Former undersheriff starts 30-day sentence

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Former Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk, who had pleaded guilty in March to felony embezzlement of department funds, was sentenced on May 30 to serve the remainder of a 30-day sentence at the Mesa County jail in Grand Junction. He was ordered to report to the jail the following day.

At the sentencing, District Judge Todd Plewe emphatically denied a request by the defendant’s attorney, Katherine Whitney, who appeared by phone, to keep the location of his confinement under wraps because he’d worked in law enforcement and therefore might be in jeopardy.

District Attorney Will Furse told the judge he had no objection to waiting until the sentence was completed to reveal this information, agreeing with Whitney that there was “a potential to have consequences for Mr. Cronk’s safety.”

But calling transparency “the key to democracy,” Plewe said that he saw “absolutely no reason to keep this secret.”

“You’re not the first law enforcement officer to do time,” the judge observed. “The public has a right to know.”

Although Cronk made no statement at his sentencing, Plewe chastised him for violating the public trust by taking advantage of his position as a high-ranking officer for his own gain.

“A message needs to be sent to you and others in law enforcement – you are not above the law,” he said.

Furse pointed out that Cronk would suffer “huge consequences” beyond the jail term and other penalties imposed, since as a convicted felon, he could never work in law enforcement again.

After a probe by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation – requested by Furse and the Montezuma County Commissioners in April 2013 – Cronk had been indicted by a grand jury last August on 17 felony counts of embezzlement and one count of official misconduct, a first-class misdemeanor.

However, the voluminous court file documenting just what CBI Special Agent Randy Watts uncovered had remained sealed until September, when it was made available to the public.

In his lengthy affidavit, Watts recounted specific details of Cronk’s alleged acquisition of roughly $7500 worth of goods and services for his personal use throughout his 28-month tenure, including guns, ammunition, recreational equipment and auto parts. According to Watts, the illicit purchases ranged from expensive rifles and pistols to such whimsical items as a Canadian flag and a platform so his dog could ride on his ATV, and had been paid for through various department accounts.

As undersheriff, Cronk had been in the position of approving all major MCSO expenditures, including his own, a practice that has since been scrapped. (See Free Press, October 2013.)

Cronk had been chosen from the ranks for the position of undersheriff by Sheriff Dennis Spruell upon taking office in January 2011. The spending spree began soon thereafter, according to the affidavit, and continued until shortly before he was forced to resign last June.

As a condition of the plea bargain struck with Furse under which Cronk pleaded guilty to only one count of fifth-class felony embezzlement – the purchase of a performance chip for a personal SUV – and to a lesser misdemeanor, Cronk had been granted permission to choose where he would serve his detention as long it was in a jail rather than a halfway house or home-confinement arrangement.

As part of the deal, he was also placed on six months’ unsupervised probation and will be required to pay restitution to the sheriff ’s department for all the items he was accused of buying for his personal use.

Plewe expressed disappointment that the exact amount of restitution had not yet been determined, even though the proceedings had been going on for nearly a year.

Furse replied that Undersheriff Lynda Carter had informed him none of the items recovered would be of any use to the department, but hadn’t supplied an exact amount of restitution to be repaid.

A hearing was set for Aug. 21 to nail down the amount of restitution and to decide which, if any, of the numerous guns seized during a search of Cronk’s Mancos home will be forfeited.

Whitney maintained that some of the firearms belonged to others who were not involved in the crimes and should be returned.

But, according to a story in the Cortez Journal, Cronk had made repeated attempts to sell some of those same firearms by placing numerous classified ads in that paper over a three-year period.

When Furse downplayed Cronk’s prior criminal history as “minimal,” Plewe asked for details.

In 2000, while a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff ’s posse, Furse explained, Cronk had been charged with burglary, trespass, and cruelty to animals for climbing through his ex-fiance’s bathroom window and stealing her dog, while kicking and injuring her roommate’s dog in the process. Cronk then reportedly used a government vehicle to haul the stolen dog away, Furse said, but had satisfied the conditions of a six-month deferred judgment and sentencing for those misdeeds.

Cronk was given credit for two days of jail time he’d already served here, and was told he could shorten the period he actually served by 10 days for good behavior.

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