It took years for Town of Vail officials to understand the scope of an alleged plot to defraud the taxpayers of more than $800,000. In the wake of an 18-month investigation, the town has changed some of its contracting practices.
Ron Braden, the town’s former information technology department director, was arrested July 4 in Minturn. He faces charges including violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, theft, conspiracy to commit theft, forgery, money laundering and cybercrime. He also faces charges related to his arrest.
Braden, who had worked for the town for nearly 25 years, was dismissed following his 2018 arrest for having sex in Glenwood Springs with an underage woman. He was on probation for that offense at the time of his July 4 arrest.
When Braden left his job at the town, the town’s finance department started noticing discrepancies in his department’s finances. The Vail Police Department began an investigation, which eventually involved the FBI. The investigation examined alleged wrongdoing going back six years.
Vail Town Manager Scott Robson said the alleged scheme between Braden and Eric E. Nastri, who is also charged and under arrest, was sophisticated enough to avoid detection for several years.
In fact, the town passed several independent audits during that time.
The fact the town passed its independent audits shows “how difficult embezzlement is to unearth when a vendor is part of that collusion,” Robson said. That’s especially true regarding information technology.
Robson said information technology is a “very unique language,” and contracts are sometimes quite different from construction and other industries.
In the wake of that investigation, Robson said the town has changed parts of its procurement processes.
Robson said Braden kept bidding internal to his department, and there were a number of no-bid contracts with the same vendor.
Now, all contracts valued at more than $50,000 must be approved by the Vail Town Council. Contract change orders over $25,000 must be approved by the town manager.
Robson said significant changes to project contracts may in the future require separate contracts, all subject to approval by other town officials.
“We feel like we’ve stopped those gaps that existed even 18 months ago,” Robson said, adding that the town’s finance team has established deeper internal audits in all departments as deemed necessary.
Robson praised the town’s finance and police departments for their investigation. He also praised the officers who arrested Braden. Body camera footage appears to show Braden resisting arrest, and one officer sustained a cut on his hand breaking the passenger-side window of Braden’s RV to enter the vehicle and grab the keys from the ignition.
Officers searched the RV and discovered a semi-automatic rifle and ammunition. The video also shows at least one box of pistol ammunition, but the search found only one firearm in the RV.
“Their training paid off without severe incident,” Robson said.
The 2018 arrest
Former town of Vail Information Technology Director Ron Braden was arrested in October of 2018 on suspicion of hiring an underage prostitute. His position in town was terminated in early November of that year.
That case was settled in November of 2019 when Braden pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and engaging in prostitution.
Braden served no jail time, but was sentenced to five years of supervised probation and 100 hours of community service.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.