Durango’s former finance director, who is suspected of stealing more than $700,000 from the city of Durango, turned herself into authorities Wednesday, but quickly bonded out of custody.
Julie Brown, 51, was charged with four felonies related to the investigation, including theft of $100,000 or more but less than $1 million; identity theft; embezzlement of public property; and forgery.
A warrant was issued for Brown’s arrest early Wednesday. La Plata County Jail Capt. Ed Aber said Brown turned herself in around 2:30 p.m. She was booked, paid her bond and was released by 3:30 p.m., Aber said.
Brown, who became accountant supervisor in 2003 and then finance director in 2007, is suspected of embezzling upward of $710,000. She was placed on administrative leave Oct. 14 and voluntarily resigned the next day.
According to Interim City Manager Amber Blake, finance staff in October 2019 brought concerns to her about payments made to a company called Animas Professionals, and an investigation was immediately launched.
Blake confronted Brown about the deposits to the company, and she admitted to stealing about $500,000 from the city. According to court records, Brown said: “I f***** up, I got into a hole and was trying to get out.”
“At that point, we moved forward with notifying the police,” Blake said.
According to an arrest affidavit, the Durango Police Department on Oct. 16 contacted the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for assistance.
On Oct. 18, CBI met with Durango police, which provided documentation that showed Brown had written checks to Animas Professionals then deposited the money in her personal account.
From October 2012 to August 2019, for instance, authorities had obtained copies of 55 invoices to Animas Professionals, totaling $492,422.
Court records show Animas Professionals dissolved in 2010, and was owned by Bill Brown, Julie Brown’s father-in-law.
A CBI spokeswoman on Wednesday declined to comment on the case, and said all questions should be directed to 6th Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne, who did not return calls seeking comment.
Records initially showed Brown started to make deposits to Animas Professionals in 2009 and until as recently as 2019. But CBI investigators advised the city to review its accounts prior to 2012, which turned up $210,000 that was stolen, beginning in 2003.
Brown also allegedly used a credit card issued to her by the city of Durango for fraudulent charges, which included the $464 purchase of a round-trip flight to Denver and a $1,384 purchase at Disney Resort.
On Oct. 24, Brown and her Durango-based attorney Richard Jaye met with CBI investigators, and she again admitted to stealing an estimated $500,000. When contacted Wednesday, Jaye said he had no comment on the case.
Brown was set to make $134,576 in salary and benefits in 2019, according to the city budget. The city has not yet filled her position but is actively seeking to do so. Devon Schmidt, the city’s grants contract manager, was named interim finance director.
Blake, who became interim city manager in September 2019, previously said many irregularities in the city’s 2020 budget could be linked to Brown’s actions. The 2020 budget was drafted by Brown and former City Manager Ron LeBlanc.
Blake said extensive measures and controls have been put in place at the city to prevent future theft and embezzlement. But Blake declined to comment about how Brown’s actions persisted for so long, citing an open investigation.
“When the case goes to trial, more detailed information about how all this happened will come to light,” she said.
Blake said the city will try to recover what money it can.
LeBlanc, who served as city manager from October 2007 until the Durango City Council terminated his contract in September 2019, could not be reached for comment. He now serves as a special projects manager for the city of Aspen.
Blake said LeBlanc was interviewed by CBI investigators, but she declined to comment further.
Brown’s bail was set at $25,000.
Several city councilors did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.