Glenwood theft case goes to the jury
Aspen, CO, Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The case against Shawnee Ryan, an interior designer accused of bilking up to 40 clients and suppliers out of thousands of dollars, was in the hands of a jury Tuesday evening.
The case was given to the jury at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, following a week of testimony concerning seven counts of felony theft from seven specific clients.
Ryan herself highlighted the final day of the trial by taking the witness stand, against the advice of her attorney, to testify about her business and the charges against her.
In testimony that rambled off-point frequently, and far enough to warrant admonishment from District Judge Denise Lynch, Ryan told the jury that she now lives in Cripple Creek and is not in business of any sort.
While she was living and working in the Glenwood Springs area, from 2007 through 2010, she planned to be a successful designer and construction consultant, not to steal from her clients, as some have alleged.
Although she employed several people in various capacities after starting her business, Duir Construction Designs, only she and her then-partner, Ron Morehead, worked on the company’s books, she told the jury.
And when Morehead left the partnership in 2007, she said, the only method she used for keeping track of money coming in and going out was her checkbook registers.
She said she holds master’s degrees in architectural and interior design from Washington State University, and concentrated her design business on remodels and new homes, as well as retail sales of artistic and design items at her shop.
She categorically denied many of the accusations leveled at her, such as a claim by iron artist Gary Russell of Rifle that she never paid him $3,200 for a piece of his wall art that she sold on consignment.
She also disputed claims by Glenwood Springs residents Marianne and John Virgili, whose complaints were key to the prosecution’s case.
The Virgilis said she took from them perhaps $100,000 worth of consulting payments and pre-payment for orders for wood floors, lighting and other goods, but never delivered material for the house they were building.
She told the jury that in 2009 she was evicted from a retail space in the Glenwood Meadows shopping center, as well as from her home at the time, and moved the business into a storefront on Grand Avenue. There, she opened up a shop under the name Glenwood Design Center at Duir Construction Design, with a homeless man, Keith Wayne, listed as president of the company.
When Deputy District Attorney Andrea Bryan questioned the name change, asking whether it was a way to hide from investigators while starting up a new venture, Ryan denied it hotly.
At one point in 2010, Ryan testified, she went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local authorities, complaining that her detractors were engaged in an email and Internet campaign to discredit her and her business through postings on such websites as Ripoff Reports.
No investigations came of her complaints, however, despite her continuing claims that she was being harassed by a group of former customers.
In closing arguments, Bryan said that Ryan was engaged in a scheme, and its purpose was clear.
“She took these peoples’ money … and just pocketed it,” Bryan declared. “That’s not bad business … that’s blatant theft.”
Defense attorney Kathy Goudy, in her closing arguments, told the jury, “Shawnee Ryan is not a thief.”
The prosecution’s case, alleging that Ryan was engaged in a criminal scheme to steal from her clients, is not believable, Goudy said.
“It makes no sense to call it a scheme, because it didn’t happen the same way every time,” Goudy argued, maintaining that Ryan’s troubles with her clients were the result of sloppy business practices, not criminal intent.
And, Goudy said, “She has a temper. She loses her temper. And at the time that these things were happening, she was losing her business.”
Any bad behavior on Ryan’s part was “an incoherent thrashing and attacking” in the face of mounting pressures and anxieties, along with the hope she could keep the business afloat, Goudy told the jury.
“That does not mean there was an intent to steal,” she continued. “There was an intent to hope.”
Concerning email battles Ryan had with her unhappy clients, such as the Virgilis, Goudy said, “That one didn’t go bad until she was fired” and kicked off the job by the Virgilis.
The email, Goudy admitted, was “almost like diarrhea email. It just can’t be stopped” once it gains momentum.
If convicted on all seven counts of felony theft, and ordered to serve them consecutively, Ryan could be facing up to 42 years in prison under normal state sentencing guidelines.
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