A former attorney for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority avoided jail but lost his license to practice law in Colorado for stealing from taxpayers.
Walter Mathews IV was sentenced Tuesday in Garfield County District Court to serve two years of supervised probation and perform 75 hours of useful public service. He pleaded guilty earlier in the month to one charge of felony theft and one charge of misdemeanor theft for using his RFTA-issued credit card for personal expenses, including golf greens fees.
In a plea bargain, Mathews was given a deferred sentence on the felony theft charge. If he successfully completes his probation, there will be no record that he entered a guilty plea to a charge of a felony theft and no conviction, Judge James Boyd said. The conviction for misdemeanor theft is on his record.
Mathews was also ordered to pay court costs in an amount to be determined and to report his conviction of the misdemeanor to organizations overseeing attorneys in Colorado.
Mathews informed Boyd that the Colorado Supreme Court is already aware of his legal issues.
“As of [Monday], I am disbarred. I no longer have a license to practice in Colorado,” Mathews said.
Boyd said the sentence would have been stricter, but Mathews repaid the money to RFTA, apologized for his crimes, had no prior brushes with the law as an adult or juvenile and had worked for an extended time in the public sector. Before joining RFTA as the staff attorney for the bus agency, Mathews was an assistant attorney with Eagle County government.
Mathews paid more than $30,000 in restitution to RFTA, according to Assistant District Attorney Anne Norrdin of the 9th Judicial District. That covered the amount of money he stole plus RFTA’s expenses for an audit of his credit card expenses and attorney time dealing with the matter, she said.
Norrdin told Boyd she felt the two-year probation sentence was appropriate though she had harsh words for what she labeled “a significant event.” Mathews made repeated decisions to use his credit card in an unlawful way, she said.
Norrdin said Mathews’ actions were unbecoming of a lawyer because he used his position of trust to benefit himself personally.
“The defendant’s actions reflect on the legal profession as a whole,” she said.
Mathews was abruptly fired after the RFTA’s board of directors emerged from a closed session on Oct. 11. The Glenwood Springs Police Department issued the theft citations in April after an investigation. Mathews was never arrested or incarcerated.
According to the investigator’s summary of his findings, RFTA auditors got suspicious of Mathews’ use of his credit card last August. An independent accounting firm was hired to investigate. It submitted a report to RFTA in October that said it found $23,243.72 in inappropriate charges by Mathews.
In one case, charges were made when Mathews said he was attending a Continuing Legal Education conference offered by the Colorado Bar Association in Steamboat Springs. The accounting firm said there was no record of the event. Mathews turned in expenses for the time period from the Tin Cup Grill at the Yampa Valley Golf Course in Craig. The Cottonwood Classic Golf Tournament was taking place at the time.
RFTA’s board of directors and executive staff confronted Mathews with the result of the investigation Oct. 11 and he allegedly confessed. RFTA then turned the matter over to the Glenwood Springs Police Department.
Boyd said in court Tuesday that a “puzzling” aspect of the case was Mathews’ decision to commit the crimes when he had no prior criminal record. Mathews could have been sentenced to prison for two to six years if convicted of felony theft.
Mathews represented himself in court. He didn’t shed light on his actions while with RFTA, but read a prepared apology, which was the same as a letter to the editor published by The Aspen Times Tuesday.
“I sincerely and deeply regret what I have done,” Mathews said. “I would like to apologize for the harm that I caused to RFTA, the RFTA board of directors, the taxpayers of the Roaring Fork Valley and my family.
“As legal counsel to a public agency such as RFTA, part of my duties was to uphold public trust, which I failed miserably to do,” he continued.
Mathews later said his actions “betrayed and dishonored the profession that I love.”
He said he was prepared to accept whatever sentence the judge imposed. Mathews said he decided not to ask to leave the state to return to Florida, where he lived before moving to Colorado.