Judge moves 1st New Castle ranch embezzlement case to trial | PostIndependent.com

Judge moves 1st New Castle ranch embezzlement case to trial

Charla Farris has separate preliminary hearing today

Charles Zane Farris

A 9th Judicial District judge on Monday found there was sufficient evidence to bring to trial a man who allegedly stole more than $1 million from the company he and his family managed for more than 30 years.

The owners of the ranch say Charles Zane Farris and his wife, Charla Farris, who has a separate preliminary hearing Tuesday, miscoded and misspent company checks for their own personal gain and stole equipment, tools and other items from the property east of Glenwood Springs.

Joe Rogers, chairman of Waffle House Inc., and his wife Fran Rogers are owners of Bear Wallow Ranch. They also say the Farrises paid themselves additional salaries, purchased an additional home with unauthorized money, and left the ranch that they were supposed to be supervising without a manager on site.

The Rogers’ hired Zane Farris part time in 1989 to help out at the ranch northeast of New Castle, and quickly promoted him to ranch manager.

According to documents in the case, his wife Charla Farris was hired similarly in the early 1990s, first as part-time staff before being promoted to full-time bookkeeper shortly thereafter.

As Waffle House grew in popularity, the ranch became too small for the company's corporate and retreat functions, so the Rogers’ at one time decided to list the ranch for sale.

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Lands West Ventures Inc., which conducts business at the ranch, decided to reimburse Waffle House for the Farrises' salaries if they agreed to remain on site and manage day-to-day operations full-time.

Lands West paid the Farrises a salary, allowed them to live rent and utility free, and gave them the option to participate in Waffle House stock in exchange for taking sole responsibility for the acreage.

According to prosecutors, on Sept. 22, 2016, almost three decades after the Farrises had begun working on the property, an attorney contacted the Garfield County Sheriff's Office to report that there was reason to believe they had stolen ample money.

Fran and Joe Rogers told Garfield County Sheriff’s investigator Megan Alstatt that they first became suspicious of the Farrises after Charla asked for more money, although Joe Rogers had recently deposited $50,000 into the Bear Wallow account.

The Rogerses said in the documents that this sparked an investigation, in which they asked Charla Farris to provide copies of checks and other company expense reports.

Alstatt said at the Monday preliminary hearing for Zane Farris that the Rogerses asked the Farrises about the misspent funds on tape, and they admitted they had used "bad judgment." They said they would turn over missing expense reports. The Rogerses say they still have not received those reports, which they asked for back in October 2016.

Alstatt told Assistant District Attorney Ben Sollars at the Monday hearing that the owners noticed the stolen money had occurred in connection with the Farrises own independent ranching operation.

She said they likely used some of Bear Wallow's revenue to purchase their own home, even though the ranch owners had already provided them with housing and a salary.

She said when she visited the ranch, tools from the property were missing and some were found in the Farrises' home. She said items like elk meat, soda, coffee, tools and other expense reports went missing from the lodge at the facility when the Farrises were dismissed, and that the home the Farrises were assigned to living in on the ranch was "unlivable."

In court, Alstatt said she found through investigation that Charla Farris would often mis-code expenses by listing a payment to one company that would often go somewhere else, allegedly for personal gain.

"Most if not all these purchases appeared personal," her court documents say, adding that while the fraud may have dated back to 2007, she narrowed the investigation down to just five years "due to the sheer volume of information."

Zane Farris' lawyer, Kathy Goudy, reiterated in court that Alstatt's findings were not credible because she relied only on ranch owners for her investigation and didn't bother to interview the witnesses who allegedly received the fraudulent money.

Judge Denise Lynch, however, found there was enough evidence to move Farris' case to trial. He is scheduled to reappear in front of her on May 31 at 10 a.m.

Charla Farris is scheduled for a separate preliminary hearing on Tuesday morning.