Embezzlement charge dropped against ex-San Luis Valley DA Robert Willett

A felony embezzlement charge against former 12th Judicial District Attorney Robert Willett was dropped Thursday at the request of an outside prosecutor, who found Willett had no intention to commit a crime.

Willett was charged with embezzlement in connection with bonuses paid while he was district attorney for Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache counties. He alleged his successor, now-former District Attorney Alonzo Payne, brought a baseless case against him as retaliation after Willett publicly criticized Payne.

Payne filed the charge 10 days after Willett published a letter to the editor in 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 repeatedly violated crime victims’ rights. He also was facing a recall effort led by the city of Alamosa. On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis appointed Anne Kelly as the new district attorney for the district.

Stephen Potts, chief deputy district attorney at the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, who was called in as a special prosecutor on Willett’s case, said in a brief hearing Thursday that “it was in the best interest of justice to dismiss this case.”

“We now believe there was no intent by Mr. Willett to do anything illegal,” he said. “We think there was a pattern previously of bonuses being paid. Mr. Willett has refunded the money to the district attorney’s office.”

“So, ultimately, you don’t believe there was any malicious intent, that the money given to him was returned back to the coffers of the district attorney’s office and, quite frankly, this is a case that lacks any type of prosecutorial merit?” Chief Judge Michael Gonzales responded. “Is that a fair statement?”

“That is fair, your honor,” Potts replied.

Willett was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Payne did not return a request for comment.

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