Former Eagle County employee admits stealing from taxpayers

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily

Embezzler’s admissions

Brenda Wright pleaded guilty to:

Class 4 felony, theft. Possible sentence: 2-6 years in state prison, fines between $2,000 and $500,000

Class 5 felony, embezzlement of public property. Possible sentence: 1-3 years in prison

She’s scheduled to be sentenced in July by District Court Judge Russell Granger

EAGLE — Brenda Wright’s voice cracked slightly as she admitted embezzling as much as $158,000 from Eagle County taxpayers.

Wright, 55, pleaded guilty to theft and embezzlement of public property, both felonies.

She has already placed $150,000 in the court’s accounts to repay the money, said District Court Judge Russell Granger.

She’ll be sentenced in July.

When she pleaded guilty Monday morning, she gave up the right to a jury trial. Granger asked if she fully understood that.

“Yes, sir,” she replied.

The exact amount remains a point of disagreement. Assistant District Attorney Heidi McCollum said Wright stole $125,204.69 since 2010. With interest, it comes to $158,398.

Wright’s attorney, Terry O’Connor, said that’s over by about $20,000.

Wright was fired from the county on Aug. 6 by Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton. Wright was escorted off the county’s premises.

Wright’s termination followed an investigation that pored over county records going back to 2010. That’s the furthest back those records were accessible, McCollum said.

Wright began working for Eagle County in 2007.

Wright has lived in the area since 1990 and has no criminal history, O’Connor said.

Prosecutors said Wright has been fully cooperative.

Wright remains free on $25,000 bond.

The money was stolen from a tax account generated by rental vehicles.

When you rent a vehicle — a car, truck or construction equipment — vendors send a 2 percent tax to the county’s clerk and recorder’s office. That’s where Wright admitted she was skimming the money.

Wright was adamant that she would be the only one handling the 2 percent rental check, McCollum said. After Wright received the check, she converted them to cash.

The systems Wright was manipulating were not cross referenced at the time. They are now, McCollum said.

Simonton said she spent weeks poring over the financial records.

When Simonton confronted her, Wright did not deny it, McCollum said.

After that, Wright voluntarily contacted the Eagle Police about it, and turned herself in, McCollum said.

The investigation leading to Wright’s arrest included an accounting audit, as well as a search of Wright’s home, her bank records, cell phone, and computer.

Garfield County’s clerk’s office also has been hit by theft. Former staffer Robin McMillan, 51, of Rifle, last month pleaded guilty to theft from $20,000 to $100,000, a class 4 felony, after being charged with stealing more than $400,000 from that office over five years. It was the second theft from the office in recent years: Brenda Caywood of Glenwood Springs was arrested in August 2012 and ultimately pleaded guilty to stealing $15,919.12 in 2010 and 2011.

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