An embezzlement charge against former 12th Judicial District Attorney Robert Willett was dropped Thursday at the request of an outside prosecutor, who concluded Willett had no intent to commit a crime.
Willett was charged with embezzlement in connection with a $1,500 Christmas bonus he paid himself while serving as district attorney for Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache. He alleged that his successor, former district attorney Alonzo Payne, brought a baseless lawsuit against him in retaliation after Willett publicly criticized Payne.
“Overall, it was only used by (Payne) as a way to politicize the criminal justice system and go after a political opponent,” Willett said Thursday, adding that the legal issue in the case was whether the bonus raised his salary above a legal limit. (That didn’t happen, he said, and he has since refunded the bonus money.)
Payne filed the indictment 10 days after Willett published a letter to the editor of the Alamosa Valley Courier calling for Payne’s resignation.
Payne resigned in July after an investigation by the Colorado attorney general’s office found he had repeatedly violated the rights of victims of crime. He was also facing a recall effort led by the city of Alamosa. On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis named Anne Kelly as the new district attorney for the district.
Stephen Potts, chief assistant prosecutor for the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, who was called as special prosecutor in the Willett case, said during a brief hearing Thursday that “it is in the interest of justice to dismiss this case”.
“We now believe that Mr. Willett had no intention of doing anything illegal,” he said. “We believe there was a bonus payment scheme before. Mr. Willett refunded the money to the district attorney’s office.
“So at the end of the day, you don’t believe there was any malicious intent, that the money that was given to him was returned to the vaults of the district attorney’s office and, quite frankly, that’s is a case that has no merit in prosecution? Chief Justice Michael Gonzales responded. “Is that a fair statement?”
“That’s right, your honor,” Potts replied.
Payne did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Willett, who lost to Payne in the 2020 Democratic primary, wants to return to the 12th Judicial District prosecutor’s job. He believes the criminal case against him cost him the nomination Polis granted Kelly this week.
“I don’t blame him either,” he said. “You wouldn’t appoint someone to a position like that with a felony charge hanging over their head.”
But Willett said he still plans to run for district attorney in this fall’s election. Kelly in mid-August entered the race as a Republican.