DA caught up in ex-worker’s embezzlement
Ninth Judicial District Attorney Sherry Caloia is doing battle with the town of Marble in connection with alleged embezzlement by a former employee for both her and the town.
In addition, the case has spilled over into a theft case Caloia is prosecuting, after a public defense attorney contended a special prosecutor should be appointed because the Marble situation makes it impossible for Caloia to handle that case fairly.
Marble is a town of about 100 people in Gunnison County, far up the Crystal River south of Carbondale and Redstone.
The suit filed by the town in July relates to the alleged actions of Karen Mulhall, the former town clerk and manager. Mulhall also worked as a legal assistant and bookkeeper for Caloia’s law firm before Caloia was elected district attorney in 2012, during years when Caloia also provided legal services to the town. The suit says Mulhall embezzled at least $329,889 from the town. Mulhall died in October 2012.
The town seeks damages from Caloia, saying she failed to exercise proper supervision and accounting controls to prevent risk to the town, and should have investigated and/or discovered the embezzlement.
In court filings responding to the suit, Caloia denied having an obligation to control Mulhall’s actions in connection with Mulhall’s employment with the town. She also suggested that if any such obligation existed, it also might have extended to town officials and other attorneys who served the town.
The suit says Mulhall wrote checks payable to Caloia in amounts exceeding what was owed to Caloia. But it doesn’t accuse Caloia herself of theft, and in fact says it’s believed Caloia also was a victim of embezzlement — something Caloia acknowledges in her suit.
Deputy public defender Tina Fang raised the Marble situation in a motion filed in the case of Idalia Munoz, who is alleged by prosecutors to have “unlawfully and through deception” received more than $50,000 in Garfield County and state medical, food and burial benefits over several years.
Fang’s motion said that as an elected official suffering from embarrassment and exposure due to the suit, Caloia must appear to be tough on theft cases in order “to assure the voting public that she is not herself a thief, (and) does not condone theft.” It says a jury trial in the Marble case would require Caloia to confront “public perception that she is lenient on those accused of theft and embezzlement.”
In a response to Fang’s motion, Caloia said the facts don’t support appointing a special prosecutor. She said Fang is simply trying to involve the court in plea negotiations.
“The district attorney has a duty to enforce the criminal law. To say that the civil lawsuit compels the District Attorney to take her job seriously and enforce the laws as adopted by the legislature does not form the basis for a valid request for disqualification,” Caloia wrote in her response.