By John Colson
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
In the latest move by Democrat John Acha to topple 20-year Republican incumbent Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, the county Democrats have formally called for an investigation into Martin’s spending of taxpayer money over the course of the last several years.
Democrats have accused Martin of embezzlement concerning his expenses over three years of attendance at conferences of the National Association of Counties (NACo), which has its headquarters just outside Washington, D.C. The allegations are based largely on a 2015 audit, conducted at a cost of $7,500, that uncovered improper accounting of Martin’s expenses and the appearance that Martin was “double dipping” in that he accepted per-diem cash payments to cover his expenses while he was paying for those expenses with a county credit card (see related story, page 5).
In a letter delivered to the offices of Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia on Oct. 19, the Executive Committee of the Garfield County Democratic Party stated “herewith calls upon you to forthwith seek the appointment of a Special Prosecutor for the further investigation, indictment and prosecution of John Martin for Class 5 Felony Embezzlement by a public official.”
Caloia has said that her office cannot undertake the investigation due to a conflict of interest, as the Garfield County commissioners are one of three county boards that together fund the $3 million budget of the Ninth District. The Ninth District composes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Pitkin counties.
Instead, Caloia told The Sopris Sun on Wednesday, she will call upon the Fifth Judicial District Attorney, Bruce Brown, to take on the matter.
The Fifth District composes Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek counties.
The letter to Caloia came from Bob Shivley, co-chair of the Garfield County Democratic Party, who included copies of an auditor’s report from a previous investigation of Martin’s expense records, and an 11-page opinion by Glenwood Springs attorney Ryan Gilman (who is working on Acha’s campaign) that the information contained in the audit and other documents is sufficient to sustain an indictment of Martin.
Martin, who has denied any wrongdoing in several published news stories, has not respond to repeated requests from The Sopris Sun for an interview about the matters raised by Acha and the Democrats.
Acha and his supporters have suggested that, given the apparent veracity of Martin’s mishandling in recent years of his expense vouchers and other financial reporting requirements covered by Garfield County’s policies, it is easy to imagine there are other examples of embezzlement or other fraudulent acts committed by Martin in his long tenure as a county commissioner (he was first elected in 1996).
“It is unknown to us why no broader investigation was undertaken,” Shivley’s letter states, referring to the fact that the audit was limited to reports detailing Martin’s expenses while attending NACo conferences over three years, from 2013 to 2015.
Shivley maintains that the accusations against Martin should be viewed against another embezzlement case involving a Garfield County official, former county bookkeeper Robin McMillan, that started out based on suspicions that she had stolen about $50,000, a figure that ultimately turned into more than $440,000, according to reports about the case.
In addition, Shivley expressed concerns that then county manager Andrew Gorgey, who ordered the audit in May of 2015, left his job immediately after the audit report was received by the county, and why the other two members of the Board of County Commissioners — Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson — together paid $800 (a check each amounting to $400) of the total $1,800 that Martin was ordered to repay following the audit.
Shivley also wrote in the letter that he believes Martin should have paid the $7,500 cost of the audit.
Shivley likened Martin’s case to that of another county official in Colorado, former Grand County Commissioner James Newberry, who pleaded guilty last January over allegations that between 2009 and 2013 he double-charged the county for mileage reimbursements and charged the county for trips he never took.
“Corruption in Garfield County should not fare any better than it does in Grand County,” Shivley declared in his letter to Caloia.
Caloia was in Meeker on Wednesday and not in the office to receive the letter from Shivley, and Shivley said he would wait and see how she responds before taking any further steps.
Published in The Sopris Sun on October 20, 2016.