GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A local public defender wants District Attorney Sherry Caloia disqualified from a felony theft case in district court, because Caloia herself is fending off allegations of theft and “professional negligence” concerning the embezzlement of funds from the town of Marble, where Caloia was once the town attorney.
According to a civil lawsuit filed in 9th Judicial District Court, Caloia was negligent in her duties as town attorney when, over the course of several years, the late Marble Town Clerk Karen Mulhall allegedly stole more than $300,000 from the town’s accounts.
Mulhall was found dead in a Denver area motel room in late 2012, apparently from suicide, after an investigation had begun into the town’s finances.
The town, in an effort to recoup what some Marble officials say could be closer to $1 million in stolen funds, has sued Caloia for not paying closer attention to Mulhall’s work. Caloia has denied the accusations in the lawsuit, saying she was not Mulhall’s supervisor and thus had no obligation to monitor Mulhall’s job as town clerk.
Caloia, while unable to discuss details of the case, wrote in an email to the Post Independent on Monday, “I am preparing a reply and hope to file it yet tonight, or tomorrow. I will object to any disqualification.”
Deputy Public Defender Tina Fang filed a motion on Dec. 13 to have Caloia disqualified from prosecuting the case against Idalia Muñoz-Morales, 38, who is accused of defrauding the Garfield County Department of Human Services (DHS) to the tune of more than $56,000 worth of food stamps (known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP) and Medicaid benefits.
According to authorities, Muñoz-Morales allegedly lied to social service case workers when she signed up for the benefits several years ago, saying her husband had been deported and was not living with her or contributing to her family’s upkeep.
When confronted by an investigator for the county’s DHS, Muñoz-Morales allegedly admitted she had been lying for years about her husband, Luis A. Martinez, whom she said had been living with her and had worked at several jobs over the past several years.
A four-day trial on the charges against Muñoz-Morales is scheduled for early March 2014.
Fang argues in her motion that Caloia, because of what Fang stated are public perception problems stemming from the Marble case, “must appear to be tough in theft cases” and has acted inappropriately and harshly in at least two cases where the defendants have been accused of theft or embezzlement.
In addition, according to Fang’s motion, documents related to the Marble case indicate that Caloia herself was a victim of theft at the same time that Marble was.
That, coupled with what Fang wrote about Caloia’s recent actions against defendants in theft cases, shows that Caloia “has a deep personal bias against those accused of such crimes,” according to the motion to disqualify.
Fang’s motion mentioned two cases to make her point, including a case involving allegations of theft against Diane Graf, a former employee at the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool in Glenwood Springs.
Fang maintained that Caloia pressured Graf into accepting a plea bargain rather than go to trial, a deal that Graf resisted but ultimately accepted, according to Fang.