$40 may have prevented theft of condo fees | VailDaily.com

$40 may have prevented theft of condo fees

Veronica Whitney
Vail Daily/Preston UtleyJim Poppleton

EAGLE COUNTY – The folder in Jim Poppleton’s hands holds paperwork on a three-year long criminal saga he says he helped solve. In July, following a criminal investigation, former Avon resident Brandon Outlaw – a former employee at Poppleton’s now defunct PRM Reality – was convicted of stealing more than $600,000 in local condo fees from homeowners associations the company managed.Outlaw worked as a bookkeeper and was found guilty of depositing homeowners fees into his own account. And the folder Poppleton holds in his hands is titled “The case of Jim Poppleton versus Eagle County and the 5th Judicial District.”Although he claims to have a case against the District Attorney’s Office, Poppleton says he doesn’t have any money to pursue it. He has even asked the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, which last year authorized extra funds to prosecute the Kobe Bryant, to take a stand in the case.The whole case has cost Poppleton about $1 million in lost net worth, he says. First, he declared bankruptcy, then, the telephone company shut down his phone line, and on Dec. 6, the bank took possession of his Gypsum home following a foreclosure for lack of mortgage payments.”None of this would have happened if (the District Attorney’s Office) had paid me the original invoice of $230,000,” says Poppleton, an accountant and former financial executive, who believes the District Attorney’s Office and the county owe him about $230,000 for helping to investigate Outlaw. “I don’t know if I’ll stay in the valley,” he adds. “I’ve been turned down twice in the valley for jobs because of this situation.”Witness or expert?Although he said he’s sorry Poppleton is losing his house, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said it’s not the District Attorney’s Office fault. “Our office and the Sheriff’s Office neither have ever promised to pay him anything and it’s inappropriate to do so because he was a factual witness and we can’t pay factual witnesses,” Hurlbert said. “Technically, he witnessed the crime by looking through his own books.”

Poppleton provided investigators with hundreds of pages of documents and financial records as they prepared embezzlement charges against Outlaw. In July, Outlaw, 32, admitted to stealing $600,000 in local homeowners fees and illegally charging $24,000 on his employer’s credit card. He was due to be sentenced in Eagle County on Nov. 3, but that has been delayed by federal drug charges he faces in Oklahoma. Eagle County District Judge Tom Moorhead was to set a new sentencing date on Monday.Not considered a victimAlthough there was never a formal agreement to pay him as an expert witness, Poppleton said investigators told him he could probably get paid if he helped Eagle County Sheriff Det. Doug Winters with the investigation. “I spent five-and-a-half months helping Winters with the investigation that led to the charges,” Poppleton said. “I showed precisely that all the money that Outlaw took from the associations went directly through my company accounts into Outlaw’s personal accounts. “I lost a lot of money to keep myself alive dealing with attorney’s fees,” he added. “There were six civil lawsuits against me. I took them into bankruptcy court. The victims lost $2,000. I had a net worth loss of $1 million.” Local attorney Rohn Robbins said it would be shocking if Poppleton was paid by the District Attorney’s Office. “He is clearly a fact witness and not an expert,” Robbins said. “A fact witness is someone who observes the crime with his own senses. An expert witness Is somebody who gets paid to give testimony and is an expert in the matter.” To Poppleton, it’s unfair he’s taking all the blame because he owned the company where Outlaw worked and committed his crimes.

“The associations’ board members could have had their books audited every year and there were the banks, which let the forgeries pass,” he said. “There were 175 forged checks, some for $20,000 and nobody checked signatures.” In May, FirstBank of Avon reached confidential settlements with two of the eight homeowners associations embezzled by Outlaw. To Hurlbert, though Poppleton’s losses are big, he isn’t considered a victim under statute, and he is the one who hired Outlaw and who didn’t look at his background. “You can get criminal checks for little money and he didn’t do that,” Hurlbert said.=============================================Checks are neither complex nor expensiveBy Veronica WhitneyDaily Staff WriterEAGLE COUNTY – Business owners can take measures to protect themselves from potential embezzlement, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert says.

“There’s a lot of people out there not doing background checks,” Hurlbert said. “It’s really easy to do them and I would recommend that any employer does it.”Russell Johnson, a local private investigator who does background checks, said they are simple to do and cost about $40.Johnson did an investigation on convicted embezzler Brandon Outlaw for a law firm representing one of the associations the former accountant took money from. One-time Avon resident Outlaw pleaded guilty in July to stealing more than $600,000 in local condo fees through the defunct PRM Realty, a property management company owned by Jim Poppleton. As a result of Outlaw’s crimes, his boss, Poppleton, filed for bankruptcy.Johnson said he found out Outlaw was a convicted felon.”I located where he had been and I started looking in those places,” he said. “What I found was more than what the District Attorney’s Office found. They had found (Outlaw) just had a misdemeanor.”The situation facing Poppleton is an example of how not checking the background of those who handle business’s money can cause problems, Johnson said.”If (Poppleton) had done a background check on Outlaw, none of this happens,” he said. “For $40 you can have a background check. And think how much you can save.” Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism