Town of Vail working to recover stolen money after Ron Braden’s death
Former IT director and his accomplice allegedly stole $854,915 from the town over six years
Town of Vail officials are pursuing several avenues to try to recoup nearly $855,000 of taxpayer money that was allegedly stolen by the town’s former IT director, Ron Braden, and an accomplice, Eric Nastri.
“I would guess within the next few months this really should be wrapped up,” said Town Manager Scott Robson.
According to prosecutors, Braden, who worked for the town of Vail for almost 25 years, conspired with Nastri to steal $854,915 from the town over a six-year period between 2012 and 2018.
As the town of Vail’s IT director, Braden allegedly inflated the cost of work, lied to co-workers and contractors, falsified invoices, sidestepped regulations and manipulated bidding processes to steer town contracts to Nastri, who then kicked back 87% of the money to Braden.
Braden, who recently died, faced more than 100 felony charges in connection with the alleged thefts, including racketeering, money laundering, computer crime, embezzlement and numerous counts of forgery. Braden also faced a series of charges for resisting arrest, assaulting police and unlawfully possessing a weapon when he was arrested in July for the theft charges.
Braden posted $500,000 in bond — $250,000 for the theft case and $250,000 for the assault case — and was released from custody Aug. 27.
Court records indicate Braden had difficulties complying with terms for his release, incurring additional charges for violating protective orders and bail bond conditions. He remained free on bond, ordered to home detention and electronic home monitoring, until he removed a court-ordered location monitoring device and fled on Nov. 13. Braden died by suicide eight days later in Arizona when a fugitive task force in Maricopa County attempted to make contact with him.
Robson said the town is pursuing civil cases to secure all or part of Braden’s $500,000 bond as restitution, as well as $263,456 that the FBI seized from Braden’s personal bank accounts.
Braden’s attorney, Brett Steven Heckman, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Nov. 11 arguing that the FBI illegally seized those funds from Braden and that they should be returned because they are proceeds from Braden’s sale of a home in Gypsum in June 2019 and not related to any criminal activity.
Vail Police Commander Ryan Kenney said authorities will be able to show the money seized by the FBI was not from Braden’s sale of his home, but money he stole from the town of Vail. The money “may have been co-mingled at one point, but the FBI financial analysts separated out that money to be sure not to touch the proceeds from the sale of his home,” Kenney said.
Robson said the town of Vail is also exploring options to be reimbursed by its insurer for the thefts if needed.
The town is expected to have some restitution money headed its way from Nastri, who signed a plea deal with prosecutors and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 16. Under that agreement, Nastri will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, a class 4 felony, and agree to pay $156,833.40 in restitution to the town. The conviction carries a sentencing range of one to 12 years in prison and fines of $2,000 to $500,000, according to court records.
Robson noted the town of Vail has instituted a number of policies and safeguards to help prevent a theft of this magnitude from happening again. He also said he is confident Braden was not stealing money from the town prior to the six-year window investigated by Vail Police and the FBI.
A lengthy investigation by Vail Police and the FBI started around October 2018, when town officials noticed accounting inconsistencies in several funds related to its IT department.
Braden’s employment with the town had ended that same month, after he was charged with soliciting a minor for prostitution in Glenwood Springs. Braden later pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and engaging with a prostitute and was sentenced to five years of supervised probation in that case.
According to prosecutors, the investigation found Braden used the money that he stole from the town of Vail to pay for a slew of personal expenses. Those included buying cars for family members, buying a car for a prostitute, paying attorney fees related to his arrest for soliciting an underage prostitute, and paying school tuition and state and federal taxes.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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