Former AVLT bookkeeper pleads guilty
A Carbondale woman pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of felony theft for embezzling about $105,000 from the nonprofit land trust where she was once employed.In return for the guilty pleas, a third count of theft was dropped by the Garfield County district attorney’s office against Carmen Andrews, the former bookkeeper for Aspen Valley Land Trust.Garfield County District Judge Peter Craven stressed to Andrews that by reaching the plea agreement, she was surrendering her right to a trial. He said she could face between two and six years in prison on each charge. Mitigating circumstances could reduce the sentence to one year per charge and aggravating circumstances could increase it to 12 years, according to Craven.Deputy District Attorney Martin Beeson said Andrews used the land trust’s credit cards for personal purchases. She was also accused of forging checks for personal gain and setting up a secret bank account in AVLT’s name that she used for personal expenses.Andrews quit working for AVLT in March after a fight with her boss, AVLT Executive Director Martha Cochran, according to an arrest affidavit filed with the court. Cochran had warned Andrews to stop conducting her personal business while she was on the clock at the land trust.After Andrews resigned, Cochran and other AVLT staffers discovered Andrews hadn’t closed a credit card account as directed. That led them to investigate financial practices, and they eventually filed a complaint with the Carbondale Police Department. Andrews was arrested in May.Beeson said the investigation showed Andrews used AVLT’s money on such things as trash service at her home and a membership fee at the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce for her personal real estate business. An arrest warrant claimed Andrews also used embezzled funds for a wedding ring, ski equipment and even enrollment in a class at the Ligmincha Institute, a Buddhist educational facility.Andrews agreed to pay back all the funds even though restitution hasn’t yet been ordered as part of the legal proceedings, according to Cochran. She said Andrews placed $20,000 in escrow with the district attorney’s office.Craven warned Andrews that taking responsibility for the charges wouldn’t necessarily reduce her sentence.”Do you think it is in your best interests to do this?” Craven asked her at one point in the proceedings.”I hope so,” responded Andrews, who came to tears when she pleaded guilty.Craven ordered her to make an appointment with a probation officer so a pre-sentence report could be filed before her sentencing on Jan. 7. He said while the appointment was mandatory, her cooperation was voluntary.Andrews has hired Walter Gerash, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Colorado, to represent her at the sentencing. It is unknown at this point what sentence will be sought by the district attorney’s office.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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