Police: Woman stole $415K from Anderson Ranch
August 25, 2009
ASPEN – A Woody Creek woman faces 28 felony counts in connection to accusations that she embezzled $415,000 from Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village over a period of 16 months.
Former Anderson Ranch controller Marlana Lu Howell, 49, waived advisement Monday in District Judge James Boyd’s chambers in Aspen. Boyd reduced the original bond of $250,000 to $100,000 for Howell, who was arrested Friday by Snowmass police and booked into the Pitkin County jail.
Howell’s attorney, Dan Shipp of Basalt, told the judge she already has paid $107,000 in restitution, and “other assets need to be liquidated.”
From April 2008 through July, Howell is suspected of making 16 separate wire transfers from an endowment trust with the Snowmass nonprofit to two of her personal bank accounts, according to a statement of facts filed by arresting officer Brady Jax. The amount of the transactions ranged from $339.29 to $50,000, Jax’s report says.
Howell’s alleged crimes became unmasked in June when the art center’s assistant controller found a letter addressed to Anderson Ranch in Howell’s in-box at work. When the assistant opened the letter, she “was alarmed because she was not aware that Anderson Ranch Arts Center owned or had a Toyota registered under the Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s name,” Jax wrote. The letter apparently was a monthly loan payment notification that was intended for Howell.
The assistant then notified Anderson Ranch President Hunter O’Hanian (who no longer works at the center), who relayed the information to board member and finance committee member Tom O’Connor. O’Connor, upon reviewing the center’s financial records, discovered that 16 wire transfers had been made from an Anderson Ranch trust to an unknown bank account, Jax’s report says.
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On Aug. 13, Howell was confronted by several board and staff members of the arts center about the alleged bilking activities. There, Howell apparently confessed, saying she began to transfer the funds when she was told she was not get a housing allowance she was promised when she took the job, according to Jax’s report.
She also allegedly told officials she wanted to make restitution and avoid criminal prosecution. She was ordered to leave the center’s premises that day.
A day later, Jax visited Howell at her Woody Creek residence. Again, she apparently confessed to the crimes, again saying she wanted to make good on what she had stolen, Jax reported.
Howell has yet to be charged. But documents introduced by District Attorney Martin Beeson and Deputy District Attorney Richard Nedlin indicate she faces 11 class-three felony counts of felony theft of more than $20,000; four class-four counts of theft between $1,000 and $20,000; 11 class-three felony counts of computer crime theft; and two class-four felony counts of computer crime. She also faces one class-two misdemeanor of theft of less than $500.
The most punitive charges, the class-three felony counts, carry penalties of four to 12 years in prison, and fines ranging from $3,000 to $750,000.
While lobbying the judge to reduce the bond to $75,000, Shipp said Howell has no previous criminal record, and has an MBA and one year of law school. Howell’s brother, a veterinarian from Oklahoma, attended the hearing as well.
“She has her family’s support,” Shipp said, arguing that a lower bond would allow Howell to get out of jail so she can focus on finding another job and earning money to pay restitution.
Boyd, when lowering the bond, said Howell is forbidden from being employed in a position of financial trust. He also said she can reside in New Mexico or Oklahoma during the course of her case.
As of 6 p.m. Monday, Howell remained in the Pitkin County jail.
Her next court appearance is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 5.