Grand County likely to recover stolen funds through insurance
HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS — Although the county lost an estimated $500,000 from employee theft in the building department, officials say there’s a good chance the funds will be recovered through insurance.
At a county commissioner’s meeting on March 25, Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola reported that the county has “crime and employee dishonesty insurance,” and staff is working to file a claim on the building department scandal.
Costs from a forensic accounting audit, which began on April 1, will also be submitted as part of the claim. The forensic accounting consultants will be examining all county departments that handle money. The scope of work places a special focus on the building department and its theft, which went on for 12 years. County commissioners and staff said they’ll have a better picture of how much was stolen from the department after the audit is completed on May 1, an amount they’ll submit with their claim.
“We believe that it will cover 100 percent (of the theft), but until you submit a claim you don’t know,” said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, in an interview.
Underbrink Curran said that during her tenure as county manager, she doesn’t recall a case where the crime and employee dishonesty insurance was used.
“I don’t remember any thefts where we had to use it, not that the county hasn’t had theft in the past,” she said.
County commissioners said they were pleased to have some positive news come from the building department scandal, which has caused considerable public discord.
“There’s a good chance insurance could pay for the whole thing,” said Commissioner James Newberry. “That would be outstanding.”
Commissioners also noted their frustration with the criminal investigation process, which the county sheriff’s office began in late October. The sheriff has yet to file a report with the district attorney or make any charges or arrests. The sheriff noted he was close to completing the investigation, but has cited complications with piecing together records from the building department. County commissioners said in addition to helping with their insurance claim, part of the reason they retained their own private consultant to do a forensic audit was to help speed along the process.
“It’s frustrating for us, since we’re supposed to be in charge of things, but not this investigation,” said Commissioner Merrit Linke. “I would’ve liked to see some arrests by now.”
As other positive news coming from the building department, Linke also pointed to $170,000 recovered from repeated invoicing for checks from contractors to the building department that didn’t get cashed in 2013 and part of 2012. Still, according to the sheriff, that amount can’t necessarily be subtracted from the missing $500,000 he’s still investigating.
Sheriff Rod Johnson said he hopes to complete his investigation and turn it in to the district attorney next week.
For his part, Assistant District Attorney of the 14th Judicial District Han Ng said public corruption cases are often long and involved, and he applauded the thoroughness of the sheriff’s investigation.
“It’s unwise to rush to file something simply because the public is really interested,” Ng said. “But I understand that because there’s a lot of media attention, the pressure’s on.”
County commissioners said they’re walking a fine between facilitating an exhaustive inspection and satisfying public demand for information.
“We’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible,” Linke said. “It puts us in a balancing act — we don’t want to compromise an investigation, but we want to be open and honest with the public, earning trust back from the citizens.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.
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