Timeline of the building department theft in Grand County, Colo.
Created by LeiaLarsen on Apr 7, 2014
Last updated: 06/03/14 at 08:47 AM
Chief Building Official Scott Penson announced his resignation, effective June 10, in a letter to Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran dated Tuesday, May 27.
“Working for Grand County has been a positive experience and one for which I am grateful,” Penson stated in his resignation letter. “I have gained experience here and have enjoyed working with you and my colleagues in Grand County Government."
Former building department employee Brigid Irish is arrested based on charges directly related to the missing funds.
Irish turns herself in at about 4:50 p.m.
The consultants asked for the extension “given the large amount of data received from the County, coupled with the large number of people that have been identified as handling checks or cash.”
After a six-month investigation, the Grand County Sheriff's office turned over their findings to the 14th Judicial Court District Attorney's office. Charges are expected to be filed within a month to several weeks.
As part of its commitment to better internal “checks and balances” in light of the building department scandal still under investigation, Grand County Commissioners authorize a forensic accounting audit.
After researching consultants and drafting a scope of work, commissioners approved a contract with Alvarez & Marsal Global Forensic and Disputes Services, LLC, during its regular board meeting on Tuesday, April 1. The contract caps payment at $90,000.
They’ll be auditing all county departments that collect money. According to County Attorney Jack DiCola, that includes just about every office.
“It’s actually fairly amazing, every county department, apparently, is a source of funds as far as we can tell,” DiCola said during the commissioners’ meeting.
According to the contract, work should be completed by May 2.
Commissioners also informed the Sky-Hi News they were partly motivated by the lagging sheriff's investigation.
At a county commissioner’s meeting on March 25, Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola reported that the county has “crime and employee dishonesty insurance,” and staff is working to file a claim on the building department scandal.
“We believe that it will cover 100 percent (of the theft), but until you submit a claim you don’t know,” said Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran, in an interview.
Costs from a forensic accounting audit, which began on April 1, will also be submitted as part of the claim.
The Sky-Hi reports on the termination of a married couple at the building department, which parallels the criminal investigation. Brigid and Rick Irish are the only two people to be terminated from the building department since the scandal came to light.
Treasurer Christina Whitmer told the Sky-Hi News she’s heard a profusion of citizens’ concern over her role in preventing the building department scandal, which only came to light last October. However, Whitmer clarified that her role in accounting for individual departments is extremely limited.
“The county treasurer is the county’s bank, and as long as funds are deposited at the bank, they’re safe,” she said.
Whitmer said she did notice something fishy at the building department years ago, however, which she reported many times.
“Deposits I received in past years showed signs there was a problem. They were checks with very old dates,” she said.
Some deposited checks were dated as far back as 90 days, Whitmer said, a sign that something was wrong. She began noticing the problem several years ago. Since that time, she said she brought up the concern multiple times with building department head Scott Penson, finance director Scott Berger and county manager Lurline Underbrink Curran.
Finance director Berger confirmed the treasurer had reported lagging deposits before 2013.
“She had complained the building department wasn’t making deposits in a timely manner,” he said. “They weren’t processing things as they got them, that’s for sure.”
The county commissioners held a public hearing and discussion on the building department and confusion surrounding its investigation during their regular meeting on Tuesday, March 3.
Link to minutes: http://www.co.grand.co.us/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Minutes/03042014-1126
Commissioners explained the inquiry into the building department involves two investigations, a management one handled internally and a criminal one handled by the county sheriff.
“Some have said we have not been forthcoming, but we do not want to jeopardize that (criminal) investigation,” said commissioner Gary Bumgarner.
The commissioners also noted the criminal activity came from one person in the department.
“The trail lead to one desk, and we took care of that almost the next day,” Commissioner James Newberry said. “The person who was at that desk was gone the next day.”
The $500,000 “missing” from the county’s building department could have accounted for an average year’s worth of expenditures, and almost an average year’s worth of revenue.
According to building department budget records obtained for the 12-year period, the “illegal activity” went on in the department, an average of $440,360 went to expenditures each year. The county only provided revenue information for the last 10 years, which showed an average of $602,712 went to the building department each year.
The sheriff's investigation is slowed due to a history of poor records and financial management at the building department.
Sheriff Rod Johnson said he hopes to have the investigation completed by the end of March.
“We have one person that we will more-than-likely file criminal charges against,” Johnson said.
Roughly $500,000 is missing at the Grand County Building Department, an amount unaccounted for over the course of 12 years, confirms Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson.
According to personnel records, on Jan. 27, building department director Scott Penson and county officials formally terminated Rick Irish, listing “can no longer be trusted in job” as the reason.
That same day, Rick returned to the building department to collect his personal items. He met with Penson and a human resources representative. According to a Human Resources memo filed after the meeting, “Rick said that he did not do anything wrong but that he feels like he is being persecuted for it anyway. He indicated that he did not know anything about what was going on (with his wife). In addition, he said, he wondered if he was being terminated because he was a spouse.”
Penson went on to say he did not feel he could trust Rick in his position.
Rick Irish had worked at the building department as a combination inspector since June 1999, and would occasionally help in other county departments as well. His wife, Brigid, came to the department as an administrative assistant in September 2001.
County commissioners adopted a resolution on cash and revenue policy with stricter cash receipt controls and accounting. Daily revenue deposits with the treasurer are now required for all county departments located in the county seat. At departments located elsewhere, deposits must be made weekly for all revenue, and daily for revenue $500 or more. The new regulations also strictly forbid county employees from cashing personal checks for cash receipts, directing them instead to cash checks with the treasurer.
Commissioners and county staff issued letters to contractors with checks that had "disappeared" from the building department. The county asked the contractors to re-issue the uncashed payments.
County commissioners hold an executive session with chief building official and department head Scott Penson. Meeting minutes after the session noted Penson was not part of the "illegal activities," but should have been aware of them.
“Mr. Penson did not do anything criminal. There was a person in the department that has done something criminal. The Board would like to see that person punished,” said Commissioner James Newberry, according to meeting minutes.
Penson is allowed to continue working as the building department head, but according to the minutes, he is under probation.
Comments from Commissioner Gary Bumgarner implied cash had been taken out of the department’s till.
Minutes also note the county sheriff wants to re-interview former building department employee Brigid Irish.
Sky-Hi story: http://www.skyhidailynews.com/news/9846332-113/county-department-building-illegal
According to county personnel records obtained by the Sky-Hi News, On Jan. 6, 2014, the county informed Rick his status was changed to “leave without pay.”
The county commissioners hold their first executive session on the building department. They have a closed discussion on the matter for nearly an hour.
Grand County commissioners issue a press release “On Wednesday, October 30, 2013 Grand County personnel discovered that a number of checks written to the
Building Department cannot be located at this time. Upon initial investigation, none of the missing checks have
been cashed, deposited or processed. The County is cooperating and assisting the Grand County Sheriff’s
Department with its internal and criminal investigation.
To protect the integrity of the investigation, no further details are being released at this time. Upon conclusion
of the investigation a full report will be given to the public. Further inquiries should be directed to the Grand
County Sheriff’s Department. The County will be contacting those who wrote checks to the Building
Department within this time-frame.”
The building department administrative assistant, Brigid Irish, is immediately terminated. Her husband Rick Irish, an inspector in the department, was asked to leave with her.
According to county personnel records the Sky-Hi News recently obtained, County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran first called Brigid into her office at around 8:30 a.m., handing her a termination form effective immediately. According to the form, her reasons for termination were “violation of county or department rule or regulation,” “insubordination,” “misrepresentation on an application form or other official records or to the public,” “falsification of work records or time cards,” and “any other acts detrimental to the good of the service by the County.”
The county manager and a human resources specialist followed Brigid to her office in the building department, where she gathered her things and turned in her keys. The county manager then informed Brigid’s husband, Rick, that he was being put on “leave of absence with pay.” According to county records, the county manager told Rick that “Brigid could explain the reasons why she was terminated and that until further investigation … she could not have him in the building department.”
County Sheriff Rod Johnson is informed of missing money in the building department, and investigation begins. The building department office was emptied, computers seized, the sheriff was notified and the District Attorney was notified. The County was directed by the Grand County Sheriff’s Department to refer any questions to the sheriff in order not to jeopardize the investigation.
During their regular public meeting, county commissioners discussed doing building inspections for the county's towns.
"Chairman (James) Newberry suggested that the County send a letter to the towns letting them
know how the County has improved services and ask if they are interested in participating with the County," meeting minutes said. Chief Building Official Scott Penson "will draft a letter for the Board to review and sign."
The Town of Fraser left the county building department in 2007, using the Town of Winter Park's services instead. Granby joined up with the Town of Winter Park's building department in 2010.
During their regular public meeting, county commissioners discussed doing building inspections for the county’s towns. “Chairman (James) Newberry suggested that the County send a letter to the towns letting them know how the County has improved services and ask if they are interested in participating with the County,” meeting minutes said. Chief Building Official Scott Penson “will draft a letter for the Board to review and sign.” The Town of Fraser left the county building department in 2007, using the Town of Winter Park’s services instead. Granby joined up with the Town of Winter Park’s building department in 2010.
During their regular budget hearings, the county commissioners agreed to accept the building department budget as presented.
County commissioners begin planning the 2014 budget, which leads to the discovery of missing funds in the building department.
According to meeting minutes, Commissioner Gary Bumgarner questioned the year-to-date revenue of $14,000 for building permit fees.
Chief building official and department head Scott Penson said revenue shown is low, and he believes that it is around $50,000.
County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran told commissioners that one of the building officials trades off and works in the maintenance department.
County officials later told the Sky-Hi they initially thought the missing funds were a computer glitch.
According to county information, $246,000 went missing in 2013 alone. Of that amount, $153,000 has been recovered from repeated invoicing, although Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson previously told the Sky-Hi that amount can’t be subtracted from the $500,000 identified as missing over the course of 12 years. No suspects have been named and no one has been arrested in connection to the scandal so far.