Former county employee admits to embezzlement | VailDaily.com

Former county employee admits to embezzlement

Embezzler’s admissions

Brenda Wright pleaded guilty to:

Class 4 felony, theft. Possible sentence: 2-6 years in state prison, fines between $2,000 and $500,000

Class 5 felony, embezzlement of public property. Possible sentence: 1-3 years in prison

She’s scheduled to be sentenced in July by District Court Judge Russell Granger

EAGLE — Brenda Wright’s voice cracked slightly as she admitted embezzling as much as $158,000 from Eagle County taxpayers.

Wright, 55, pleaded guilty to theft and embezzlement of public property, both felonies.

She has already placed $150,000 in the court’s accounts to repay the money, said District Court Judge Russell Granger.

She’ll be sentenced in July.

When she pleaded guilty Monday morning, she gave up the right to a jury trial. Granger asked if she fully understood that.

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

How much remains a debate

The exact amount remains a point of disagreement. Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum said Wright stole $125,204.69 since 2010. With interest, it comes to $158,398.

Wright’s attorney, Terry O’Connor, said that’s over by about $20,000.

Wright was fired from her position with the Eagle County government on Aug. 6 by Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton. Wright was escorted off the county’s premises.

Wright’s termination followed an investigation that pored over county records going back to 2010. That’s the furthest back those records were accessible, McCollum said.

Wright began working for Eagle County in 2007.

Wright has lived in the area since 1990 and has no criminal history, O’Connor said.

Prosecutors said Wright has been fully cooperative.

Wright remains free on $25,000 bond.

THE ORIGIN OF THE MONEY

The money was stolen from a tax account generated by rental vehicles.

When you rent a vehicle — a car, truck or piece of construction equipment — vendors send a 2 percent tax to the county clerk and recorder’s office. That’s where Wright admitted she was skimming the money.

Wright was adamant that she would be the only one handling the 2 percent rental checks, McCollum said. After Wright received the checks, she converted them into cash.

The systems Wright was manipulating were not cross referenced at the time. They are now, McCollum said.

Simonton said she spent weeks poring over the financial records.

When Simonton confronted her, Wright did not deny it, McCollum said.

WRIGHT TURNED HERSELF IN

After that, Wright voluntarily contacted the Eagle Police Department about the crime and turned herself in, McCollum said.

The investigation leading to Wright’s arrest and included an accounting audit, as well as a search of Wright’s home, her bank records, cell phone and computer.

A similar case is working its way through Garfield County courts. A former employee of the Garfield County Clerk & Recorder office, Robin McMillan, 51, of Rifle, was arrested for allegedly stealing close to $200,000 from that office over the course of five years.

Embezzlement All Stars

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.

Among them:

• Henry Kunter is serving an eight-year community corrections sentence after stealing from his employer and the local Vail Valley Rotary Club.

• Dawna Foxx is serving a five-year prison sentence after stealing from a local Summit County nonprofit where she worked.

• Sue Frank is charged with stealing $415,000 from a Summit County nonprofit 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 October 2002, Dobbs was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $530,000 from her employer.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.