Cronk restitution hearing suspended

DA Furse admonished for ‘wasted’ court time

After two hours of testimony on Wednesday, a restitution hearing for former Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk was unexpectedly suspended.

District Court Judge Todd Plewe admonished District Attorney Will Furse in open court for not being prepared to represent the wishes of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.

“I’ve wasted two hours of court time,” Plewe told Furse. “Now we’re going to have to start this all over.”

At question were three gunsmithing charges that totaled $544, which the defendant claimed was traded for compensation after working four overtime work details, Furse said. Sheriff officials denied the notion, adding they wanted Furse to seek complete restitution.

“The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office has no confidence in the district attorney’s office to represent our position,” Undersheriff Lynda Carter told Plewe. “We request a recess to obtain private counsel.”

Despite any conflicts between the sheriff and the district attorney, Plewe told Furse he had an obligation to represent the victim’s wishes. He added the court’s expectations were not met at the hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 27.

“Today, this was not handled well, period,” said Plewe.

Furse rejected the court’s criticism, saying that he was prepared and had met with sheriff’s officials before the proceeding. He added that he wasn’t aware of the defendant’s position in the case, but Plewe quickly interrupted.

“I don’t appreciate the grandstanding in my courtroom,” Plewe told Furse. “In here, I expect more. I demand more.”

A special prosecutor will be appointed to handle a new restitution hearing, set for 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.

“Everything we’ve heard so far is vacated,” said a frustrated Plewe. “I’m not doing this again.”

The restitution hearing was being held to determine how much money Cronk, convicted of felony embezzlement, owes to taxpayers. Cronk pleaded guilty in March in connection to a 26-month embezzlement scheme while employed as Montezuma County undersheriff from 2011 to 2013.

The hearing opened Wednesday with public defender Katherine Whitney arguing that her client had returned all the purchased items, so the sheriff’s office should not be compensated monetarily.

Plewe rejected the claim, citing he couldn’t force the sheriff’s office to accept and use unwanted items that Cronk purchased for personal gain.

“(Cronk) shouldn’t have pled guilty if he didn’t want to pay,” said Plewe.

The total restitution initially sought in the case is about $7,500.

On the witness stand for more than an hour Wednesday morning for the first time in connection to the case, Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell testified that Cronk exploited his lack of oversight for unauthorized purchases over $100, which included holsters, ammunition, rifles, handguns, generators and automobile repairs. On cross-examination, Spruell deflected Whitney’s question about a written purchase policy.

“There was nothing in writing that, Thou shall not steal,” replied Spruell.