The Routt County District Attorney’s Office is considering pursuing charges against a Steamboat Springs woman after she reportedly stole, then returned, more than $60,000 from a group of local businesses.
Kati More is accused of taking the money while she was serving as the Loggers Lane Owners Association treasurer but returned the $60,000, plus $10,000 in fines and late fees, leading then-Association President Rob Ryg to decline to press charges in late February.
Since that time, several owners who said they were not represented by Ryg’s decision have come forward to urge the DA’s office to prosecute.
Steamboat Springs Police Department officials said they wanted to prosecute from the beginning, but during a meeting with police, Ryg told More that if she repaid the money, he would not press charges. Ryg, who also is the Routt County coroner, could not be reached for comment Thursday and did not return messages left on his county-issued cell phone.
Detective Jerry Stabile said police do not use possible charges as leverage for repayment, so he removed himself from the discussion.
Because of that conversation, and because the owners association board accepted payment from More while it was convened, and because Ryg signed a “notice of settlement” with More, police recommended not prosecuting at the time. The DA’s office agreed.
Now, police say some owners have stepped forward to say they would like the charges pursued.
“Originally, charges weren’t filed because as president, Rob Ryg said he didn’t want to,” District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said. “Later, there were victims in the (association) who were interested in pressing charges.”
Scott Singer, who owned a carpet store in the development with his wife until they moved to Florida, said he is one of the members pushing for a prosecution.
“We always wanted charges pursued,” he said.
Singer said he had another run-in with More when she tried to buy carpet on his account without paying for it, and that tipped him off that something could be wrong with the group’s accounts. Now, he would like to see her prosecuted for the theft from the association.
“It’s sending a terrible message to the American people that in this country, you can rob people if you’re smart and literate, and if it’s white-collar crime … you’re going to save going to prison for that crime,” he said.
Police Capt. Joel Rae said he agrees with Oldham that More should be charged. He said that because she repaid the money, there’s a chance that the sentence will be lighter if she’s convicted, but that makes it a “win-win situation” because the incident will be on More’s record.
Rae said working with the DA’s office, small theft or embezzlement cases historically were not prosecuted if the money was repaid. But those were small amounts, such as a $50 embezzlement or theft from a business, or a $1,200 fraud by check if the victim did not want to press charges.
In larger cases, such as felony cases, it’s no longer up to the victim, and the crime can be prosecuted no matter what. Rae said this is one of the few cases of this magnitude where victims were paid back in full. More reportedly borrowed money from relatives to pay back the money on the same day Ryg demanded it.
More’s attorney, Larry Combs, said the association members calling for prosecution are in the minority.
“I believe that the overwhelming majority of the people involved were totally satisfied by her response and want this to be over with,” he said.
Waiting for reports
Oldham said she will make the charging decision after she gets all reports from law enforcement agencies. The Police Department has turned over the files to Oldham, but the Routt County Sheriff’s Office now is investigating the case, as well.
Sheriff Gary Wall said that after he learned about the incident from a March 22 story in the Steamboat Today, he decided he wanted to prosecute More. The Sheriff’s Office now is conducting its own investigation.
Wall also has sent e-mails to the district attorney, some victims, the Police Department and the Steamboat Springs City Council saying that he wants More prosecuted and that not prosecuting sends a bad message to the public.
“I cannot let this message continue and will do whatever I can to rectify this injustice,” he wrote.
Wall said in an interview Thursday that his office would not duplicate any of the efforts from the Police Department, but police officials said he has not yet talked to investigators about their efforts.
Police Chief JD Hays said Wall’s interest in the case is a political move in an election year. Wall, a Democrat, will face a Republican challenger in November.
“The motivation behind this as far as I’m concerned is strictly political,” Hays said. “He’s trying to make a little noise because the election is this year and he chooses to do that at our expense.”
Combs said he, too, thought the separate investigation was politically motivated, and he could not understand why there would be a separate investigation.
Wall responded that anything he does can be considered a political move, but because the case is in Routt County, he will continue to follow it.
“If people say that they’re assuming I should not investigation this case, it would be a dereliction of my duty as sheriff to know about a serious crime and not investigate it,” he said.
Oldham said it’s an unusual case to have two agencies investigating, but she will wait until all reports are filed before she decides how to proceed. Oldham said she’s considering theft and forgery charges after More reportedly forged signatures to cash association checks.
Wall said Sheriff’s Office Investigator Mike Curzon is leading the investigation, with other members of the office, and there is no immediate timeframe for when the investigation will be complete.