A judge sentenced former charity executive Travis Singhaus to three months in jail Wednesday for pocketing $300,000 that was meant to help the city’s homeless, even as he acknowledged that sentence “does not even begin to serve as an adequate punishment.”
“The amount of money that you have cost charities is incalculable,” Denver District Court Judge Eric Johnson told Singhaus, saying that he has caused “an erosion of faith” in nonprofits.
Johnson also accused the Denver District Attorney’s Office of kid-glove treatment.
“You know, the district attorney talks about the ‘gravity’ of your offenses and ‘sending a message.’ And yet, they’re the ones who didn’t take this to trial,” Johnson said as Deputy DA Danielle Sexton looked on, “where the facts of what you actually did would have come out and you couldn’t hide behind simply saying, ‘I made a mistake’ and blaming other people.”
The Singhaus case has been presided over by Judge Jennifer Torrington, who accepted the plea agreement ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing. Johnson, who was filling in for Torrington, said that he would not have accepted the deal in his courtroom but felt bound by its terms. Under that agreement, the maximum sentence was 90 days in jail.
Singhaus, 48, was also fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years of probation for attempted money laundering, a felony, and failure to file a tax return, a misdemeanor. If he violates his probation, he can be sent to a state prison for three years. He must also pay a to-be-determined amount in restitution to The Denver Foundation, the victim in his case.
Singhaus was arrested on the night of Jan. 9, 2022, by federal officers and local police after returning to Denver International Airport from overseas. He was initially charged with eight felonies, including theft, charity fraud, forgery and criminal impersonation.
Prosecutors did not announce which charity they were accusing Singhaus of stealing money from. But in a November lawsuit, The Denver Foundation detailed how it had learned of Singhaus’ theft and passed its findings on to the government for investigation.
For three years between 2018 and 2021, the prominent nonprofit sent grant money to Singhaus’ charity, Impact Local. It gave $125,000 in 2019 and $140,000 the next year. By 2021, it was sending $10,000 monthly and bought Impact Local a $44,000 van.
But in August 2021, the foundation took a closer look at the IRS letter that Impact Local had provided as proof it was a real nonprofit. And it found a forgery, its lawsuit says.
Singhaus’ purported charity, which also called itself Impact Locally and the Impact Network, was using the employer identification number of a different Denver nonprofit that was called the Impact Network before it shut down in 2018, The Denver Foundation determined.
The internal investigation that followed included interviews with two former Impact Local employees who told the foundation that Singhaus, the CEO, was spending The Denver Foundation’s grant money on personal expenses. That $44,000 for a van instead bought Singhaus a new Toyota 4Runner, the foundation was told.
The Denver Foundation suspended its monthly payments to Singhaus’ charity and, on Nov. 18, 2021, handed the results of its investigation over to the Attorney General’s Office. Within a day, that office had sent it to the District Attorney’s Office for criminal investigation.
In remarks to Johnson before he was sentenced, Singhaus asked that he not be sent to jail but instead be allowed to continue working as a security guard at Coyote Ugly Saloon so he can provide for a pregnant romantic partner and make restitution payments.
Singhaus repeatedly said that he has “deep regret” for his crimes but described them as cutting corners. “I spread myself too thin, which led to regrettable shortcuts,” he said at one point. He claimed to have “trusted the wrong people” and made “unfortunate missteps.”
“Mr. Singhaus cut corners,” said his attorney, Matthew Schultz. “He cut corners at the highest level of severity. That’s what Mr. Singhaus acknowledges he did.”
“He wasn’t out there like Elizabeth Holmes, enriching himself to live a lavish life,” he said.
Sexton, the prosecutor, said that “Mr. Singhaus’ actions will reverberate through our community for a long time” because he was supposed to be “helping those who need it the most.”
“I don’t get the sense that Mr. Singhaus thinks that he did anything wrong,” she said.
Denver Foundation CEO Javier Alberto Soto was the only witness to speak for the prosecution. He said that his foundation was willing to accept $135,000 in restitution – considerably less than what Singhaus took – but asked Johnson to send him to jail as well. Singhaus’ crimes “threaten the trust that people place in nonprofits in Denver,” the CEO said.
“We thank the court for its decision today in ensuring that Mr. Singhaus is unable to defraud others in the future,” Soto said in a statement after the sentencing. “The time and resources spent to right this wrong could have been better used supporting Denver nonprofits that are making real efforts to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness.”
Twenty-three witnesses were scheduled to speak on Singhaus’ behalf. Johnson initially refused to allow that many — “I’m not listening to 23 people as character witnesses” — but later let Schultz call the full list. Seven of the witnesses were not present when called.
Those friends and former coworkers who did speak, either in the courtroom or virtually, told of Singhaus’ kindheartedness and work on behalf of Denver’s homeless. They told Johnson that Singhaus had dressed as Santa, handed out gifts to impoverished children, fed the needy and literally given the shoes off his feet to one man who didn’t have any.
“This is all very shocking to me,” said Michelle Kimberling. “I have never seen this side of Travis, ever. He’s always been a standup kind of dude. He’s just been a good person.”
Desiree Trostel, who volunteered at Singhaus’ charity, said that “he gave dignity to people and he gave them a sense of humanity. That was a very real experience for them.”
“For whatever he was convicted of doing wrong, I think he did a million, trillion things right and that can never be overshadowed by what he was convicted of,” she said.
Dressed in a navy suit and light tie with a shaved head and black-and-gray beard, Singhaus stood at the defense table and looked down as accusers and allies alike told the judge about his crimes and altruism. At one point, he picked up his cell phone and was chastised.
“Mr. Singhaus, please put your phone away! There is no reason for you to be texting at this point in your life,” Johnson told him.
“Your honor, I —”
“There is no reason for you to be on your phone at this point in your life,” the judge reiterated.
Singhaus pleaded guilty to attempted money laundering and failure to file a tax return in March of this year. In exchange, the District Attorney’s Office agreed to drop 16 other charges and ask that Singhaus be sentenced to probation rather than prison.
“Sentence bargaining,” Judge Johnson told Singhaus and Sexton on Wednesday, “takes our system of justice and turns it into something more akin to a rug market bazaar in which our principles are exchanged for convenience, at the price of human dignity.”
At Singhaus’ request, his sentencing was delayed for more than three months to give him time to buy a vehicle, since he had to hand over the Toyota he bought with stolen money.
The key and title to that Toyota sat on the defense table throughout Wednesday’s hearing. At the end of it, Singhaus signed the title over to the Denver Foundation as two sheriff’s deputies put on rubber gloves behind the defendant. They arrested him right after he signed, using two pairs of handcuffs that linked behind the back of Singhaus, a large man.
“Keep your head up,” one of his supporters told him from the gallery. “You did the work.”