Judge asked to disqualify self in embezzlement case | AspenTimes.com

Judge asked to disqualify self in embezzlement case

Ryan Summerlin
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Charla Farris

Defense attorneys for Charles “Zane” and Charla Farris, a Silt couple accused of embezzlement at a local ranch where they were longtime employees, want a district judge to step away from the case after finding that her brother was victim to a similar crime.

The Farrises were arrested in June, accused of a years-long string of embezzlement at Bear Wallow Ranch, where Charles was the ranch manager and Charla kept the books.

Bear Wallow, a 2,600-acre working ranch up Canyon Creek Road west of Glenwood Springs, is principally owned by the CEO of Waffle House Inc. The following month the couple’s two adult sons, Tyler and Dustin Farris, turned themselves in on felony theft warrants stemming from the same case. After eight months of investigation, authorities contended that the Farrises, who had worked at the ranch for more than 25 years, stole more than $1 million from the ranch, according to an arrest affidavit.

Charles and Charla Farris are each facing two counts of felony theft from $100,000 to $1 million and four felony counts of ID theft. Their two sons are each facing felony theft, from $5,000 to $20,000.

Alongside these criminal cases is a counterpart in civil court.

“At some unknown time during their employment with Bear Wallow, Zane and Charla, and ultimately the entire Farris Family, began defrauding and stealing from Bear Wallow by numerous methods,” according to the civil complaint against them.

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“The Farris family used money and assets belonging to Bear Wallow for conduct including, but not limited to, financing their own businesses, purchasing real and personal property for themselves, purchasing goods and equipment for themselves, paying personal debts, and paying for their day-to-day expenses,” according to the civil complaint filed by Bear Wallow’s owner.

District Judge Denise Lynch is presiding over both the criminal and civil cases against the Farrises. During a July hearing in the civil case, Lynch disclosed that she had recently learned that her brother, a physician in Michigan, had been the victim of embezzlement by his office manager, amounting to nearly $800,000 over the course of several years. His office manager was criminally prosecuted, and she eventually pleaded guilty to check fraud, and concealing the thefts by reporting that the recipients of those checks were vendors, according to Farrises’ criminal defense attorneys.

“Investigation has shown the charges against the embezzler for Judge Lynch’s brother to be very similar in nature to several of the criminal charges here,” they wrote in their motion.

“I don’t think it’s [going to] affect my bias or prejudice. I think I’d still be able to hear this fairly, but I just felt like I needed to mention that,” Lynch said during the civil hearing in July.

Though the attorneys in the civil case did not find a problem with Lynch’s family experience of embezzlement, the Farrises’ criminal attorneys are asking the judge to voluntarily disqualify herself and have a substitute judge preside over the cases.

The two sons’ defense attorneys have not yet joined in this motion, though Chip McCrory, representing Tyler Farris, said Thursday that if Lynch disqualifies herself in the parents’ cases, it would follow that she should do the same in Tyler Farris’s case.

Prior to the Michigan case involving her brother, Lynch has presided over other recent high profile embezzlement cases, such as that of a Robin McMillan, convicted last year of embezzling more than $440,000 of public money as a Garfield County Clerk’s Office employee, and that of Erin Pressler, convicted of embezzling more than $180,000 from her employer.

Next, the prosecution will file its response to the defense motion for disqualification. Then Lynch will determine if a hearing is necessary on the defense’s motion.