Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek vows to fight misconduct charge | AspenTimes.com

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek vows to fight misconduct charge

Disagreement over spending approvals leads to petty offense indictment

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Eagle County Sheriff James Van Beek talks to the crowd about the Lake Christine Fire during a 2018 community meeting at Basalt High School.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

EAGLE — A disagreement over money between the county’s two top law enforcement officials has resulted in an indictment for a petty offense.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek is facing a charge of second-degree official misconduct for spending money from a reserve fund in ways that he says it has always been spent.

Bruce Brown, the 5th Judicial District attorney, reportedly disagrees, and a grand jury handed down an indictment for second-degree official misconduct, a petty offense.

Brown declined to comment when contacted by phone on Tuesday morning.

Van Beek released a statement Tuesday morning, saying the allegations stem from a “misinterpretation by the District Attorney about the review process of confiscated monies, and specifically when a committee needs to be convened for additional approval.”

Van Beek and Brown are two of the three committee members who oversee that reserve fund. Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu is the third.

“This is an absolute head-scratcher as to what he (Brown) is trying to accomplish,” Treu said.

The allegations include 14 previously approved expenditures from the reserve fund, made in 2019. Van Beek argues that because that reserve fund contains no state confiscated money, the three-member board does not need to approve money spent from it.

“There is a debate whether the board has to approve the expenditures,” van Beek said.

Van Beek wrote in his statement Tuesday that the approved expenditures included paying a writer and crisis management specialist for columns for the Vail Daily. Those columns in the Daily appeared under van Beek’s byline and with his photo. However, they are the work of Jacqueline Cartier, who also previously wrote columns for the Vail Daily under her own byline and ran for a seat on the Eagle County Board of Commissioners in 2018.

“Most who know me, know that my talent in law enforcement does not necessarily transfer to the written word,” van Beek wrote in his statement. “I do it and can say it, but there are those who can deliver the message much better.”

He said the agreement with Cartier was already in place when he was elected sheriff in 2014.

“Upon reviewing the work, I renewed the contract,” van Beek wrote in his statement. “The amount paid, for the benefit received is immeasurable. Our office and other agencies within Eagle County have had an opportunity to be featured, and it has given the public a greater sense of participation in governance.”  

Second-degree official misconduct is a petty offense that comes with a small fine, but van Beek says he’ll fight it.

“Our office will be fighting it because it implies dishonesty, which as an elected official, is unacceptable, and against my values,” van Beek said in his statement.

Both van Beek, a Republican, and Brown, a Democrat, declined comment on whether the allegations could be politically motivated.

How the forfeiture fund works

Eagle County’s Confiscated Property Spending Advisory Committee was founded March 17, 2010, by former Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy and former District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. The current three-member committee is Brown, van Beek and Treu. When money is confiscated or surrendered to the Sheriff’s Office, it lands in a forfeiture fund.

The indictment insists that under the committee’s bylaws, at least two of the three committee members need to approve anyone spending money from that fund.

The indictment claims that forfeited local money in that forfeiture fund was co-mingled with forfeited state funds.

Not possible, says Treu, who says the fund hasn’t contained any forfeited state money since 2012. Treu said in 2012 that $25,788.38 was spent on a vehicle lease for the drug task force, donations to National Night Out, a fundraiser and a local toy drive.

In an email string obtained by the Vail Daily through a Colorado Open Records Act request, in a Jan. 15, 2019 email, van Beek told Brown and Treu that, “There are no state confiscated funds. Everything in there is from federal seizures.”

Brown, however, insisted that the forfeiture funds were commingled.

In a Jan. 15, 2019 email, Brown says, “Because of the commingling, it has become very difficult to discern what was from the forfeiture fund and some other account.”

Brown issued a grand jury subpoena for van Beek in February. Treu wrote in a Feb. 21 email that the subpoena was “consistent with what we continue to perceive as an overreaction on your part.”

At the end of 2018, the forfeiture fund contained $81,239.51, according to Eagle County’s financials. In a Dec. 14, 2018, email to van Beek and Treu, Brown suggested that the money be transferred to bank accounts controlled by the District Attorney’s Office.

“To the extent that your letter implies wrongdoing by the Sheriff, I would respectfully disagree,” Treu wrote in an email reply later that day. “For transparency purposes, James has always run all expenditures through our committee.”

The forfeiture fund is reviewed at the end of the fiscal year, Treu wrote.

“Our role is not to tell the Sheriff how to best reinvest in the local community …” Treu wrote.

Van Beek is scheduled for a 9 a.m. court appearance Aug. 30.

“They (prosecutors) have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there were state forfeitures in that fund, that James knew about it and spent it anyway,” Treu said Tuesday.

The Indictment lists among the 2019 expenditures:

  • $4,443: Detention facility freezer. 6/30/2019
  • $2,050: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 4/18/ 2019
  • $2,000: Eagle County Crimestoppers Tipster Reward. 6/28/ 2019
  • $1,500: Eagle Valley Seniors trip donation. 4/10/2019
  • $1,324.81: Husky Creative Signage. 2/14/2019
  • $1,100: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 2/6/2019
  • $1,100: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 3/27/2019
  • $900: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 5/8/2019
  • $600: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 6/13/2019
  • $600: Jacqueline Cartier PR Services. 5/28/2019
  • $550: Eagle High School Foundation Fire and Ice Gala. 2/6/2019
  • $500: Three Rivers Little League Sponsorship. 4/29/2019
  • $170: Eagle Valley High School Foundation Fundraiser Auction. 2/11/2019
  • $50: ECERF Silent Auction Fundraiser. 3/11/2019
  • Source: Fifth Judicial District Grand Jury Indictment