Judge joins parents’ trials in family ranch embezzlement cases
The 9th District Court ruled Tuesday that two members of the family accused of embezzling funds from the Bear Wallow Ranch north of New Castle be tried jointly at a trial scheduled for May.
Judge Denise Lynch ordered the cases against Charla and Charles “Zane” Farris be joined, but the charges against their children, Dustin and Tyler Farris, will be tried as individual cases.
All four members of the family are charged with felony theft of varying degrees. Zane and Charla face similar counts of theft for allegedly embezzling funds potentially in excess of $1 million from the ranch between 2012 and 2016. The pair is also charged with filing false tax returns. The trial for Zane and Charla is scheduled to begin May 20, 2019.
Prosecutors allege the Farrises used funds from Bear Wallow Ranch, owned by Waffle House Inc. chairman Joe Rogers and his wife, Fran, to pay personal expenses with ranch checks that were miscoded or disguised in the accounting records. An investigation by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office also alleged that the family stole equipment and livestock from Bear Wallow Ranch.
“While we disagree that the cases should be tried together, we look forward to a full airing of the facts, which we believe will show that the Farrises did nothing wrong or illegal when they worked for Joe and Fran Rogers,” Rick Kornfeld, an attorney for Charla, said in a statement.
The trials against Charla and Zane were initially scheduled for July of this year, but prosecutors questioned whether they might be able to combine the cases. During a preliminary hearing in May, Judge Lynch noted the complexity of the cases, which involve thousands of pages of documents, and the difficulty associated in scheduling four separate cases for the same matter.
In her Tuesday order, Lynch said the facts of the cases and the law were not too complex to have separate trials.
Tyler Farris’ trial will proceed individually, scheduled for five days beginning Aug. 19, 2019. “His case is trailing his parents’ case, so the trial date is much further out,” Assistant District Attorney Ben Sollars said. In addition to theft charges of less than $20,000, Tyler is accused of cruelty to animals and possession of a dangerous weapon.
All four of the Farrises were aware and took part in the embezzlement scheme, according to the prosecutors. According to the arrest warrant, Tyler used around $15,000 embezzled from Bear Wallow Ranch for his rodeo bucking bull business, Outcast Productions.
Dustin Farris is charged with theft of less than $20,000 for his role in the alleged embezzlement scheme. The investigation showed he was the beneficiary of around $6,900 paid to him, or for goods belonging to him, by Bear Wallow checks. He is scheduled for an arraignment in January.
Defense attorneys for Tyler and Dustin Farris did not return requests for comment.