Ex-Red Brick director offers apology, gets 90 days in jail
Angela Callen was valedictorian of her high school and a standout civil engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University in her native Pittsburgh before a career change ultimately landed her the job as executive director of the Red Brick Council for the Arts in the summer of 2013.
On Monday, however, she told those gathered for her sentencing hearing she had essentially been leading a double life during her last two years at the organization’s helm, a role that gave her the inside track to steal at least $125,000 from the nonprofit.
“I put on a facade hiding the panic and the guilt, trying to constantly find a way to fix it, and that day never came,” Callen said.
Following her remarks, Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin sentenced Callen, 38, directly to 90 days in the county jail, despite her attorney Mark Rubinstein’s request that she get a two-week buffer in order to get her personal affairs in order. She will get one day credit for time she already served.
“It’s a precipitous fall,” Seldin noted.
The judge also sentenced Callen, who pleaded guilty to felony theft May 6, to five years of supervised probation and 140 hours of public service. The plea deal also stipulates she pay $125,000 in restitution to the city; she already has put down $50,000 toward that amount. Prosecutor Tony Hershey, filling in for Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham, noted the amount Callen stole was closer to $150,000, although $125,000 was the agreed-upon amount for restitution.
Seldin said the plea agreement “makes sense insofar as it really does provide for meaningful opportunity for the funds to be recovered. And that does matter. At the same time, there needs to be … a sentence that will ensure accountability — accountability by the individual offender and a deterrent for others who might contemplate making such an egregious and damaging mistake.”
Speaking publicly about the matter for the first time since she was fired in June 2017, Callen also issued her first public apology for stealing from the nonprofit and the subsequent fallout.
“I know the Red Brick will never be the same because of these actions, and for that I’m so, so, so sorry,” she said.
Callen’s actions led the city, which owns the Red Brick building, to terminate its contract with the Red Brick Council. As the Red Brick Council’s executive director, Callen, who was not a city employee, oversaw the operations and management of the building, which provides studio space to nonprofit art groups and individuals. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department currently runs the Red Brick Center for the Arts under Sarah Roy.
“I never dreamed and I certainly never wanted, intended or expected the fallout and damage that would come from this series of poor decisions that I made,” said Callen, who turned herself in to authorities Aug. 31, some 14 months after she had been fired for stealing from the Red Brick.
Former volunteers for the Red Brick Council for the Arts took up one aisle in the courtroom, while Callen had friends and family members in support, as well.
“This has been a sordid affair for everybody involved, lasting more than two years,” said Jackie Kasabach, who was the president of the Red Brick Council’s board when the allegations against Callen emerged.
The Red Brick Council was a “very small nonprofit … and the amount of money she stole is virtually a year’s budget,” Kasabach said.
Both Kasabach and Nancy Kullgren, an artist at the Red Brick, said Callen did a fine job as executive director.
“We all loved her,” Kolger said. “I thought she was doing a great job.”
Kolger also said she lent $10,000 to Callen, and hasn’t seen a penny of it while Callen hasn’t communicated with her.
Callen not once apologized to the Red Brick, Kasabach and Kullgren said. For her part, Callen said several times she could not apologize because of the initial investigation and subsequent criminal charges.
Callen also said poor businesses decisions put her in debt, and she resorted to embezzlement.
“This was a series of horribly poor decisions brought on by the stress of a terrible investment and a terrible business venture,” she said. “The constant pressure to find funding and manage a cash flow that just wasn’t there, along with constant dead-ends that came with attempting business funding, pushed me to the limit to the point where I thought leveraging other money I had access to seemed like the only option. But, your honor, it never should have been an option at all. It never should have even been something that even crossed my mind. Did I know it was wrong? Absolutely. Did it make me feel sick? Absolutely, every day.
“Somehow I found a way to justify it, because the intent was I would borrow this now and pay it back.”
Callen did not mention her troubled business by name, but in October 2017, Basalt-based snowboard-gear company Bomber Industries declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Callen co-owned that business with her husband. The next month, Callen and her husband filed for bankruptcy. Both bankruptcy cases have been settled, according to court records.
In Pitkin County District Court documents, authorities said she received small business loans by putting up the Red Brick’s financial information, then transferred the money to her personal bank accounts and paid back the loans using Red Brick money. Callen also opened a Red Brick credit card she used for personal use, and overpaid herself by thousands in 2015, 2016 and 2017, based on allegations in court documents.
“I misappropriated funds,” Callen said. “I can’t deny that, there is no two ways about it, and I’ve never tried to. Never once have I said, ‘I didn’t do this.’ Never once have I said, ‘I didn’t take the money.’ Never once did I say, ‘It wasn’t me.’ I have been accountable, and I’ve owned these mistakes from the day I made that first poor choice four years ago. And I’ve been living under guilt and shame since that day.”
Rubinstein sought 30 days in jail for Callen, while Hershey argued for the 90 days, which was the maximum amount of time agreed upon in the plea agreement.
“I do expect that after this incident we’re unlikely to see Mrs. Callen herself commit another crime,” Seldin said. “I do believe that her remorse is sincere.”