Former county employee faces felony embezzlement charges
Wright’s arrest comes on the heels of a number of extraordinary embezzlement cases throughout the four-county Fifth Judicial District — Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties.
Henry Kunter is serving an eight-year Community Corrections sentence after stealing from his employer and the local Rotary Club.
Dawna Foxx is serving a five-year prison sentence after stealing from a local Summit County non-profit where she worked.
Sue Frank is charged with stealing $415,000 from a Summit County non-profit business association, the Board of Realtors.
Robert Polich is suspected of stealing approximately $160,000 from a Summit County homeowner’s association.
Brenda Dobbs was convicted of stealing $27,000 from an Aspen homeowners association, and stealing money from a Garfield County animal shelter. In Oct. 2002 Dobbs was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $530,000 from her employer.
EAGLE — A former Eagle County government employee has been arrested and charged with embezzling $124,239.
Brenda Wright, 55, of Gypsum, turned herself in Friday and made her first court appearance at 11 a.m., where she was advised that she faces felony theft charges for embezzling from the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder’s Office.
Wright was fired Aug. 6 and escorted off the premises at the Eagle County building in Eagle.
“We are all relieved that she will be held accountable,” said Teak Simonton, Eagle County clerk and recorder. “It’s so shocking to think someone could justify stealing (allegedly) from the clerk’s office, the county operation and the people of the county. It takes a spectacular type of arrogance and hubris for sure.”
Where the money came from
The money was allegedly stolen from a tax account from rental vehicles.
When you rent a vehicle — a car, truck or construction equipment — vendors send a 2 percent tax to the county’s Clerk and Recorder’s Office. That’s where Wright was allegedly skimming the money.
Simonton said she spent weeks poring over the financial records. The county had records going back to within one year of Wright’s start date, Simonton said.
“Simonton found a discrepancy and traced it back to Ms. Wright,” Heidi McCollum, assistant district attorney, said during Friday’s hearing.
When Simonton confronted Wright, Wright did not deny it, McCollum said.
After that, Wright voluntarily contacted the Eagle Police about it, McCollum said.
Wright hired local defense attorney Terry O’Connor last fall when the investigation began.
The investigation leading to Wright’s arrest included an accounting audit, as well as a search of Wright’s home, her bank records, cell phone and computer.
That investigation uncovered a trail of dollar bills $124,239 deep and five years long, McCollum said.
Bound for Belize?
Assistant District Attorney Joe Kirwan asked that Wright’s financial accounts be frozen and that she surrender her passport during Friday’s hearing.
Investigators seized Wright’s computer and found written information indicating she might be considering a move to Central America and Belize, Kirwan said.
“If she was going to flee, she has had plenty of opportunity to do that,” O’Connor said.
Investigators also found a statement in Wright’s computer that she had stolen $40,000 from the clerk’s office, Kirwan said.
Wright has lived in the area since 1990 and has no criminal history, Kirwan said. The investigation has been ongoing for a few months, O’Connor said.
Prosecutors said Wright has been fully cooperative.
“We are concerned with the whereabouts of this money and whether any of it exists,” Kirwan said.
Wright turned herself in Friday morning. District Court Judge Russell Granger set bond at $25,000.
Simonton thanked the county’s finance department and treasurer’s office for their assistance in tracking down the alleged theft.
“As disappointed as I and my team are about this betrayal by a trusted employee, we are happy that she will be held accountable to the people of the county,” Simonton said.
District Attorney Bruce Brown said his office is taking a hard line in embezzlement cases.
“Embezzlement cases create demonstrable harm to business and civic organizations, which are the lifeblood of our mountain communities,” Brown said. “We are going to continue to build court cases calling for long-term imprisonment whenever we catch these culprits. If you choose to steal from your employer, you are almost certainly looking at a prison sentence, make no mistake.”
A similar case is working its way through Garfield County courts. Former Garfield County Clerk’s Office staffer Robin McMillan, 51, of Rifle, was arrested for allegedly stealing close to $200,000 from that office spanning five years.
Wright is back in court at 9 a.m. on Jan. 5.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.
Paul Cuthbertson, a lifelong local of Eagle and Summit counties, died while skiing up to the Polar Star Inn to meet some friends for a celebration of his 21st birthday on Friday night.