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.
The ECU team consists of a Senior Deputy District Attorney (Director), a Deputy District Attorney, a legal assistant, a paralegal, an investigator, and the Director of Consumer Fraud Protection. ECU is sometimes supported by volunteer and paid interns. The ECU Director holds both undergraduate and graduate business degrees and both prosecutors have extensive experience with data analysis. The Director and ECU Investigator are both Certified and ECU Investigator are both Certified Fraud Examiners.
ECU investigates and prosecutes complex financial and white-collar crimes that usually result in large monetary losses to victims, including:
• Violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA)
• Intricate identity theft and related schemes to defraud, involving money laundering, counterfeit checks and credit cards
• Motor vehicle fraud, including theft of funds related to consignment sales and loans secured by titles
• Real estate frauds involving loan & mortgage applications and the filing of fraudulent deeds and other documents
• Securities fraud involving real estate, business loans and other investments
• Fraud in obtaining public benefits including food assistance, Medicaid, LEAF, TANF, subsidized housing, and child care benefits
• Public corruption, including embezzlement of public property and official misconduct
• Contractor fraud related to theft by general contractors, sub-contractors and residential roofing repair contractors
• Cases involving multiple jurisdictions, multiple victims, or multiple defendants
• Organized retail crime cases involving shoplifting rings, fencing operations and business burglaries
• Theft from At-Risk Adults including theft from elders, disabled persons and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities
• Elder exploitation through the use of undue influence, threats, deception or harassment
• Money laundering related to drug trafficking & manufacturing, identity theft, check fraud and/or forgery, and the proceeds of other types of crimes
• Cases involving thousands of pages of evidence and which require the use of spreadsheets to understand and analyze the evidence
Additionally, ECU provides the following services:
• Presentation of cases to the 18th Judicial District and Arapahoe County grand juries for our own investigations, as well as assisting other units and attorneys with their grand jury cases
• Fraud prevention and consumer-related outreach by our Director of Consumer Fraud Protection, Jamie Sorrells
• Review and evaluation of citizen complaints through the use of the Economic Crime Complaint Form
• Assistance with, and the prosecution of, civil forfeiture actions
• Assistance to law enforcement agencies, including reviewing and evaluating cases, developing investigation plans, assisting officers to obtain search warrants and orders for production of records, and training new financial crime investigators
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 increasingly using the internet and other electronic methods to perpetrate their crimes. Economic and financial crime cases are often complex, involving thousands of documents in digital, image and paper formats. In order to be effective, investigators and prosecutors need to have some experience with accounting procedures, internet technology, real estate transactions, trust & estate documents, the various forms of businesses and their practices, securities transactions, and other specialty areas.
Some recent economic crime investigations have included a seven-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. Financial crimes are not just about the money lost. Many victims experience a profound betrayal of the trust they placed in friends, co-workers, and family. Many fraudsters steal so much money that they will never be able to repay the victims, and these victims are left to cope with broken dreams and financial hardship. Using fraud prevention programs, collaborative investigations, and aggressive prosecution, ECU holds offenders accountable, while protecting the rights of victims.
With the changes to the mandatory reporting laws, ECU has been filing an increasing number of cases against individuals who prey on some of the most vulnerable victims in our community. As society ages, the problem of crimes against older members has increased.
Criminals often take advantage of elders and disabled citizens who may not be aware of some of the latest scams. On occasion, these citizens are also physically abused by family members or other caregivers. ECU will team up with the Elder Abuse Unit to investigate and prosecute these offenders.
ECU team member James (Jamie) Sorrells is the Director of Consumer Fraud Protection (CFP) and he oversees a comprehensive program that educates consumers regarding financial scams and schemes operating within our jurisdiction and the entire metro area. Additionally, the CFP Director assists those who have fallen victim to a fraudulent event. The consumer protection program has four basic elements:
• Fraud & Elder Exploitation Prevention Seminars
• Consumer Fraud Alerts (emailed to more than 1,000 individuals, faith communities, law enforcement agencies and other interested businesses and organizations)
• Providing assistance through the Consumer Fraud Protection Hotline
• Collaborating with a variety of media outlets and agencies to share consumer fraud protection information on a state-wide basis
The Director of Consumer Fraud Protection regularly conducts prevention seminars for civic and religious organizations. He drafts consumer alerts to draw attention to the latest scams being perpetrated against our citizens, including roofing repair and telemarketing frauds. Citizens who contact him through the Consumer Fraud Protection Hotline will receive assistance to help resolve both civil and criminal complaints.
The CFP Director is also responsible for organizing and conducting the District Attorney’s Senior Law Day, assisting with the Citizens’ Academy, and coordinating with other major events such as the Fraud Prevention and Safety Summit.
In 2018, ECU’s Director of Consumer Fraud Protection:
• Responded to an estimated 600 calls for assistance
• Conducted more than fifty presentations to community group
• Represented the District Attorney’s Office at more than seven community fairs
• Organized and implemented the second 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Fraud Prevention and Safety Senior Law and Safety Summit at the Charles Schwab Conference Center, attracting over 300 participants, including vendors, speakers, ask-an-attorney volunteers and a host of agency sponsors.
ECU conducts the intake and filing of charges for all of their cases. Prosecutors work with law enforcement from the ground-floor of the investigation. Unlike other units within the office, ECU is primarily document driven, often resulting in several thousands of pages of discovery for any given case. By being fully informed about investigations early in the process and by reviewing the evidence as it is developed by the investigators, ECU is able to file cases that are almost “trial ready.” While this takes a tremendous amount of time and work pre-filing, the cases that ECU files are much stronger as a result. This approach also holds true for grand jury investigations, where the ECU Criminal Investigator works with the prosecutors to ensure the investigations are complete, and all evidence is reviewed and organized prior to seeking an indictment. As a result, ECU can aggressively prosecute complex cases against financial fraud offenders and obtain justice for the victims.
After a conviction enters, the work of ECU continues. ECU works with a specialty unit of Probation Officers, their Economic Crime Probation Unit, who are tasked with supervising financial fraudsters and working with the Collections Investigators to reduce recidivism and maximize the recovery of restitution for victims. If the offender is not financially transparent and paying the maximum amount of restitution possible, is not compliant with other terms of probation, or commits a new offense, the Probation Department will file a revocation complaint and ECU will seek to hold the offender accountable.
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. Bruce Robertson (Douglas): The defendant was indicted on six felony counts of Theft (F3)/(F4) for a scheme where he requested payment in advance to construct and install restaurant equipment and food carts in several sports and airport venues and then used that money for personal expenses. Robertson pled guilty to one count of Theft ($20,000 or more) (F-4) naming all of the victims and agreed to pay more than $275,000 in restitution. He was placed on ten years Economic Crime Probation and served a 90-day jail sentence.
People v. McCluskey, et al. (Arapahoe). McCluskey and fifteen co-defendants were indicted on charges that included Violation of the Colorado Crime Control Act (F-2), Theft (F-4), ID Theft (F-4) and Forgery (F-5) involving a mail theft ring that stole mail, created counterfeit checks based on checks being mailed out to pay bills, and then cashed the checks. McCluskey, the ringleader, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, while his co-defendants receives lesser prison sentences or probation.
People v. Spontaneo and People v. Vazquez. Defendants were co-owners of Hybrid Remodeling Concepts, a residential roof repair company. Defendants were indicted for Violation of the Colorado Crime Control Act F2 and Felony Theft for taking more than $150,000 from twenty homeowners and not performing roof and home repairs as promised.
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.
Members of the ECU team have attended a number of specialized trainings, including some of the following:
• National White Collar Crime Center trainings on Financial Investigations Practical Skills; Advanced Financial Investigations Practical Skills; Darkweb Computer Crimes; and Prosecution of Mortgage and Vacant Property Fraud
• CA District Attorneys Association – National Elder Abuse Symposium, Anaheim, CA
• Annual Conferences conducted by the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and the Colorado Organized Retail Crime Alliance
Additionally, ECU has conducted training sessions for law enforcement at the New Detectives Academy and for financial crimes detectives. Each year, ECU teaches a session at both the Arapahoe County and Douglas County Citizens’ Academy.
• International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators (IAFCI)
• Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE)
• Securities Fraud Working Group member (facilitated by FINRA and SEC)
• Elder Abuse Working Group
• Colorado Organized Retail Crime Alliance (COORCA)