Economic Crimes Unit

The mission of the 18th Judicial District’s Economic Crime Unit (ECU) is to aggressively prosecute complex financial, white-collar crimes and cases involving exploitation of the elderly to the fullest extent of the law.

STAFFING

One Chief Deputy District Attorney (Director), two Deputy District Attorneys, one senior paralegal, two investigators with financial crimes and elderly-exploitation experience, and a Director of Consumer Fraud Protection. All ECU prosecutors have extensive experience prosecuting financial crimes, with most having Masters degrees in either Business Administration or Management and Organization.

OVERVIEW

ECU investigates and prosecutes complex financial and white-collar crime with large monetary losses, including:

  • Bank, contractor, loan/mortgage, investment, business, securities and other “white-collar” thefts and frauds
  • Violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA)
  • Intricate identity theft, schemes to defraud, and employee embezzlement
  • Cases involving thefts of large sums of money (at least $250,000 – usually much larger amounts)
  • Public corruption
  • Unemployment and welfare fraud
  • Cases involving multiple jurisdictions, multiple victims, or multiple defendants
  • Financial elder fraud
  • Drug trafficking/manufacturing involving identity theft, check fraud and/or forgeries
  • Overall complex crimes

ADDITIONAL ECU PROVIDED SERVICES

  • Facilitation of both the district-wide and Arapahoe County grand juries for our own investigations, as well as assisting other units and attorneys with the use of such grand juries.
  • Fraud prevention and consumer-related outreach through our Director of Consumer Fraud Protection.
  • Consumer Economic Crime Complaint Form via the District Attorney’s internet website.
  • Civil forfeitures for the entire office.

As criminals have become more sophisticated, the types and breadth of economic crimes have exploded. Con-artists who perpetrate identity theft and other financial crimes are becoming more and more sophisticated. Economic and financial crime cases are often complex, involving thousands of documents and requiring an expertise in accounting, internet technology, mortgage fraud, business practices, securities transactions, or other specialty areas.

 

Some recent economic crime investigations have included a six-figure money laundering and theft operation, large fraudulent check cashing rings, identity theft investigations involving multiple victims, misappropriation of monies from employers, and criminal conduct by home improvement contractors.

Crimes are often personal in nature, oftentimes invoking a tremendous break of trust between defendants who most often know their victims. Using fraud prevention programs, collaborative investigations, and aggressive prosecution, ECU holds offenders accountable, while protecting the rights of victims.

Additional focus has recently been placed on some of the most vulnerable victims in the community. As society ages, the problem of crimes against older members has increased.

Criminals often take advantage of older citizens who may not be aware of some of the latest scams. On occasion, these citizens are vulnerable and physically abused by family members or other caregivers. ECU investigates allegations of elder abuse as well as cases involving theft and other frauds committed against older citizens.

The typical ECU prosecution involves theft in excess of $250,000, some in excess of $1,000,000.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

Additionally, ECU oversees a full-time Director of Consumer Fraud Protection. This position oversees a comprehensive program which educates consumers about scams and schemes operating within our jurisdiction and the entire metro area. Additionally, this position assists those who have fallen victim to a fraudulent event. The consumer protection program has four basic elements:

  • Fraud Prevention Seminars
  • Consumer Fraud Alerts
  • Monitoring of the Consumer Protection Line
  • Working with various media outlets to provide consumer protection information on a mass scale

 

On a daily basis, the Director of Consumer Protection conducts prevention seminars; consumer alerts; work with individuals who called in via the consumer protection line; and other varying aspects of the position. Numbers for the year 2013 include:

  • An estimated 700+ calls for assistance (312 in second-half of year alone)
  • 50+ community presentations (31 presentations, with 747 attending second half of year alone)
  • Organized yearly “Fraud Prevention and Safety Summit” (large scale event primarily hosted by the District Attorney’s Office)
  • Numerous fraud alerts and media outreach, including a Channel 7 interview involving bogus charity websites following the shootings at Arapahoe High School

CASE FILING PHILOSOPHY

ECU does the filing of charges and intake for all of their cases. Attorneys work with law enforcement from the ground-floor of the investigation. Unlike other units within the office, ECU is primarily document-driven, resulting in several thousands of pages of discovery for any given case. While it is important to file cases, ECU recognizes the importance of not hastily filing cases, focusing on those cases which we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt from the point of filing. This results in a tremendous amount of work pre-filing. A common saying in ECU is: “the real work is done before the case is ever filed.” Additionally, ECU cases often come by way of grand jury indictment rather than complaint and information filing. The result is a more select acceptance of worked-up case filings, with strong provability and aggressive prosecution for the cases filed.

NOTABLE ECU CASES

  • People v. Zachary Davidson (Arapahoe): The defendant allegedly embezzled over $3 million of public funds (metropolitan district bond money) via the Landmark high- rise development (I-25/Belleview). In December 2012, a year-long Grand Jury investigation resulted in an indictment. This case involved 20 felony counts, including Theft $20,000+ (F3), Embezzlement (F5), Forgery (F5). The case ended in January 2013 when the defendant died.
  • People v. Julie Barnes (Arapahoe): The defendant stole $3.2 million from her employer (WellDyne, Inc.) over a decade-long time period. This case involved Theft (F3) and numerous other felony counts. The defendant pled to the highest count and was sentenced to 15 years in the Department of Corrections and payment of restitution.
  • People v. Kathleen White (Arapahoe) and People v. Osvaldo Ponce (Arapahoe): This was a large scale ECU investigation involving mortgage fraud. Charges were filed against both defendants on 30+ counts involving theft and forgery related to the illegal sale of four houses. This case involved Theft (F3) over $15,000, Forgery (F5).
  • People v. Steven Thompson (Douglas): The defendant used $213,518 in stolen monies related to illegal business/ property deals. This case involved Theft (F3) over $20,000 and Forgery (F5). He was found guilty at trial to all counts, and sentenced to 10 years probation with special economic crime conditions (usually called “ECU Probation”) with 90 days jail. In a second case, the defendant was found guilty by the jury on Theft of more than $20,000 (F3) and two counts of Securities Fraud (F3). He is ordered to pay $3,254,247.22 in restitution. The defendant was sentenced to a total of 30 years prison.
  • People v. Lawrence Livingston (Douglas): This was a securities fraud/theft scheme in which the defendant stole more than $1.3 million from investors. His wife was charged with Theft Receiving (F3) for receiving more than $350K.
  • People v. Elizabeth Schuttemeier (Arapahoe): Theft of close to three-quarters of a million dollars of company funds by bookkeeper-employee.

ECU GRAND JURY INVESTIGATIONS

All defendants are presumed innocent of the charges against them until such time as they may be convicted in court. An indictment is merely an accusation of criminal conduct.

  • People v. Lowell Andrews (Arapahoe): The defendant was indicted on felony counts of Theft (F3) and Securities Fraud (F3) for an alleged fraudulent auto title scam doing business under the name “Auto Hut Motors.” There were 41 alleged victims and more than 20 vehicles alleged to be involved in this case.
  • People v. Bruce Robertson (Arapahoe): The defendant was indicted on five felony counts of Theft (F5)/(F6) for a scheme allegedly involving contract fraud and sales/installment of airport kiosk businesses.

CIVIL FORFEITURES

ECU handles all civil asset forfeiture cases within the 18th JD. While a 2011 change in the state forfeiture law has dampened submission of forfeitures over the past few years, the ECU has worked to develop reasonable goals towards appropriately using Colorado’s civil asset forfeiture laws to prevent criminals from keeping proceeds of crime, while at the same time respecting citizens’ rights to property.

TRAININGS

 

Attorneys and investigators within ECU have attended the following trainings:

  • National White Collar Crime Center training on Financial Investigations Practical Skills (all ECU attorneys have attended this 4 ½ day training)
  • National White Collar Crime Center training on prosecution of Mortgage and Vacant Property Fraud (all ECU attorneys and one investigator have attended this one-day training)
  • CA District Attorneys Association – National Elder Abuse Symposium, Anaheim, CA (one ECU attorney, one ECU investigator, and the Director of Consumer Protection attended this week-long training)

Additionally, the Director of ECU has conducted several trainings related to civil asset forfeitures to local law enforcement. Likewise, the unit has met with nearly all members of law enforcement who investigate financial crime throughout our jurisdiction, as well as the 18th Judicial Probation Department’s Economic Crime Unit.

MEMBERSHIPS & COMMITTEES

  • Forfeiture board member (DA’s Office)
  • DA representative for all other law enforcement forfeiture boards (Englewood, Glendale, Littleton, ACSO, DCSO, etc.)
  • Securities Fraud Working Group member (facilitated by FINRA and SEC)
  • Colorado Organized Retail Crime Alliance
  • International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI)
  • Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
  • Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS)