Ranch embezzlement trial skirts scandal involving Waffle House owner
Waffle House chairman Joe Rogers testified against his former ranch managers Zane and Charla Farris this week, explaining how he discovered an alleged scheme that allowed them to purchase more than $1 million worth of property using ill-gotten funds.
But on Friday, Defense attorney Andrew Ho, representing Charla Farris, asked Rogers a number of questions regarding motivation and tactics related to selling the ranch – and why he secretly recorded the Farrises.
Ho asked about an unrelated episode where Rogers was a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit and district attorneys brought charges against the same defendant in the matter.
The case began in mid-2012, Rogers said under cross-examination, around the time he put the Bear Wallow Ranch up for sale. Ho asked if an unnamed person wrote to Rogers around July 2012 “demanding $13 million to resolve an issue.”
Rogers agreed that case began in 2012, but did not testify to a dollar amount.
“You’ve had some experience with people secretly recording you?” Ho asked. Rogers agreed that he had.
Ho noted several times that he was “not looking to get into the details.”
While not specifically named as the case in question, in 2012 attorneys for Rogers’ former housekeeper Mye Brindle wrote to Rogers encouraging him to pay $12 million to avoid media exposure and potential criminal charges related to sexual harassment allegations, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Brindle had secretly recorded a sexual encounter with her then-boss.
Rogers filed a civil suit against Brindle and her attorneys, and the three were also indicted by prosecutors in Georgia. The three were found not guilty of unlawful surveillance in an April 2018 trial, and the civil case was settled in August 2019.
Ho asked Rogers during the Farris trial whether he had experience getting prosecutors to bring charges against people he sued civilly.
District attorney Ben Sollars objected to that line of questioning, and Judge Denise Lynch told Ho to move on.
“The tactics of what happened in that lawsuit is not relevant,” Lynch said.
Roger’s testimony took nearly five days of the trial, with much of that time spent listening to nearly 6 hours of recordings Rogers made of conversations between him and the Farrises.
Rogers confronted the Farrises in July 2016 about suspicious transactions, and recorded those discussions.
Rogers legally made the recording without the Farris’ knowledge under Colorado’s one-party consent law.
“I object to the tape. It is not authentic, it is cherry-picked and it is incomplete,” Kathy Goudy, Zane Farris’ attorney, said.
At the beginning of the first tape, Rogers told the Farrises they had two options. If they could work out how much money the Farris’ inappropriately received, he would seek repayment. But Rogers said if that failed, he would file a civil lawsuit and take the information to investigators, who might bring criminal charges.
Rogers testified that criminal proceedings may not recoup all the money the Farrises allegedly stole from him, but a civil case, where the burden of proof is less, might yield the total he lost.
“I didn’t get what I paid for. In fact, I got just the opposite. I got taken advantage of,” Rogers told the Farrises in the first recording.
In subsequent recordings, Rogers confronted the Farrises with a host of issues that his wife and bookkeeper, Fran Rogers, considered suspicious or fraudulent.
The Farrises admitted on tape that they used some ranch funds for personal goods.
When Rogers questioned how the Farrises bought property in 2012 and 2013, totaling by his count around $1.3 million, the pair maintained they paid for the property with their savings and a large gift from an uncle.
“You came up with a lot of cash,” Rogers remarked.
Some of the fraud, Rogers said, was related to his paying expenses while the Farrises sold the goods.
On hay, for example, Rogers testified that Bear Wallow paid for fertilizer, but Zane sold the hay.
“I got the expense, they got the profit,” Rogers said.
During Ho’s cross-examination, he questioned Rogers about using the Farrises as “scapegoats” to avoid IRS scrutiny for avoiding taxes.
Bear Wallow was set up as an s corp, also known as a pass-through business, meaning the ranch’s profit and losses were reflected on Roger’s tax returns.
One year, Bear Wallow ranch bought Zane a truck as a bonus.
“The agreement was that if he left the ranch, it would be his truck,” Rogers said.
Rogers denied that the truck bonus was done to avoid paying payroll taxes.
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