(Editor’s note: The Rotary van service referred to in this article is its own nonprofit. While it is a separate organization, it is a part of the Wet Mountain Valley Rotary Club umbrella. Three out of the five members of the van service board need to be Rotary Club Members. Several Rotary members were made aware of the issues with the van service in August of 2023, but they failed to notify authorities.)
For over a decade, the Rotary Van Service in Westcliffe has helped people get to destinations in larger urban areas for medical appointments when the passengers are not able to drive themselves. The service has been popular with the elderly and has seen more demand as the area ages. But last week, in a cryptic Facebook post, it was announced that “due to a lack of funds, the Rotary Van Service would be shutting down on January 31.” No other explanation was given.
Get Instant access to the entire Tribune with an e-edition. Just a 1-minute setup and looks good on smartphones, tablets, and computers
A Tribune source said that the main reason for the closure is that it had been discovered that the Rotary Van Service administrator, Deborah Snell, was suspected of embezzling the van service. According to the Tribune source, the board had been notified in June of 2023 that Snell was using the van service funds to fuel her private automobile, that there were issues with rider donations, and that funds were being misused in general. When the board failed to act, the primary funder of the van service was notified. Things came to a head in December when the Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) decided that they no longer trusted the board and pulled their funding, which accounts for roughly 50% of the van service revenues.
According to an email sent by Heather Evans, the Executive Director of UAACOG, “We learned on December 14, 2023, of financial malfeasance… The discovery of these issues has led UAACOG to promptly terminate both of its contracts with the service provider, make a report to law enforcement, and commence an internal investigation into the matter.” The letter further stated that they are trying to find a solution to keep the van service running using a different organization.
Custer County Sheriff Rich Smith confirmed that there is an investigation into the matter but declined to mention any names or other details as it is an active investigation.
Snell is at the center of at least two civil lawsuits in Custer County currently, and a background report shows that she has had multiple issues with bankruptcy in Westcliffe and in the San Luis Valley over the past 20 years.
The Tribune will continue to follow this story and provide updates in the future.
– Jordan Hedberg