Ex-Aspen employee pleads guilty to theft
ASPEN ” A former city of Aspen employee pleaded guilty Monday to stealing $5,600 in public funds from the Car Share program, which he administered.
Paul Erich Grueter, 44, was fired as the Car Share coordinator in August after he admitted that he had transferred cash in increments of $800 from the Car Share bank account to his own personal credit card and checking accounts. The Car Share account and Grueter’s accounts are both at Wells Fargo.
As a plea agreement in Pitkin County District Court, Grueter received a two-year deferred judgment, meaning the Class IV felony charge will be dropped if he successfully completes his probation and meets other court-ordered terms and conditions.
Aspen police investigated the case, arresting Grueter on Sept. 2 on a charge of theft.
Grueter paid the city back immediately after being fired, according to court documents.
He took money seven times between March and July of 2008, according to the arrest warrant. He stole the money to pay off his credit card debt, he told police officer Matt Burg, who investigated the case.
The series of thefts began March 25, when Grueter unknowingly scheduled an $800 transfer from the Car Share account to his Wells Fargo credit card account. He made the same mistake on April 1. Because he was the sole signer of the Car Share account, Grueter used the same user name and password as his personal account, according to court documents.
It wasn’t until June that Grueter realized the transfers were coming from the Car Share fund. He noticed it because he had too much money in his checking account. He panicked and, fearing that he would lose his job, chose not to tell anyone about the error, according to the warrant.
And with bookkeeping of the account non-existent, he didn’t think he’d get caught, so he kept making transfers.
The city of Aspen administers the Car Share program, which was previously organized as Roaring Fork Valley Vehicles, a nonprofit organization that rents cars to valley residents for a fee. As part of the city’s acquisition of the nonprofit, Grueter was asked to transfer the custody of the Car Share account ” which was a separate business check account ” to the Finance Department in City Hall. Fearing he would be caught, Grueter closed the account and delivered a $12,128.05 check, according to court documents.
“Grueter told me that he struggled with his conscience over the thefts, but ultimately thought that the problem would go away once the city took over the bank account,” Burg wrote in the arrest warrant.
Once he was asked to provide the Car Share’s bank statements for 2008, Grueter confessed to his supervisor, Lynn Rumbaugh, that he had stolen the money, according to the warrant.
On Aug. 12, Grueter relinquished the statements and admitted to Finance Director Don Taylor that he had committed the thefts. He was fired a few days later.
Grueter’s attorney, Paul Taddune, said his client, who has no prior convictions and had a good reputation, recognized what he had done and made steps to correct the situation.
“This is a redemption approach; he acknowledged what he did, took the responsibility and the punishment,” Taddune said Monday after the court proceeding. “He was being honest in every respect.”
Grueter was a 10-year city employee, and had been the Car Share coordinator since March 2007.
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