Former Eagle County employee admits stealing from taxpayers
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 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 the county 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.
Where the money came from
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 the 2 percent rental check, McCollum said. After Wright received the check, she converted them to 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.
After that, Wright voluntarily contacted the Eagle Police about it, and turned herself in, McCollum said.
The investigation leading to Wright’s arrest 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. Former Garfield County Clerk’s office staffer Robin McMillan, 51, of Rifle, was arrested for allegedly stealing close to $200,000 from that office over 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.
• Henry Kunter is serving an eight-year Community Corrections sentence after stealing from his employer and the local Vail Eagle Valley Rotary Club.
• Dawna Foxx is serving a five-year prison sentence after stealing from a local Summit County non-profit where she worked.
• Sue Frank is charged with stealing $415,000 from a Summit County non-profit 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 Oct. 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 email@example.com.
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