Police camp helps build relationships with youths | SkyHiNews.com

Police camp helps build relationships with youths

Last week was an exciting time for a group of kids from the Front Range who spent several days at YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County participating in the Commerce City Police Department’s annual Police Camp. The Camp is part of Commerce City Police Department’s community services and outreach operations and seeks to develop bonds of trust between the youth of that community and the officers who police the streets. A total of 46 youths spent several days at Snow Mountain Ranch covering a wide range of police and first responder activities. “I think the annual police camp was an outstanding success,” Sergeant Jeremy Jenkins, Supervisor of the Youth Services Division of the Commerce City Police. “The feedback we got from the kiddos who were involved was very positive. The stories they share of their experiences showed they really took to the message were trying to send of bettering and building relationships.” Grand County Sheriff Brett Schroetlin conducted a K-9 demonstration. Grand County EMS’s Mountain Medical Response Team talked about backcountry medical operations and investigators from the Sheriff’s Department delved into crime scene investigations and how they are conducted. On Wednesday the kids got an up close look at the Middle Park Emergency Response Team, which functions in a role more commonly associated with the term SWAT Team. Officers from the Fraser-Winter Park Police and Deputies from the Sheriff’s Office conducted mock building entries and room clearing procedures, discussed the realities of hostage situations and covered the unique equipment they rely on for such operations. The kids themselves got a little taste of things as the officers helped them don bulletproof vests and helmets and led them through room clearing drills using faux weapons. The Commerce City PD operates the Police Camp though the camp is open to any child in the state and not exclusively residents of Commerce City. If you are interested in participating in next year’s police camp contact Sgt. Jenkins with the Commerce City PD at jjenkins@c3gov.com.

Termination of couple at county building department parallels investigation

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — County commissioners noted earlier this month that the building department scandal led to one desk, but at least two employees have been terminated since the investigation began. County officials discovered missing funds, ultimately amounting to $500,000 over 12 years, during their budget planning process in October 2013. On Nov. 1, 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, County Manager Lurline 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 time cards," 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." On Jan. 6, 2014, the county informed Rick his status was changed to "leave without pay." On Jan. 27, building department director Scott Penson and county officials formally terminated Rick, listing "can no longer be trusted in job" as the reason. 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. Rick Irish had worked at the building department as a combination inspector since June 1999, and would occasionally help in other county departments as well. His wife, Brigid, came to the department as an administrative assistant in September 2001. Both employees consistently received "above average" scores in their annual evaluations by the department head, as well as received glowing feedback from customers. According to county information, $246,000 went missing in 2013 alone. Of that amount, $153,000 has been recovered from repeated invoicing, although Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson previously told the Sky-Hi that amount can't be subtracted from the $500,000 identified as missing over the course of 12 years. No suspects have been named and no one has been arrested in connection to the scandal so far. The Sky-Hi attempted to contact the Irishes for comment, but calls were not immediately returned. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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.

Sheriff: Investigation lags due to mismanaged building dept. records

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — The investigation related to $500,000 missing at the county building department is being slowed due to a history of poor records and financial management, according to Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson. Johnson said he was hoping to have a report to the district attorney by the end of the month, but he now doesn't expect to have the investigation completed until the end of March. "It's an interesting case, I'll tell you that," Johnson said. "The management down there was so poor, and the files in such disarray, that we're poring through them a piece at a time." Johnson and his staff have 12 years-worth of files to investigate, and he said that while $500,000 is the estimated amount that went missing, it's likely they'll never know an exact figure because of the inefficient record-keeping. The sheriff also said it's likely a person associated with the building department will be charged with a crime, and so far, no one with the department has been cleared of wrongdoing, he said. "We have one person that we will more-than-likely file criminal charges against," Johnson said. "But I have not cleared everyone (else) down there." Because of the poor records management at the building department, Johnson said by the end of his investigation, there still may not be enough evidence to clear anyone who worked there. County sends letters to contractors Contractor Tom Larva of Grand Lake said he has personal experience with the department's "mismanagement." He applied for a contractor license he never received. He also paid $457 for a building permit, then received a letter from the county commissioners on Jan. 14 saying the department had "destroyed one or more checks" for Larva's permit payment and to "please reissue your check payable to Grand County." But according to Larva, he had paid for the permit with cash. He had only written a check for the initial $50 application fee. Larva has receipts for the transactions, which say he used a credit card to pay both the $50 application and remaining $407 for the permit. Larva went before county commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 18 to explain his case. Larva said both the commissioners and the county attorney told him that he'd be absolved and not required to make the payment again. "Apparently there are some other guys out there like me, apparently a lot of other guys like me," Larva said. He reported his case to the sheriff and said he also mentioned his missing contractor's license. "(Sheriff Johnson) said they found stacks and stacks of stuff like that … (that the building department) never got around to mailing out," Larva said. Maureen Bosshard with Mountain Top Builders also confirmed around 12 of their checks went missing at the building department and were never cashed. She said the sheriff's department contacted her, asking for a record of the checks and which permit they belonged to. "We did not suspect anything was going on, we've always been dealt with very professionally at the building department," Bosshard said. The building department collects fees from builders and contractors for additions and new construction. The fees are calculated based on the value of the property or improvement, and payments can be made by cash, check or credit card. The department also collects fees to license contractors each year. Joe Gould, president of the Grand County Builders Association, said he hasn't heard any complaints from contractors about the county building department, and doesn't know about any other cases of missing payments or licenses. "It's important to say, our relationship with the building department has been nothing but positive," Gould said. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

Grand County commissioners answer questions about missing $500,000

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS—County commissioners worked to shed some light on a tumultuous investigation surrounding the building department, noting the scandal has been traced to a single person. The county commissioners held a public hearing and discussion on the building department and confusion surrounding its investigation of $500,000 that went missing over the course of 12 years during its regular meeting on Tuesday, March 3. "We know this creates a very negative perception on the county for sure, but there's also a lot of misconceptions out there," Commissioner Merrit Linke said. "Grand County still open for business." Commissioners explained the inquiry into the building department involves two investigations, a management one handled internally and a criminal one handled by the county sheriff. "Some have said we have not been forthcoming, but we do not want to jeopardize that (criminal) investigation," said commissioner Gary Bumgarner. A statement prepared by county officials stated they've recovered $153,000 so far, although Sheriff Rod Johnson took issue with the term "recovered." The county has managed to collect $153,000 in uncashed checks after sending a letter to contractors and asking for checks to be issued on Jan. 14. However, that amount can't necessarily be subtracted from the missing $500,000, the sheriff said. The commissioners explained the missing funds were initially discovered last October while county staff worked on the budget for 2014. Commissioners noticed deposited funds didn't line up with the building department head's budgeted revenue. Initial reaction was that the discrepancy was caused by a computer glitch. As soon as county officials realized that wasn't the case, according to a statement prepared by county staff, the building department office was emptied, computers were seized, and both the sheriff and county attorney were notified. The sheriff immediately began a criminal investigation. "The trail lead 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." Once the sheriff started the investigation, he found uncashed checks in the building department amounting to $28,552 and dating from Sept. 15 to Oct. 30. They were deposited on Oct. 30. Those funds are not included as part of the investigation. He would not say whether an employee had been cashing the checks and pocketing the money or if money was taken out of the department's till. Commissioners said part of the reason it took them 12 years to realize money was being taken from the building department was because a single person within the department handled all cash and accounting. "We had one person taking the money and balancing it against permits given out, and we trusted that person," Newberry said. "The person is no longer with us." The commissioners, attorney and sheriff would not state whom that person is, saying they want to wait until the criminal investigation is completed. "We're in a system where you're innocent until proven guilty, and that person hasn't been charged," Bumgarner said. Commissioners stressed that mismanaged records and illegal activity only extended to the accounting side of the building department. All paperwork on the plans and permits side was complete and accurate, according to investigations so far. The county manager and commissioners have since worked to adopt a more stringent cash management policy for all departments. Among the implemented changes is that at least two people within each department will be required to be part of the money handling process. "Hindsight's 20-20, obviously we should've done more," Bumgarner said. "As a result of this, there will be more checks and balances than there are now." The sheriff still expects to complete his investigation by the end of this month, at which time findings will be handed over to the district attorney's office for evaluation. Building department head Scott Penson has held his position for 14 years. The commissioners declined to speak on personnel matters, including why he has been kept on staff but is under probation. They did note 'probation' means Penson does not receive a salary increase and has certain requirements in running the department. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.

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.

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.

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."

Grand County building, planning, other departments to be combined

The Grand County Board of Commissioners has decided to move forward with combining the county building, planning, economic development and GIS departments into a single "community development" department. The move could save the county $61,000 next year, said Lurline Underbrink Curran, county manager, as well as make the departments "more efficient and more effective." The savings would come from eliminating the position of director from the planning and building departments. The county building department has been without a director since Robert Scott Penson resigned in June following a scandal in which $500,000 in department funds was misappropriated. Former employee Brigid Irish has been charged in connection to the case. Commissioner in-waiting Kris Manguso will leave her position as planning director to take office in January. The four departments will become sub-departments within the community development department, Curran said, with Assistant County Manager Edward Moyer acting as department head. The new structure would also allow for more cross training between departments, she said. The county will revisit the move in a year to determine whether the restructuring has been successful. "This is quite a big task for us to take on, and we believe we can do it, but we needed to have some time to figure it out," she said. The assistant county manager will continue to help with "daily administration responsibilities" in the county manager's office, while also overseeing the new community development department, according to a memorandum from the county manager's office to the board of county commissioners. The county will also hire a new senior planner, Curran said The community development department will be responsible for transportation and event coordination as well, according to the memo. departments returning to past structure In the past, the building and planning departments were combined under a department of development, Curran said. County commissioners felt the time was right to revisit the restructuring of those departments because of the current shift in departmental leadership, she said. The commissioners were given two options for restructuring at their Sept. 2 meeting. The first placed the assistant county manager in the position of director for the new department, while the second involved hiring a new director for the community development department. Commissioners James Newberry and Merrit Linke decided to move forward with the first option because the second involved a new hire, which would offset the savings from eliminating the two positions. Commission Gary Bumgarner was absent. Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Missing checks deemed to be ‘illegal activity’

HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — An investigation of missing checks at the Grand County building department involved "illegal activity" and a person who did "something criminal." According to minutes from a special board of county commissioners meeting on Jan. 6, the commissioners spoke with Chief Building Official Scott Pension during an executive session about the ongoing investigation. Following the executive session, commissioners 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 will be allowed to continue working as the building department head, but according to the minutes, he will be on probation. Comments from Commissioner Gary Bumgarner implied cash had been taken out of the department's till. Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran told county officials the county sheriff is hoping to re-interview someone regarding the investigation, but was having difficulty getting a hold of that person. The manager recently confirmed an employee in the building department has been "released," but said it was for reasons not directly related to the illegal activity. The Sky-Hi attempted to contact Sheriff Rod Johnson, but calls were not immediately returned. Charges have yet to be filed relating to the investigation. Underbrink-Curran said she expects the sheriff to issue a statement on the case by next week. Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.