Waffle House CEO testifies in ranch embezzlement case
After Waffle House CEO told the caretakers of his ranch that he would be selling the property, they engaged in a scheme to embezzle more than $1 million, using it to buy hundreds of acres of property.
That’s according to prosecutors in the trial against Charles ‘Zane’ Farris and his wife, who between 1992 and 2016 managed the Bear Wallow Ranch west of Glenwood Springs formerly owned by Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers, Jr.
“I couldn’t believe that they’d do this,” Rogers, the first witness called by the prosecution, told the jury on the first day of the trial Thursday.
The alleged scheme came to light in 2016 after Rogers’ current wife, Fran Rogers, discovered allegedly suspicious checks written from the Bear Wallow Ranch account.
Joe Rogers told the jury that the Farris worked on the ranch when it the Waffle House Inc. purchased the property in 1989.
Around 1992, Zane became the ranch manager and a few years after that, Charla became the ranch’s bookkeeper, Rogers said.
Rogers purchased the ranch from the corporation in 1997 under Lands West Ventures Inc., but continued using it as a retreat center for Waffle House associates and personal use.
Many of the ways the Farrises allegedly embezzled money is difficult to distinguish from the ranch use.
For example, the Farrises were allowed to keep 25 head of cattle for their personal use, but Rogers said he discovered later that they were using ranch funds to care for their herd.
“They had built a pretty sizeable cattle herd and the ranch was paying the expenses,” Rogers said.
Rogers announced he would be selling the property in 2012, and Farrises bought their own property between 2012 and 2016.
Prosecutors aim to prove that more than much of the money for those properties came from checks the Farrises wrote to themselves.
In opening arguments, Zane Farris’ attorney Kathy Goudy said the every so-called questionable check was for a service the Farrises provided to the ranch.
“What you are not going to see is one single check written in which Bear Wallow did not receive a benefit,” Goudy said.
As an example, Goudy said Zane would sometimes shoe the ranch horses himself and bill Bear Wallow. That saved the ranch money, according to the defense.
“Their hard work was purchased by those checks,” Goudy said.
Rogers testified that by 2016, Zane Farris was paid around $50,000 and Charla’s salary was more than $35,000. Benefits included housing on the ranch, health insurance and participation in the Waffle House employee ownership program, which functions as a retirement account.
In 2012, Rogers told the Farrises he would be selling the ranch, Goudy said. Zane then “began thinking about his own future” and purchased land south of Silt.
Rogers found out in 2016 that the Farrises had moved, and he testified that “they had basically abandoned their jobs.”