Accusations kept secret in Brusig theft case
Though the former Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts director is being accused of misdemeanor theft tied to a police investigation of the organization, neither the police chief nor the district attorney are providing details about the accusations.
When someone is arrested on felony or misdemeanor charges, an affidavit often is filed to obtain the arrest warrant. That public document details law enforcement’s findings that support the charges, and gives the public insight into its law enforcement agencies’ workings.
But no such information is yet available in 31-year-old Christina Brusig’s Class 1 misdemeanor theft case. Class 1 misdemeanor theft in Colorado is theft of $750-$2,000.
On Nov. 3, Glenwood Springs police issued her a summons to appear in Garfield County Court on that charge. But because on warrant is needed for a summons, no affidavit was needed.
District Attorney Jeff Cheney would add little more about the facts of the case. The investigation into the art center’s finances began in April, and an audit report was completed in June and handed over to the DA.
“We did study the case very hard,” he said. “I had several prosecutors look at it, (and) had an investigator (along with a police detective) do a lot of follow up. And our decision after all that follow-up was that we had probable cause to file a misdemeanor.”
Part of the crime of theft is that it is done without authority, said the DA. So prosecutors must answer to what extent Brusig may have used art center money without authority. To what extent was she given permission, either implied or implicit? Cheney asked rhetorically. “That was a big deal in this case” and “made the case complicated in some respects.”
The audit questioned up to $20,000 in spending, but also said board oversight was weak.
“It seems unlikely the center had sufficient internal controls to limit any potential misappropriation of funds prior to deposit,” the report said, and “any cash payments for center services can be considered to have an inherently high risk of misappropriation.”
Police Chief Terry Wilson said that, at Cheney’s request, he was leaning toward not releasing any further information in the case, agreeing with prosecutors’ concerns about poisoning the jury pool and giving the defense the opportunity to claim prejudicial pretrial publicity.
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, disagreed with the choice.
“In exercising its discretion under Colorado’s criminal justice records law to withhold detailed records, the police department should acknowledge the public interest in this case and disclose as much information as possible, using redaction if necessary,” Roberts wrote in an email. “Because Glenwood Springs helped to fund the arts center, the city’s taxpayers have an obvious interest in knowing what the center’s former executive director is accused of doing.”
Brusig, whose salary and benefits were paid by Glenwood city government, resigned in April after the arts board raised questions about her management and the center’s books.
After Brusig resigned, the board disclosed that it had $68,000 in debt and only $5,000 in assets.
One former art center board member said that “it’s kind of unsettling that the community is not being allowed to know” about the details of the accusations against Brusig.
“As a journalist, it’s always frustrating when this kind of information is not accessible; I believe it should be,” said Jessica Cabe, a former Post Independent features editor who, by then an employee of the Aspen Music Festival, was an art center board member when Brusig resigned and when the board was trying to grapple with the financial fallout.
“The public has the right to know what’s going on with this nonprofit,” said Cabe, who now works for an online news service in Chicago. “The director’s salary was paid for by the city money, and nonprofits get tax breaks. There are a lot of issues pertaining to why nonprofits should be transparent.”
“I feel heartbroken for all the people, mostly young people, who saw the art center as a home away from home,” Cabe added. “It’s such a shame that decades of work, it feels like, are just being erased – though I know the community will rally and the (arts center) will eventually be great again.”
The nonprofit, which offered classes to hundreds of residents, mostly children, each year, was cut off from city funding and kicked out of the city building it occupied. It’s seeking to pay its debts and reinvent itself as a supporter of a new Glenwood public arts board.
In an unrelated matter, Brusig also pleaded guilty of felony check fraud in Eagle County in April, and she received a deferred judgment in that case.
Bruce Brown, 5th Judicial District Attorney, said that even if Brusig were convicted on the new Garfield County case, her deferred sentence in Eagle County would not be violated, unless she were convicted for conduct that occurred after the deferred judgment was agreed upon.
Brusig’s defense attorney, Sherry Caloia, did not return the Post Independent’s messages for this story.
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