A former attorney for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of felony theft and one count of misdemeanor theft for using a company credit card for personal benefit last year.
Walter Mathews IV, 53, has paid back RFTA and reached a plea bargain with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, a prosecutor told Garfield County District Judge James Boyd.
“Mr. Matthews paid restitution in full, up front,” said Deputy District Attorney Anne Norrkin. “It was over $30,000 that he paid, and based on that, I’ve agreed to recommend that he serve no jail on either count as a condition of probation.”
Norrkin said it was her understanding that Mathews will ask for unsupervised probation so he can move to Florida
As part of the plea bargain, Norrkin amended the charges against Mathews. He previously faced one charge of felony theft. That was changed to one count of felony theft in an amount between $1,000 and $20,000 and one count of misdemeanor theft of an amount less than $1,000.
“He would be subject to a two-year deferred judgment sentence on the felony count,” Norrkin said. “The misdemeanor count would be a straight plea.”
The amended charges provide a way for Mathews to emerge without a felony conviction. Boyd said that if Mathews meets terms and conditions of his sentence, which will be determined June 25, there would be no record that he entered the guilty plea to the felony theft charge and no conviction. The guilty plea to misdemeanor theft will be part of Mathews’ record.
Mathews came under suspicion of RFTA officials when his credit-card use went through a standard audit. The bus agency hired an independent accounting firm to look further into Mathews’ spending. The firm determined that Mathews was racking up charges on golf outings between May and September when he said he was attending continuing-education conferences and other professional meetings. In many cases, the accounting firm found no evidence of continuing education courses at the times and places where Mathews said he was attending.
Mathews was told about the investigation results in a closed session Oct. 11 with RFTA management and the board of directors. The board voted to fire Mathews in a public hearing, though RFTA never disclosed why. The organization alerted the Glenwood Springs Police Department about the allegations. Mathews received a summons to appear in court after cooperating with authorities. He never was arrested or required to post bond.
RFTA officials previously said that Mathews reimbursed the agency for his credit-card expenses plus the cost of RFTA hiring the accounting firm and having an attorney work on the issue.
Mathews appeared in court Tuesday without an attorney. Boyd asked him numerous questions related to waiving his right to an attorney and pleading guilty to the theft charges. Mathews said he understood what rights he was waiving and noted that he has been an attorney for 19 years, including 11 in Colorado. Before joining RFTA, Mathews was an assistant attorney for Eagle County government.
Mathews told the judge he had conferred with friends who are attorneys that practice criminal law and was advised of the rights he was surrendering. Boyd noted that he had no obligation to grant a deferred judgment if issues unfavorable to Mathews were uncovered in a pre-sentencing report.
In addition, Mathews would be convicted of felony theft automatically if the judge approves the deferred judgment but Mathews fails to meet conditions.
Boyd said Mathews is potentially eligible for a sentence of two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000 for a felony theft conviction. The possible sentence for misdemeanor theft is six to 18 months in county jail and a fine of as much as $5,000.
After laying out the possible scenarios, Boyd asked a final time if Mathews understood the proceedings and wanted to waive his rights to legal representation and a trial. “Are you giving up those rights freely and voluntarily?” Boyd asked.
Mathews’ voice cracked, and he was visibly shaken at one point. When he regained composure, he said he was entering the guilty pleas because he committed the crimes. He said lawyers must hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct. “I know better,” Mathews said.
Boyd ordered him to talk to the probation department for preparation of a report that will help the judge determine the proper sentence.