City of Aspen, DA probe underway into Red Brick embezzlement | AspenTimes.com

City of Aspen, DA probe underway into Red Brick embezzlement

The former director of the Red Brick Council for the Arts is under criminal investigation for bilking "what may be in excess of $150,000" from the nonprofit organization, the city of Aspen announced Thursday night.

Angela Marasco Callen, who worked for the council from 2013 to 2017, is the subject of a probe being conducted by the 9th Judicial District Attorney's Office for mismanaging money through "unauthorized expenses from operating and non-operating bank accounts, yet specific details and exact numbers are still subject to investigation," the city's statement said.

Prior to the announcement, a meeting was held among City Manager Steve Barwick; Finance Director Don Taylor; Assistant City Manager Sara Ott; City Councilwoman Ann Mullins; Jackie Kasabach, who is board president of Red Brick Council for the Arts; and others, city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin said.

The talk concerned the release of information about the investigation, Rapkin said when reached Thursday night.

The announcement was a departure from the normal protocol by local government and law enforcement when it concerns ongoing investigations.

Rarely do they disclose information about pending probes, much less identify the suspect's name.

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However, Rapkin said because rumors were circulating about the nature of Callen's departure, the city felt a need to be "transparent."

"And we wanted to get our right facts out instead of rumors," Rapkin said.

Sarah Oszczakiewicz, Aspen's felony prosecutor, declined to comment Thursday evening. Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said he didn't know the statement had been sent out and also declined to comment.

A telephone message left with Callen was not immediately returned Thursday. According to her LinkedIn profile, she left the Red Brick in June. That's the same time the city says the investigation began.

The Red Brick Council for the Arts board sent out a statement late Thursday that said the nonprofit is "greatly disappointed that such a wonderful community nonprofit has been compromised by the alleged actions of a former employee. Upon learning of the potential loss of funds and the suspected theft, our small nonprofit organization immediately instituted additional financial policies and procedures."

Callen did not work for the city, which owns the Red Brick Center for the Arts building and leases the studio space to nonprofit art groups and individuals. The Red Brick Council for the Arts manages the Red Brick Center's building and operations.

Because of the investigation, the city has seized control of the Red Brick's operating and reserve accounts "and will now pay operating costs directly until a new agreement between the two entities can be arranged," the city said, adding the agreement was mutual.

Callen wrote as part of her Red Brick job description on her LinkedIn page, a social-media platform geared toward business networking, that "as the executive director and only full-time employee, I am responsible for overseeing all aspects of the council's operations, fundraising, programs, etc. and also responsible for managing the Red Brick Center itself."

Callen currently serves as vice president for EasyBizStart in Aspen and owns and operates a consulting firm and snowboard outfitter firm.

Rapkin confirmed that the council fired Callen as a direct result of the suspect embezzlement activity, which the Red Brick board alerted the city about.

That led to the city and board's hiring of accounting firm McMahan and Associates LLC to conduct a forensic audit of the nonprofit's finances, the statement said. While $150,000 is the ballpark amount for what was embezzled, "specific details and exact numbers are still subject to investigation," the city said.

Callen, who is originally from Pittsburgh and received her degree in civil engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, started at the Aspen nonprofit in 2013. She held other jobs in Aspen before moving to the Red Brick.

The theft activities are believed to have begun in June 2015.

"The funds allegedly misappropriated represent rent, taxpayer money, and some funds from the nonprofit that came from grants, earned income and donations," the city said. "The city takes the criminal investigation very seriously."

In the statement from the Red Brick, Kasabach wrote the center is "very concerned about this situation and (is) fully cooperating with the city and the DA's office. We have enjoyed more than two decades of overseeing this amazing arts facility for the community. It is very important to us that we maintain the trust put in us by the community and the city."

The Red Brick's programming will "continue as usual," the statement said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

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