Aimee Baldt will soon be set free, but she may not get to take everything with her when she leaves incarceration.
She was sent to prison in 2016 for methamphetamine distribution. In January, she was transferred to the Williams Street halfway house, which sits at the corner of Williams and 18th Avenue. It’s run by GEO Care, one of the companies whose contracts were voted down by City Council in August.
Holding down a job is part of the re-entry process, so people living in halfway houses are allowed to work and earn money (they have to return to their facilities at night). Baldt runs the cat kennel at Max Fund’s animal shelter. When she gets paid, she must hand her check over to the Williams Street administrators who steward her account.
Normally, when she needs to access her money, she makes a request and Williams Street’s staff cuts her a check. But lately, she said, a lot of those checks have bounced. Baldt said she’s been going to work without lunch because she can’t access her own money. She said other women living in the house have also gone without lunches or toothpaste.
Baldt will be released on Sept. 19. She told Denverite that GEO staff said she may not be able to take the money remaining in her savings account when she goes home. She said they told her she may have to come back later for several thousand dollars that she’s been saving up.
Deanna Kelly was released last Friday. She told Denverite that she is still waiting to receive about $400 from her savings account.
Another woman’s restitution check bounced, according to Mesa County court documents provided to Denverite. She blamed the bounced check and resulting fee on GEO.
City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said inmates have expressed concern that they may be held accountable for submitting checks that cannot be deposited.
A Sinclair gas station around the corner, at High Street and Colfax Avenue, cashed out more than 40 checks worth more than $2,000 from inmates before they realized they could not deposit the funds into their own accounts. Harry Singh, who works there as a clerk, said his bosses have tried again to deposit them and will find out soon if the problem is fixed.
A sign inside the Williams Street halfway house reads “PLEASE DO NOT CASH CHECKS AT SINCLAIR GAS STATION.” It’s next to another sign that reads “SOMETIMES THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO IS NOT THINK, NOT WONDER, NOT IMAGINE, NOT OBSESS, JUST BREATHE AND HAVE FAITH THAT EVERYTHING WILL WORK OUT FOR THE BEST.”
Greg Mauro, director of Denver’s Division of Community Corrections, told Denverite that he and GEO leadership learned of the issue last Friday.
A spokesperson for GEO said the bounced checks stemmed from a malfunctioning anti-fraud system within the company’s accounting process. He added that the company’s headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, was closed due to Hurricane Dorian, which slowed their ability to respond.
The statement reads: “The residents’ balances remain fully intact and they will not be responsible for any fees as a result. We’ve apologized and continue to work with each of the affected residents to correct any outstanding issues.”
While Mauro believes the problem began in the past week, Baldt said it’s been nearly four weeks since she and others have been able to use their accounts.
“We’re aware. We’re monitoring the situation,” Mauro told Denverite. He said the city is giving GEO time to “unpack” the problem, “and then we’ll take appropriate action based on their findings.”
City Council members Chris Hinds and Candi CdeBaca said they showed up at Williams Street on Saturday to look into the matter. Hinds said he received an early-morning message from someone at the halfway house a few days prior. He said GEO’s administrators allowed them to enter and speak to the women there. During the discussion, staffers told him the check issue was the result of a “computer glitch” and that it had only happened “in the last three days.”
“I guess that could be a computer glitch,” he said, “but that’s a lot of bounced checks.”
Baldt said she just hopes she can get her money when she leaves.
This story has been updated.