Ex-RFTA lawyer Walter Mathews IV lands in rough over his golf habit
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A former attorney for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority was advised Wednesday in Garfield County District Court that he faces a felony charge of theft for allegedly padding his time sheet and falsifying expenses.
Walter Mathews IV faces one count of theft of an amount more than $20,000, according to documents filed by District Attorney Sherry Caloia’s office. Mathews is scheduled for arraignment May 28, which might result in his entry of a plea.
RFTA’s board of directors met in a closed session Oct. 11 and then emerged and voted unanimously to fire Mathews “for cause.” The reasons were never specified. RFTA officials said it was a personnel matter.
Mathews, 53, made his first court appearance on the matter Wednesday. There was no record that he was represented by an attorney, according to a court clerk.
The court file includes a “statement of facts” from the Glenwood Springs Police Department detective who investigated the case. The statement contends that Mathews claimed on several occasions that he was attending continuing-education conferences or handling other professional business when he was actually participating in golf tournaments around western Colorado. Mathews allegedly submitted expenses from the tournaments, in some cases claiming that greens fees and golf-cart rentals were meal expenses, according to the detective’s report.
Mathews “is accused of utilizing his RFTA issued MasterCard for personal expenses, in essence, a spending spree over the course of several months in 2012,” the detective’s statement said.
RFTA auditors became suspicious of Mathews’ spending habits in August, and he was reminded by management that his RFTA credit card couldn’t be used for personal expenses. By then, the damage was done, based on the findings of an independent accounting firm hired by RFTA to investigate his credit-card charges. The company submitted its report to RFTA in October. The firm ultimately found $23,243.72 in inappropriate charges by Mathews.
“The cardholder has not only an inordinate number of missing receipts, but also a large number of charges in total,” the detective wrote, summarizing the audit report. “From January 1 through August, a total of 431 charges were noted.”
Paul Taddune, RFTA’s current contract attorney, said Mathews has made restitution for the expenses. In addition, he reimbursed RFTA for the cost of hiring the accounting firm to look into his spending history as well as the time Taddune billed for dealing with the matter.
“He really stepped up,” Taddune said, calling the matter “unfortunate.”
Meanwhile, during a test period from June 27 through Sept. 12, the audit found that 131 of 168 transactions, for a total of $6,586, didn’t follow RFTA’s credit-card policy.
“This includes personal charges, missing receipts or no evident business purpose,” the detective wrote in his report.
The statement of facts focuses on several occasions when Mathews told RFTA he was attending continuing-education conferences but was allegedly golfing.
“On twenty days in July, August and September, charges were made to Eagle Ranch Golf Course, Gypsum Creek Golf Course, Battlement Mesa Golf Course and Rifle Creek Golf Course,” the detective’s report said. “The charges totaled $684.01. In 17 of 20 instances the cardholder changed the name of the vendors to exclude ‘Golf Course’ and replaced it with ‘Grill.’”
One incident stuck out for the accounting firm during the test period. Mathews allegedly said he was attending a continuing-education course offered by the Colorado Bar Association in Steamboat Springs June 28 through July 1. The auditor couldn’t find evidence of such an event. Mathews allegedly turned in two hotel receipts for that time period from the town of Craig, 42 miles from Steamboat Springs. One receipt was marked June 30, but Mathews allegedly told RFTA personnel that was a billing mistake and the charge actually was incurred on June 31, a date that doesn’t exist.
Mathews also allegedly turned in meal expenses from the Tin Cup Grill at the Yampa Valley Golf Course in Craig, where the Cottonwood Classic Golf Tournament was taking place at that time.
Mathews allegedly reimbursed RFTA for a $38 greens fee and golf cart on June 28, but he also recorded eight hours of work on that day.
Mathews was confronted with the investigation of his expense account in the private meeting with RFTA’s board and executive staff on Oct. 11, according to the detective. A recording of the meeting was turned over by RFTA after the detective obtained a court order. Mathews said everything in the accounting firm’s report was true.
“He repeatedly apologizes for his actions and says he can’t believe he did that, and that he (had) put his legal career in jeopardy,” the detective’s statement said. “He offers his resignation, and offers to pay full restitution.”
A number listed for Walter Mathews IV in Eagle was no longer in service as of Thursday.
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May 27 is the target day for Eagle County to emerge from COVID-19 public health orders. “We want our community to have that on the calendar to work toward,” said Eagle County Emergency Management Director Birch Barron.