Former Garfield County employee gets probation in theft case
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A former Garfield County Treasurer’s Office employee, who pleaded guilty of embezzling more than $9,000 in property tax payments from county residents in March, was sentenced to probation Tuesday in Garfield County District Court.
Vanessa Lynn Lujan, 31, pleaded guilty to one felony count of embezzlement of public property, and two misdemeanor counts of theft as part of a plea deal offered by prosecutors.
Lujan received a deferred sentence for the felony embezzlement charge. However, 9th Judicial District Court Judge Gail Nichols sentenced Lujan to three years of supervised probation and 10 days to be served in the county’s Workenders program for the remaining theft charges.
As per the plea agreement, the felony count will be removed from Lujan’s record as long as she meets all the requirements of her probation. She will also be responsible for paying back $11,294 in restitution, and will have to serve 100 hours of useful public service as part of her sentence.
Lujan was arrested in October 2009 on suspicion of stealing money from property tax payments through her position in the Treasurer’s Office.
Garfield County Treasurer Georgia Chamberlain reported to authorities that Lujan took $5,166 in property tax payments, and another $4,209 in cash, which she was to deposit in a bank account for the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in July 2009. However, the total amount of funds taken from the office has changed throughout the duration of the case. Inquiries to both the Treasurer’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office for clarification between the amount believed to be taken and the restitution amount owed were not returned Tuesday.
An arrest affidavit stated that Deputy Chief Treasurer Jean Richardson discovered the missing payments on July 27, 2009, while performing a balance check of the Clerk and Recorder’s Office bank accounts.
According to prosecutor Anne Kirkpatrick, Lujan preyed on homeowners who were Spanish speaking, elderly or in ill health. Lujan reportedly issued receipts to people who came into the office and paid property tax payments in cash, and she would pocket the money. Homeowners would then receive a delinquent property tax notice saying that they had not paid.
Richardson told investigators that one week before she discovered the missing deposit that a customer claimed that they had received a delinquent tax notice, but claimed that they had paid their taxes in full. The customer provided a receipt of payment that was stamped and initialed “VL,” the affidavit stated.
Lujan voluntarily resigned her position after Richardson approached her asking to explain the missing payments.
The Treasurer’s Office estimated that no more than 20 property owners were affected by the theft.
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