Undersheriff releases documents related to Routt treasurer’s beef over online payments of building fees
Routt treasurer sought advice from attorney general
Steamboat Springs — Documents released by the Routt County Sheriff’s office Tuesday show that, on Nov. 4, Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn became concerned enough about the Board of County Commissioners’ plans to use PayPal to process credit card payments for building permits online that she contacted Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman for advice. The attorney general referred Horn to her criminal justice deputy, Scott Turner, who, in turn, suggested Horn begin with 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey.
Steamboat Today reported Monday that, after studying information gathered by Horn and the Routt County Sheriff’s office regarding the PayPal account and reviewing state statutes, Barkey wrote: “Finding no violation of a criminal law, much less any evidence of criminal intent, I conclude that there is no legal or factual basis to bring criminal charges in this matter.”
Horn responded to requests for an interview with a written statement: “I am sorry for the delayed response to the Steamboat Pilot. When the Pilot tried to reach me on Monday, I was at my mother-in-law’s funeral and not available.
“The Routt County Treasurer’s office carried out proper checks and balances of county funds. This office has followed banking and financial rules and regulations put in place to reduce the risk of possible fraud. As elected treasurer, I promised to have transparency and integrity with county money, which I am doing. The treasurers’ office highly anticipates the true facts being laid out.”
The documents released by Undersheriff Ray Birch on Tuesday show that, during an interview with Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Berber, Horn produced a record of conversations the treasurer had and events leading up to the creation of the PayPal account in the form of a timeline. Birch added the sheriff’s department did not undertake a criminal investigation into the matter.
The document, which refers to Horn in the third person, includes a Nov. 2 notation stating board of commissioners administrative staffer Helena Taylor informed Horn that funds had been processed through the PayPal account. Based on previous communication, the expectation on the part of Taylor and her boss, County Manager Tom Sullivan, was that Horn would “sweep” the monies into a county-held account at Wells Fargo Bank. Horn responded she would do so.
However, on Nov. 4, the timeline records that Horn learned “it was discovered that the account was opened by (Taylor) with Routt County data and Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger as the owner of the account,” something county officials refuted Tuesday. And Berber’s report reflects that, in a Nov. 13 interview with Horn, “She said that Commissioner Monger has county funds that are presently deposited into a Pay Pal account which is in his name.”
County officials said Tuesday that Monger is listed only as the contact person for the account.
Sullivan clarified Tuesday that Monger’s name is attached to the account, in part because he (Sullivan) was out of town at the time the account was set up. Further, Sullivan said, he also produced a screen grab of the account which he said reads “Welcome Doug Monger,” and then lists the account name as “Routt County” and describes it as a “business” account. County Attorney Erick Knaus also confirmed Monger was named as the contact person, adding that Building Official Ben Grush is listed as the back up contact for an account held in Routt County’s name.
Horn acknowledged to Berber that “there are no county funds missing,” but went on to say she was concerned with “the potential for retaliation from the (Board of County Commissioners) office/staff and or, treasures (sic) office/staff regarding her complaint.”
According to the timeline, Horn was concerned enough with the PayPal information she made a computer screen shot of the account and, at 5:40 p.m. Nov. 4, placed the call to Coffman, which eventually led her to Barkey and the Routt County Sheriff’s office at Turner’s suggestion.
The timeline supplied by Horn noted the PayPal account was opened without the knowledge of the treasurer’s office. Knaus, who had a conversation with Horn about her concerns, called that “disingenuous at best.”
Knaus said Tuesday Horn was aware of the county’s plans to use PayPal in conjunction with online payment of building permit fees because she was included in a long series of meetings beginning early in 2015.
And Taylor’s log reflects that, as early as Feb. 13, 2015, Horn was involved in a series of staff meetings about how the PayPal system would be implemented.
“During this meeting, the process for handling credit cards was discussed,” Taylor wrote.
And on March 18, she wrote: “attended a webinar with (building department official) Ben Grush and Brita Horn on Collectware Treasurer Software. Ms. Horn wanted to show us other options for a merchant account … While the software seemed good enough, I did advise Ms. Horn that we couldn’t use another merchant other than PayPal because that was the only merchant that (ViewPoint) could work with.”
Finally, Knaus said that, during his discussion with Horn, he impressed upon her that her statutory authority is over county-held, deposit-only accounts, such as those the treasurer maintains for the county at Wells Fargo.
PayPal is not a bank deposit account, Knaus said. Instead, it’s a third party that processes credit card information, and in the case of Routt County’s building permit fees, holds funds in the county’s name until they are swept into a county-held, deposit-only bank account.
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