Investigation report released after Arts Center theft case dismissed
A police investigation that led to misdemeanor theft charges against former Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts director Christina Brusig questions thousands of dollars in arts center expenses in the months leading up to her departure in April 2017.
It also questions where a large city grant intended for public art, and a business sponsorship for the Summer of Music series, each totaling $10,000, might have ended up.
But the report — released by 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney upon the formal dismissal of the case Thursday after prosecutors determined Brusig had satisfied all of the terms of her restorative justice agreement — mostly centers on several payments in the range of $200 to $500 from arts center accounts to businesses that Brusig had been doing personal business with, which were “likely fraudulent,” according to the affidavit.
Among them is a nearly $465 payment to a Valley View Hospital collection agency in September 2015 made by Brusig for a personal medical bill, that police determined came out of arts center funds.
Garfield County Court Judge Paul Metzger dismissed the case at the request of Brusig’s attorney, former DA Sherry Caloia, and with the blessing of deputy DA Jill Edinger who said Brusig had satisfied the terms of the deal reached in April of this year, just before the case was to have gone to trial.
A restorative justice agreement is essentially a contract that gives an accused person the opportunity to perform various tasks like community service and payment of fines, instead of going to trial or entering a plea deal, prosecutors explained at the time.
Among the terms were for Brusig to pay $2,000 in restitution and to complete 50 hours of community service, Edinger said after the Thursday hearing. That included 15 hours that had to be served in Glenwood Springs, even though Brusig has since moved to Wyoming.
According to the DA’s office, the Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) shelter was one of the organizations where she served her hours.
Brusig also taught dance classes in Wyoming to satisfy the agreement, and was required to take financial education classes, Edinger said.
“This is a just result in this case, [though] we still disagree that there was a theft,” Caloia said Thursday outside the courtroom, with Brusig at her side.
“She was owed the money [in question]; it was just a case of bad accounting,” Caloia said. “To resolve this in this way was good for the community, and it allowed the defendant to make amends and move on.”
Following the dismissal, Cheney, at the request of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, agreed to release the narrative from a months-long police investigation that led to the charges being formally filed against Brusig.
Brusig, 32, was charged in November 2017 with Class 1 misdemeanor theft of between $750 and $2,000, for allegedly misappropriating funds while directing the nonprofit Center for the Arts from 2014 until April 2017.
The organization found itself more than $65,000 in debt to creditors after Brusig’s departure.
That prompted the city of Glenwood Springs, which had funded Brusig’s $50,000-a-year salary and rented space to the Arts Center in the city’s historic hydroelectric building on Sixth Street, to launch an audit into the center’s finances. A subsequent police investigation also ensued.
Brusig was ultimately slapped with the misdemeanor theft charges, to which she initially pleaded not guilty before eventually accepting the restorative justice agreement.
However, no supporting evidence for the charges was made public by police or the DA’s Office at the time they were filed, partly on the argument that officials didn’t want to poison the jury pool should the case go to trial.
The investigation into the art center’s finances began in April 2017, and an audit report was completed in June of that year and handed over to the DA.
The audit questioned up to $20,000 in spending, but also said Center for the Arts board oversight of that spending was weak.
Afterward, Glenwood Springs City Council decided to discontinue its financial support for the organization and to end the Center for the Arts lease.
Over the course of about three months from mid-April 2017 to July of that year, the police investigation involved interviews with arts center staff and board members, as well as banking officials where arts center accounts were held.
It also looked for potential ties to a felony check fraud case involving Brusig in Eagle County, in which she pleaded guilty, after rent checks to her landlord failed to clear.
During the investigation, questions arose over a $10,000 grant from the city to support a public art program. However, there was never any indication that art was ever purchased with the money.
It also questions where a $10,000 sponsorship for the Summer of Music from Alpine Bank may have ended up.
And there’s a question about a $2,100 “health care stipend” to Brusig that shows up in the arts center’s fourth quarter 2016 tax statements. Because she was on the city’s health insurance plan, Brusig would not have been paid a health stipend by the organization, the report notes.
However, the Valley View payment, through a collection agency by the name of Revenue Enterprises, as well as payments to two other businesses Brusig had personal business with, became the main focus of the investigation in the end.
“We did study the case very hard,” Cheney said at the time the charges were filed. “I had several prosecutors look at it, (and) had an investigator (along with a police detective) do a lot of follow-up.
“Our decision after all that follow-up was that we had probable cause to file a misdemeanor,” he said.
Brusig had a deadline of Aug. 31 to complete the requirements of the restorative justice agreement, Edinger said. Having met, and even exceeded the community service hours requirement, she said she was satisfied that the terms had been met.