Two Mind Springs workers arrested in Mesa County on extortion charges

Charles Ashby
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

A senior director at Mind Springs Health and a former worker at its Circle Program were arrested and jailed late Thursday on criminal charges, local and state documents show.

Megan Navarro, senior clinical director, and Gary Swenson, a former peer counselor at Mind Springs’ residential treatment program in Grand Junction, were arrested and placed in the Mesa County Jail — each charged with criminal extortion and attempting to influence a public servant.

Both are listed as class 4 felonies, punishable by up to 6 years in prison on each charge.

According to their arrest affidavit, the charges have nothing to do with their positions at the Clifton Circle Program, which is a residential treatment program for men ages 18 and over who have substance abuse and mental health disorders.

The affidavit says it stems from separate criminal arrests of Swenson last October for third-degree assault, harassment, second-degree criminal tampering and domestic violence.

The new charges relate to Navarro, who appears to have a romantic relationship with Swenson, purposely working with him to deceive a worker with the Mesa County Pre-Trial Services, specifically lying about how long Swenson worked at the Circle Program, the affidavit says.

The deception involved how long Swenson had worked at the Circle Program in order for him to get a lower bond and not be kept in the jail, according to the affidavit.

“Navarro directing Swenson to deceive Pre-Trial Services Officer (Barry Gordon) and then Swenson telling public servants — pre-trial service officers — that he has been employed locally for 1½ years is vastly different from reality where Swenson had only been working at Mind Springs for three months or so,” James Cannon, an investigator in the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, wrote in the affidavit.

“Swenson’s and Navarro’s conversations regarding trying to effect the actions and decisions of those involved in his bail bond was clearly to deceive people for Swenson’s benefit of a lower, less restrictive bond,” Cannon added.

Numerous telephone calls had been recorded between the two because Swenson had used the jail’s “Inmate Calling Solutions” phone system, which is monitored and recorded by jail personnel, who reported the conversations.

Both Swenson and Navarro have extensive arrest records.

Swenson, 46, has been arrested and convicted numerous times for decades on such charges as vehicle theft, fraud, criminal impersonation, drug possession, burglary, weapon offenses, receipt of stolen property, hit and run, reckless and careless driving, vehicular eluding, reckless endangerment and assault, according to a 17-page criminal history report obtained through the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.

Navarro, 39, has had numerous arrests on drug-related offenses and failure-to-appear charges, a seven-page CBI report shows.

Ironically, Swenson was featured in a Colorado Sun story last October, the same month he was arrested by Grand Junction police. In that story, he talked about the difficulties in helping people in the Circle program in their efforts to rebuild their lives.

“Your employer has to be real understanding, which they’re usually not,” he said in the story, adding that he had learned from his mistakes.

He had been dismissed from that job in November, according to the affidavit.

John Sheehan, president and chief executive officer at Mind Springs Health, said it’s common practice for mental- and behavioral-health employers to hire people like Swenson and Navarro because they know what their clients are going through.

That employment, however, is contingent on those workers staying out of trouble with the law themselves.

“Our business believes in redemption, so people that have gone through tough times or have turned their lives around often seek positions in our industry,” Sheehan said.

“Megan is an example of that. She’s gone through very difficult times and has gotten herself to a level where she is in an executive position at Mind Springs; but this kind of behavior, if it’s true, is not something we can tolerate in an executive,” he added. “They have to keep themselves clean, and they have to keep themselves out of contact with law enforcement, particularly in Megan’s situation where she’s worked her way up. Unfortunately, this may be a situation where she’s going to face the consequences for that.”

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