Grand County Commissioner James Newberry faces felony charges in mileage case
Grand County Commissioner James Newberry has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor in relation to allegations that he falsified entries on county mileage reimbursement documents.
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, the case’s special prosecutor, announced at an arraignment hearing on Thursday morning, July 9, that Newberry would be charged with one count of attempting to influence a public servant, a class four felony, one count of embezzlement of public property, a class five felony, and one count of first degree official misconduct, a class two misdemeanor.
The new charges stem from the period between January 2009 and September 2013, when Newberry was alleged to have double-charged Grand County for mileage and billed the county for travel to meetings that he did not attend, according to the complaint.
Newberry declined to comment on advice of counsel and deferred questions to his attorney, Patrick Burke.
“The original charge was serious and these charges are even more serious,” Burke said. “We will be talking to Mr. Brown to see if the case can be resolved on a mutually agreeable basis, and if that’s unsuccessful we will then vigorously defend what are after all merely allegations of wrongdoing.”
Newberry added that he would be issuing a public statement in the near future.
The new charges also encompass previous allegations that Newberry sought and received reimbursement for the same mileage from both the county and the Colorado River District, of which he is a director.
The new charges will supplant one count of first-degree official misconduct that was filed previously.
Speaking over the phone on July 9, Brown said the complaint is similar to the complaint filed previously.
“It is identical in some respects to the prior complaint, but it is a little more expansive in the alleged criminal conduct and on that basis we felt that it was more appropriately charged as a felony,” Brown said.
The possibility of new charges in the case became apparent at a May 26 arraignment hearing when Brown suggested that his office could file a revised complaint in the case and that, “conceivably,” the complaint could include charges that cannot be adjudicated in county court, ostensibly meaning felonies.
Newberry was being arraigned at that hearing on a misdemeanor charge regarding allegations that he had sought and received around $1,800 in reimbursements for the same mileage from both Grand County and the Colorado River District.
However, Brown’s May 26 announcement came after it was alleged that Newberry double-charged Grand County for mileage and sought and received reimbursement for travel to Northwest Colorado Council of Government meetings that minutes indicate he did not attend.
One mileage document from August 2009 appeared to have been resubmitted in its entirety four months later, netting Newberry an additional $1,223.20.
Documents obtained by the Sky-Hi News indicated that, in addition to double dipping, Newberry had accrued more than $1,500 between 2009 and 2013 for questionable mileage entries.
When confronted by the Sky-Hi News in May, Newberry issued a public apology and repaid the county $1,547.37.
Those allegations were included in the July 9 complaint.
Newberry’s next hearing will be Aug. 7 at 1:30 p.m.
The single charge of attempting to influence a public servant stems from Newberry’s alleged submittal of falsified reimbursement documents to the county treasurer’s office, Brown said.
“When you try to get a benefit from a government official through falsifying information, in this case the alleged falsification is mileage reimbursement, that satisfies the elements of that particular criminal charge,” Brown said.
The embezzlement charge encompasses all of the alleged falsifications that occurred between 2009 and 2013, which amount to more than $2,000, Brown said.
The single misdemeanor charge specifically refers to three NWCCOG meetings that Newberry allegedly sought travel reimbursements for but did not attend, according to the complaint.
Brown said he did not expect the “fundamental nature” of the charges to change, though procedural amendments could be made during the case’s pendency.
“I wouldn’t expect it to change dramatically between now and a contested determination of the facts, in essence a trial,” Brown said.
In Colorado, the presumptive sentencing ranges for class four and class five felonies are two to six years’ imprisonment and one to three years’ imprisonment, respectively, according to Colorado Revised Statutes.
Presumptive fines for class four and class five felonies are $2,000 to $500,000 and $1,000 to $100,000, respectively.
Brown declined to comment on the possibility of a disposition, or plea bargain.
“I prefer not to publicly discuss any possibility of a disposition because I want to make sure Mr. Newberry’s rights are as well protect as can be,” Brown said.
It’s unclear what effect the new charges will have on Newberry’s position as county commissioner.
An embezzlement conviction would bar Newberry from being a member of the Colorado General Assembly or holding “any office of trust or profit in this state,” according to Colorado Revised Statutes.
When contacted about the case on July 9, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio said he was aware of the new charges.
“I had a conversation with Commissioner Newberry earlier today,” Palacio wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. “In light of the seriousness of the allegations made against him, I’ve asked him to consider resigning from his position as Grand County Commissioner.”
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