Glenwood Springs jury convicts ‘Waffle House’ ranch managers on lesser theft charge
A Glenwood Springs jury found Charles “Zane” and Charla Farris guilty of theft, but to a lesser degree than prosecutors charged.
After nearly three full days of deliberation, the jury found both guilty of stealing between $5,000 and $20,000 from the ranch they used to manage, owned by Waffle House, Inc. chairman Joe Rogers.
Prosecutors charged the Farrises with stealing between $100,000 but less than $1 million from Bear Wallow Ranch between 2012 and 2016.
Both Farrises face between one and three years in prison for the reduced felony-5 charge, the second-lowest category of felony offenses. If they were convicted of the original theft charge of over $100,000, they could have faced four to 12 years in prison.
The jury found the husband and wife not guilty on all other charges, including evading Colorado state taxes for five filing years, and theft of 10 cattle.
Jury selection for the complex and lengthy trial began Oct. 11, and opening arguments started Oct. 17. The jury began deliberations Monday after closing arguments ended Nov. 15.
Prosecutors alleged that the Farrises engaged in a scheme to use Bear Wallow Ranch funds as their own for a period of at least five years before being discovered.
Charla, who kept the books for the ranch, hid personal purchases by miscoding it in the bookkeeping system and entering wrong check amounts, according to prosecutors.
When Rogers’ wife, Fran, an accountant, discovered suspicious transactions in 2016, she began contacting vendors and discovered the Farrises were paying for maintenance on personal vehicles and for personal property.
Much of the prosecution’s case came from Joe Rogers’ testimony. Rogers confronted the Farrises over three days in August 2016 and secretly recorded the conversations, which the jury heard during the trial.
At multiple points during those recordings, both the Farrises said they were wrong to make many of the questioned transactions.
“They said they did it. We showed you the records that prove they did it,” lead prosecutor Ben Sollars said during closing arguments.
Defense attorneys argued that the Farrises thought they had authorization to make many of the purchases as under-the-table bonuses, and said that Rogers was not running the ranch as a business.
“The entire prosecution in this case, the entire theory, is premised on the idea that Bear Wallow Ranch was a normal above-board business,” said Andrew Ho, Charla’s attorney.
In many of the questionable transactions, the Farrises paid businesses they owned for Bear Wallow work, but all that work benefited the ranch, according to Zane’s attorney Kathy Goudy.
Zane “worked his butt off for the benefit of Bear Wallow” and tried to save the ranch money, Goudy said.
Days after the 9th District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges on June 6, 2017, Joe Rogers filed a civil lawsuit alleging the theft, which is still active.
The Farrises are scheduled for a sentencing hearing in February.
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Despite nearly a month of intense investigation by two APD detectives, two investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and help from an FBI agent in Glenwood Springs, the case is progressing slowly.