CHEYENNE — The former travel agent accused of stealing thousands from customers hopes to have his case heard somewhere outside of Laramie County.
Brian Box, 48, pleaded not guilty last fall to 28 counts of felony theft, seven counts of misdemeanor theft, seven counts of fraud by check, two counts of use of another’s credit card and two counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. The charges are spread across four separate dockets, and his trial is scheduled for March 3.
His change-of-venue hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m., Feb. 18, with Laramie County District Judge Steven Sharpe presiding. His change-of-venue motion was filed Friday in Laramie County District Court.
A change-of-venue motion requests a trial be transferred to a different location because the people in the location where the alleged crime occurred are prejudiced against the defendant.
Box’s defense attorney, Joanne Zook, didn’t return requests for comment as of press time.
In a former article, local attorney Bruce Moats said jurors aren’t required to be ignorant of the facts and issues in a case – they’re just required to be unbiased. Moats went on to say the preferred method of making sure a jury is unbiased is to go through the jury selection process.
Box was the chief operator of the travel agency in Frontier Mall that went by the names of Top Travel and The Outdoor Pursuit. The business focused on hunting and fishing trips.
Police found out about the fraud when several customers reported they had paid for their trips through the company, and the trips had been canceled without their knowledge or a refund. The travel agency is no longer in business.
Investigators determined Box was allegedly keeping the trip deposits customers made for himself after he canceled the trips without their knowledge. He was also accused of keeping the refunds from the trips.
In her motion, Zook cited Facebook posts from the Cheyenne Police Department and various news articles about Box’s case, including articles from the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. The motion stated the Facebook posts and news articles are “extremely inflammatory.”
Zook lists a CPD Facebook post from Oct. 16 that stated a “Local travel agent is testing the wonderful accommodations at the Laramie County jail … while awaiting trial, the vacation planner can write postcards from his jail cell while garbed in the finest orange and white linens the county has to offer. Orange Crocs complement the outfit and provide cushioning for the recreating time Box can participate while not in his cell ... Vintage grape juice is available in the commissary, and Box will have the opportunity to meet new friends and interesting people while watching reruns of ‘Cops.’”
The Cheyenne Police Department didn’t return requests for comment as of press time.
The motion also cites the Facebook comments on the post that reposted Box’s mugshot from Texas, where he was originally arrested for the charges in September. Box’s mugshot shows “extensive injuries,” according to the motion.
One of the comments read “... Hope he gets a cell with a big dude named Bubba that misses his mother.”
The CPD post received 243 comments, 982 likes and 206 shares, according to the motion. The motion also cites a KGAB Facebook post that had 204 likes, 93 comments and 165 shares.
Commenters in both posts seemed to express their satisfaction that Box appeared to have injuries in his mugshot photo.
“This court can find that these comments, along with 300 additional comments, likes, shares, etc. dictate the community’s opinion of Mr. Box, and that in a community as small as Cheyenne, Mr. Box will suffer actual prejudice should his trial be held in Laramie County, Wyoming,” the motion stated.
Box allegedly stole about $125,000 from 34 people in late 2018 and early 2019. Box fled to Texas from Wyoming, and went by a different name when criminal charges were brought against him.
Laramie County has a population of about 98,966 people, according to the motion. Of those people, about 76,204 are over 18 and potentially eligible for jury duty, according to the motion. The motion argued that Cheyenne doesn’t have the population necessary to support a jury pool for Box’s trial.
“This case is the ultimate exception to the rule because of the number of the alleged victims in this matter, coupled with the inflammatory and prejudicial pretrial publicity,” the motion stated. “Due to the pretrial publicity and number of alleged victims in this matter, it will be very difficult to seat an impartial jury in Laramie County, Wyoming.”