hasn't had theft in the past," she said. County commissioners said they were pleased to have some positive news come from the building department scandal, which has caused considerable public discord. "There's a good chance insurance could pay for the whole thing," said Commissioner James Newberry. "That would be outstanding." Five-Months investigation Commissioners also noted their frustration with the criminal investigation process, which the county sheriff's office began in late October. The sheriff has yet to file a report with the district attorney or make any charges or arrests. The sheriff noted he was close to completing the investigation, but has cited complications with piecing together records from the building department. County commissioners said in addition to helping with their insurance claim, part of the reason they retained their own private consultant to do a forensic audit was to help speed along the process. "It's frustrating for us, since we're supposed to be in charge of things, but not this investigation," said Commissioner Merrit Linke. "I would've liked to see some arrests by now." As other positive news coming from the building department, Linke also pointed to $170,000 recovered from repeated invoicing for checks from contractors to the building department that didn't get cashed in 2013 and part of 2012. Still, according to the sheriff, that amount can't necessarily be subtracted from the missing $500,000 he's still investigating. Sheriff Rod Johnson said he hopes to complete his investigation and turn it in to the district attorney next week. For his part, Assistant District Attorney of the 14th Judicial District Han Ng said public corruption cases are often long and involved, and he applauded the thoroughness of the sheriff's investigation. "It's unwise to rush to file something simply because the public is really interested," Ng said. "But I understand that because there's a lot of media attention, the pressure's on." County commissioners said they're walking a fine between facilitating an exhaustive inspection and satisfying public demand for information. "We're trying to be as open and transparent as possible," Linke said. "It puts us in a balancing act — we don't want to compromise an investigation, but we want to be open and honest with the public, earning trust back from the citizens." Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Forensic auditors ask county for extension

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — A county-commissioned forensic audit of the building department has been delayed due to the heaps of information it must review. The audit was initially contracted following the lagging sheriff's investigation, which began late last fall and took around six months to complete. Alvarez & Marshal Forensic and Dispute Services, LLC, was contracted by county commissioners on April 1, and were expected to complete their audit by May 2. But in an email on Monday, May 5, the firm asked county commissioners to extend that deadline to June 16. The consultants asked for the extension "given the large amount of data received from the County, coupled with the large number of people that have been identified as handling checks or cash." According to a status report included with the email, the consultants have collected more than 10,000 building department permits issued since 2001. They have entered the permits into a database to analyze amounts charged. The auditors are also comparing electronic data to the treasurer's office records on deposits from the building department. The report notes, however, that the treasurer's records only go back to 2005, which could be a limiting factor in their investigation. The auditors also met with the sheriff's department and obtained other source documents from the building department and treasurer's office. They interviewed Treasurer Christina Whitmer, Building Department Head Scott Penson and Finance Director Scott Berger. They've determined more than 100 people handle cash or checks in the county. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Former Grand County Building Dept. employee arrested for embezzlement

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — An arrest warrant has been issued for former county building department employee Brigid Irish. Irish worked as an administrative assistant and handled money in the department from 2001 until she was suddenly terminated in November 2013. This is the first and only arrest made in the building department case so far, which involves $500,000 stolen over the course of 12 years. According to a press release issued by the Grand County Sheriff's Office, a warrant for Irish's arrest was issued on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 6. At around 4:50 p.m., Irish turned herself in and was booked in the Grand County Jail. Charges include four counts of theft, one count of attempting to influence a public servant, 12 counts of forgery, and 915 counts of embezzlement of public property. All these charges are directly related to the missing funds from the Grand County Building Department. Irish's Bond is set at $20,000. "We are not sure, but (it) looks like Ms. Irish will bond out tonight," Sheriff Rod Johnson said in an email at 5:47 p.m. on May 6. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603. Interactive Timeline

Potential Grand County undersheriff outlines policies

To the Editor: Grand County sheriff candidate Brett Schroetlin recently announced that I would be named as his undersheriff pending his hopeful victory in the November election. I am extremely humbled and honored to be chosen by Brett for this position. I am writing this letter to explain to the community my goals and vision for the Grand County Sheriff's Office, which differ greatly from the current administration. I was born and raised near Kremmling and have been a resident of Grand County for 39 years. After high school, I joined the United States Marine Corps, proudly serving for four years before returning to Grand County and joining the Grand County Sheriff's Office. I resigned from the sheriff's office in good standing after 10 years of service. Following my resignation, I went to work for the Granby Police Department and have been there seven years. Over my 17-year career, I have developed strong working partnerships with Emergency Medical Services (EMS), community fire departments, human services, victim advocates, as well as all other law enforcement agencies within our county. It has always been my belief that teamwork is a key element in providing the best resources and service to the community. As I explain my goals and vision for the future of the Grand County Sheriff's Office, you will undoubtedly realize that I am NOT a politician. I stand before you as a peace officer and will explain what I believe needs to happen in order to earn your respect and trust as we move forward together into the future of a new Grand County Sheriff's Office. "Community Policing" is a proactive approach to building positive, lasting relationships within the community. It is a time-proven system that brings the people of Grand County and those of us sworn to serve and protect into a partnership for the greater good. First and foremost, from my position down, all sheriff's deputies will be involved in the community. You will begin to see deputies at our schools, businesses, public events, meetings, and other community functions. We will be an ACTIVE part of this community and available to answer questions, interact with citizens of this county, and provide assistance in any way possible. The next thing that I will guarantee is that our deputies will be trained, equipped, and have the knowledge and support to perform their duties to protect the lives and safety of the citizens of Grand County. Through supervision from the sheriff down, the employees will be empowered to perform their duties as law enforcement professionals. They will treat people with dignity, respect, and share the overall vision focused on community and character. My vision is to have one of the best agencies in the state and develop a department where one's abilities and dedication to service will be the standard by which employees are promoted and recognized. In doing this, we will be able to retain quality employees and reduce/stop the revolving-door issue that plagues the current administration. I will assist in drafting and implementing a complete policies and procedures manual, which will be issued to each employee from day one. In a day and age where law enforcement agencies across this country are subject to scrutiny, it is imperative that we provide these guidelines as a matter of public service and accountability. It is my unwavering promise to uphold the laws and statutes of the state of Colorado and protect the constitutional rights of all citizens. In closing, I believe that elections are an important part of our democracy and heritage. I believe that it is one of the greatest responsibilities that we have as citizens of this great nation. Elections are about values, ideas, issues, and visions that engage our community to actively think about the course of our future. Brett Schroetlin and I have a strong understanding of what it means to be a public servant. Together, we will effectively implement our vision to gain your trust and respect. I look forward to working with and for you, the citizens of Grand County, as your undersheriff. Wayne Schafer

A timeline of the Grand County building department scandal

Oct. 7, 2013 — County commissioners began planning the 2014 budget, which lead to the discovery of missing funds in the building department. According to meeting minutes, Commissioner Gary Bumgarner questioned the year-to-date revenue of $14,000 for building permit fees. Chief building official and department head Scott Penson said revenue shown was low, and he believed that it was around $50,000. County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran told commissioners that one of the building officials trades off and works in the maintenance department. County officials later told the Sky-Hi they initially thought the missing funds were a computer glitch. Interactive Timeline Oct. 9, 2013 — During their regular budget hearings, the county commissioners agreed to accept the building department budget as presented. Oct. 22, 2013 — During their regular public meeting, county commissioners discussed doing building inspections for the county's towns. "Chairman (James) Newberry suggested that the County send a letter to the towns letting them know how the County has improved services and ask if they are interested in participating with the County," meeting minutes said. Chief Building Official Scott Penson "will draft a letter for the Board to review and sign." The Town of Fraser left the county building department in 2007, using the Town of Winter Park's services instead. Granby joined up with the Town of Winter Park's building department in 2010. Oct. 30, 2013 — Finance Director Scott Berger approached County Treasurer Christina Whitmer to confirm deposits from the building department. When she couldn't confirm the deposits, Whitmer contacted the county manager. At some point, County Sheriff Rod Johnson was informed of missing money in the building department, and he began a criminal investigation. The building department office was emptied, computers seized and the district attorney was notified. County officials and staff were directed by the Grand County Sheriff's Department to refer any questions to the sheriff in order not to jeopardize the investigation. Nov. 1, 2013 — The building department administrative assistant, Brigid Irish, was immediately terminated. Her husband Rick Irish, an inspector in the department, was asked to leave with her. According to county personnel records the Sky-Hi News recently obtained, Underbrink Curran first called Brigid into her office at around 8:30 a.m., handing her a termination form effective immediately. According to the form, her reasons for termination were "violation of county or department rule or regulation," "insubordination," "misrepresentation on an application form or other official records or to the public," "falsification of work records or timecards," and "any other acts detrimental to the good of the service by the County." The county manager and a human resources specialist followed Brigid to her office in the building department, where she gathered her things and turned in her keys. The county manager then informed Brigid's husband, Rick, that he was being put on "leave of absence with pay." According to county records, the county manager told Rick that "Brigid could explain the reasons why she was terminated and that until further investigation … she could not have him in the building department." Brigid Irish had worked at the building department since 2001. One of her job responsibilities was collecting payments. Nov. 4, 2013 — Grand County commissioners issued a press release: "On Wednesday, October 30, 2013, Grand County personnel discovered that a number of checks written to the building department cannot be located at this time. Upon initial investigation, none of the missing checks have been cashed, deposited or processed." Nov. 12, 2013 — The county commissioners held their first executive session on the building department. They had a closed discussion on the matter for nearly an hour. Meeting minutes did not provide any further information on what was discussed. Jan. 6, 2014 — County commissioners held another executive session on the building department, this time including Chief Building Official Penson. Meeting minutes after the session noted Penson was not part of the "illegal activities," but should have been aware of them. "Mr. Penson did not do anything criminal. There was a person in the department that has done something criminal. The Board would like to see that person punished," said Commissioner James Newberry, according to meeting minutes. Penson was allowed to continue working as the building department head, but according to the minutes, he is under probation. Comments from Commissioner Gary Bumgarner implied cash had been taken out of the department's till. Minutes also noted the county sheriff wants to re-interview former building department employee Brigid Irish. According to county personnel records obtained by the Sky-Hi News, On Jan. 6, 2014, the county informed Rick his status was changed to "leave without pay." Jan. 14, 2014 — Commissioners and county staff issued letters to contractors with checks that had "disappeared" from the building department. The county asked the contractors to re-issue the uncashed payments. The commissioners also adopted a resolution on a cash and revenue policy with stricter cash receipt controls and accounting. Daily revenue deposits with the treasurer are now required for all county departments located in the county seat. At departments located elsewhere, deposits must be made weekly for all revenue, and daily for revenue $500 or more. The new regulations strictly forbid county employees from cashing personal checks for cash receipts, directing them instead to cash checks with the treasurer. Jan 27, 2014 — According to personnel records, on Jan. 27, building department director Scott Penson and county officials formally terminated Rick Irish, listing "can no longer be trusted in job" as the reason. He had worked for the department since 1999. That same day, Rick returned to the building department to collect his personal items. He met with Penson and a human resources representative. According to a Human Resources memo filed after the meeting, "Rick said that he did not do anything wrong but that he feels like he is being persecuted for it anyway. He indicated that he did not know anything about what was going on (with his wife). In addition, he said, he wondered if he was being terminated because he was a spouse." Penson went on to say he did not feel he could trust Rick in his position. Feb. 5, 2014 — The county sheriff informed the Sky-Hi News that roughly $500,000 is unaccounted for at the building department, an amount that went missing over the course of 12 years. Feb. 18, 2014 — The county sheriff informed the Sky-Hi News that his investigation had been slowed due to a history of poor record keeping and financial management at the building department. March 3, 2014 — County commissioners held their first public hearing on the building department scandal, noting the criminal activity came from one person in the department. "The trail led to one desk, and we took care of that almost the next day," Commissioner James Newberry said. "The person who was at that desk was gone the next day." March 7, 2014 — County Treasurer Whitmer told the Sky-Hi News she'd noticed unusual activity from the building department for years, concerns she had passed on to the county manager and finance director. Checks coming deposited from the department were up to 90 days old, a signal something was wrong. March 25, 2014 — At a county commissioner's meeting on March 25, Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola reported that the county has "crime and employee dishonesty insurance," and staff is working to file a claim on the building department scandal. "We believe that it will cover 100 percent (of the theft), but until you submit a claim you don't know," Underbrink Curran said in an interview. This is the first time a public official referred to the missing money as "theft." April 1, 2014 — Grand County commissioners authorized an internal forensic accounting audit with special focus on what happened in the building department. After researching consultants and drafting a scope of work, commissioners approved a contract with Alvarez & Marsal Global Forensic and Disputes Services, LLC, during its regular board meeting on Tuesday, April 1. The contract caps payment at $90,000. They'll be auditing all county departments that collect money in addition to the building department. Commissioners also informed the Sky-Hi News they were partly motivated by the lagging sheriff's investigation.