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An Eagle County Sheriff's Office vehicle. (Handout via Facebook)

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek has been indicted on suspicion of official misconduct related to money spent by his office, but he says the situation all stems from a misunderstanding of the law by the district attorney. 

The grand jury indictment splits two of the most powerful law enforcement officers in Colorado’s high country, men who typically work closely together to battle crime.

“It is considered a petty offense with a minimal fine, but given the nature of the charge (second-degree official misconduct), our office will be fighting it because it implies dishonesty, which, as an elected official, is unacceptable and against my values,” van Beek wrote in a letter to his constituents.

5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, a Democrat, declined to comment on the case.

A spokeswoman for van Beek, a Republican, said interview requests should be made with the Eagle County Attorney’s Office. “We’re at a loss as to why he thinks there’s any kind of criminal conduct,” said Eagle County Attorney Bryan Trew.

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The indictment, filed on July 31, alleges that van Beek’s office improperly spent about $17,000 between January 2017 and June 2019 on 14 expenses, using an account containing money seized during investigations, known as forfeiture proceeds.

Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek. (Photo by The Vail Daily)

The money went to pay for things like fundraisers, Little League sponsorship, signage, a crime tipster’s reward and a kitchen freezer for the county’s jail, according to the indictment. A few thousand dollars went to a public relations agency that ghostwrote columns in the sheriff’s name for the local newspaper, The Vail Daily. 

The indictment alleges that to spend the money, van Beek needed approval by a committee that includes the district attorney, but that the sheriff didn’t follow through with the procedure for those 14 expenses.

Van Beek, who has been sheriff since January 2015, denies the allegations, saying that the expenses were paid from a reserve account that doesn’t include state confiscated funds.

“The charge comes from a misinterpretation by the district attorney about the review process of confiscated monies, and specifically when a committee needs to be convened for additional approval,” the sheriff wrote in the open letter released Tuesday. “That committee is comprised of the district attorney, the county attorney, and me as the sheriff, and it only applies to the expenditure of state confiscated funds, which the reserve fund does not contain.”

He added: “The county attorney has assured us that we properly followed all statutory protocols.”

Trew said that he explained to Brown before the indictment was handed down that there “were no confiscated funds in the reserve account.”

An Eagle County Sheriff’s Office vehicle. (Handout via Facebook)

Van Beek said the situation reminded him of the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished.”

This isn’t the first time Brown has used a grand jury to dig into a sheriff in his jurisdiction. Earlier this year he released a report on the former Lake County sheriff that alleged that the sheriff had unlawfully billed inmates for the costs of locking them up.

Van Beek was issued a summons to appear in court on Aug. 30, court records show.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....