Local woman sentenced for stealing county funds | VailDaily.com

Local woman sentenced for stealing county funds

For embezzling from the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder's Office for at least five years, Brenda Wright will spend two years in a prison-based community corrections facility in Durango.

EAGLE — At least 150 times, Brenda Wright stole money from the Eagle County Clerk and Recorder's office where she worked, according to police.

Ironically, Wright was part of a team who trained other county staffers to spot and stop theft and embezzlement.

When she was caught, she admitted she had been embezzling county funds for at least five years, between 2010 and 2014.

She'll spend two years in a prison-based work release program, a judge ruled Monday. She has already paid $106,836.79 in restitution, plus $10,000 in audit fees, as well as court fees and costs.

“This was not a mistake. This was a repeated, calculated deception that she perpetuated for half a decade. It only stopped because she was terminated. In her own words, ‘It became a habit.’”Heidi McCollumAssistant district attorney

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"This was not a mistake. The only reason she has remorse now is because she was caught," said Teak Simonton, Eagle County's clerk and recorder.

Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum asked for a sentence that could have run seven years in state prison. Terry O'Connor, Wright's defense attorney, asked for probation.

District Court Judge Russell Granger decided on middle ground, sentencing Wright to two years to Hilltop House, a community corrections facility in Durango.

Wright had to drain her retirement account to repay the money, O'Connor said.

Through tears, Wright apologized for what she did prior to being sentenced.

"My family and friends have forgiven me, but I'm not sure I can forgive myself," Wright said.

She called it an inexcusable lapse in judgment.

'Not a mistake'

The thefts might have started in 2007 when Wright went to work in the Clerk and Recorder's Office. However, the county's records could only be accessed back to 2010, Simonton said.

"We have every reason to believe that the thefts began shortly after she became a trusted member of our team," Simonton said.

Wright said she doesn't know when she started doing this.

"This was not a mistake," McCollum said. "This was a repeated, calculated deception that she perpetuated for half a decade. It only stopped because she was terminated. In her own words, 'It became a habit.'"

What she did

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

Simonton fired Wright from Eagle County on Aug 6. Wright was escorted off the county's premises.

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

How she did it

The money was stolen from a tax account generated by 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 admitted she was skimming the money.

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

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

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

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.