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Durango former finance director sentenced to prison for embezzlement

Julie Brown must pay $700,000 in restitution
Durango’s former finance director Julie Brown was sentenced Friday to five years in jail and must pay restitution to the city of Durango. She stole more than $700,000 from the city over 11 years as an employee.

The city of Durango’s former finance director, Julie Brown, was sentenced Friday to five years behind bars for embezzling more than $712,000 from town coffers over 11 years.

In November, Brown, 51, pleaded guilty to two felony charges: embezzlement of public property and theft of $100,000 or more but less than $1 million. Brown worked in city finance for more than 17 years before resigning in October 2019 amid allegations of fraud.

Brown’s jail time is on hold until May when the court will reconsider her sentencing. If she makes good-faith restitution payments during the interim, the five-year sentencing could be reduced to probation, said 6th Judicial District Judge William Herringer.

“I’m not going to promise you what I’m going to do, but I think that would show a very good-faith effort to make the city whole,” Herringer told Brown during her sentencing hearing.

Herringer had wide discretion in determining Brown’s punishment, including probation or up to 12 years in prison.

She was sentenced to five years in prison on the theft charge, a Class 3 felony, and three years for the embezzlement charge, a Class 5 felony, which will run concurrently to the Class 3 charge.

In addition, the court sentenced her to spend three years on mandatory parole and to pay full restitution to the city in the amount of about $712,298. The city has 91 days to file any additional requests for restitution.

If Brown pays the city of Durango about $250,000 in the interim, the amount she said she could pay by next week, then the defense could ask the court to reconsider her jail sentence.

“The sentence was a good balance of making the city (financially) whole and punishing Ms. Brown for her conduct,” said prosecuting attorney David Ottman.

Richard Jaye, Brown’s defense attorney, declined to comment about the sentencing.

Durango City Council, some city staff members and members of the public were present at the hearing, through video or phone conferencing.

“It was personally very difficult to make a demand of such importance to a person’s life, especially somebody who I’ve worked with over a period of years,” said Mayor Dean Brookie. “In the end, I think the judge heard our request on behalf of the people and arrived at a very reasonable sentence which focuses on financial reimbursement.”

Said City Councilor Kim Baxter: “I’m encouraged because I really believe that getting restitution is incredibly important and should be a priority. That’s what we’re looking for, but the judge left the door open for her to have some jail time to make her accountable for her actions.”

In a letter to the court, Durango City Council emphasized the harms caused by Brown’s actions: the stolen money, erosion of public and staff trust, lost financial opportunities and additional expenses to examine and shore up city finances.

“We are not asking for any leniency but rather that full restitution be provided to the city of Durango and that she serves time for her felonious crimes,” the letter said.

Amber Blake, who served as interim city manager in October 2019 when the allegations of fraud came to light, supported the council’s statement during the meeting.

“Do everything that you can do to make the city whole and allow the community to feel that justice has been served in this case,” Blake said, speaking for city residents and staff members.

Brown’s daughters spoke in her mother’s defense during the hearing.

“She has our utmost support and love,” said one daughter, who could not be identified through the hearing’s virtual format. “She’s the hardest-working person I’ve ever met, and I know she will do whatever she needs to to make this right.”

Brown said she took responsibility for her actions and apologized to her former colleagues, the residents of Durango, and her family and friends.

Brown

“While I wish I could go back and make different decisions, I can only take responsibility and move forward,” Brown said. “I will use this as a catalyst to give back for the rest of my life. The guilt, remorse and shame that I have been living with for years has been harder than any sentence could be.”

According to an arrest affidavit, Brown approved checks from the city of Durango to Animas Professionals in her role as finance director. From there, she deposited the checks into her personal bank account.

Court records show Animas Professionals dissolved in 2010, and was owned by Bill Brown, Julie Brown’s father-in-law.

Since October 2019, the city has revamped its internal processes to double-check financial records, launched an external audit specifically designed to catch fraud and updated its policies to match best practices.

City Manager José Madrigal announced this week that the city will launch a new online platform for the public to review city finances in 2021.

smullane@durangoherald.com



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