Special prosecutor clears Commissioner Martin
July 26, 2017
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown has cleared Garfield County Commissioner John Martin. Brown was tasked with investigating allegations of embezzlement, and said he will not file charges in the complaint.
Martin declined to make much of a statement on Wednesday, not having heard any official word from his attorneys about the special prosecutor's decision. The commissioner said he wanted to get it in writing before making a statement, but he also commented that "the American justice system works." In that system, you're innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent, he said.
Martin said he was found guilty in the paper but proven innocent by law enforcement investigators.
During last year's election, the Democratic campaign seeking to oust Martin, the 20-year Republican chair of the board of commissioners, accused him of felony embezzlement of public funds. Leaders of the Garfield County Democrats, and the Democratic candidate John Acha, made a slew of accusations against Martin. Democratic leaders said they filed 19 open records requests in a search for evidence of corruption that they say county employees and contractors had tipped them off to.
But their primary criminal allegation was that Martin was "double dipping" in travel expenses while he attended intergovernmental conferences over the previous three years.
In January, Garfield County District Court Judge James Boyd appointed Brown, a Democrat, as a special prosecutor to investigate the Democrats' complaint after former District Attorney Sherry Caloia asserted that her office could not take the case. Caloia said that she had a conflict of interest, as the commissioners approve the DA's budget.
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When Martin attended these conferences, he received a per diem from Colorado Counties Inc., which he also represented. But instead of using that money, he paid for the meals with his county purchasing card, the Democrats said. In 2015 a forensic auditor reviewed Martin's spending at these conferences, and he was ultimately required to repay the county $1,800. His two fellow commissioners helped by pitching in $400 each. Martin has said the auditor's report effectively cleared up the situation. And he's maintained that he was entitled to those per diem advances because he also represented CCI.
"I've never knowingly violated any rules or statutes on this," Martin told the Post Independent in October. The commissioner said it would be easy for an outside observer to look at his expenses, lump them all together and call it double dipping, but he said that he's been meticulous about keeping expenses for outside organizations, like CCI, separate from his work for the county.
Martin announced during an October campaign forum at Glenwood Springs City Hall that local Democratic leaders had confronted him with these accusations. He said they suggested he pull out of the race and ensure no Republican would run in his place to keep that information quiet.
Since then, Martin has professed his innocence, saying that he never knowingly violated the law or county policy. And he's said that the Democrats' actions amounted to threats and intimidation of an elected official.
The Democrats authored a legal opinion that Martin's actions amounted to felony embezzlement and called for a special prosecutor to investigate.
DA Brown did not return the Post Independent's messages Wednesday.