An Aspen man was arrested Wednesday for allegedly swiping more than $2,000 from the safe of his employers who were trying to fire him — two days after his Hunter Creek condominium caught fire, leaving him homeless.
Joseph Kern, 35, was advised Thursday that he faces two felony charges of burglary, a felony theft count and a misdemeanor charge of obstructing a police officer.
Authorities don’t know yet whether there is any connection between the fire on Monday and Kern’s alleged actions at CP Burger, Aspen police detective Walter Chi said.
Kern and his fiancee were questioned after the fire in their unit, but the cause of the blaze remained under investigation Thursday. Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven was performing tests to get at what sparked the fire, Chi said, calling the incident suspicious.
Police were called to CP Burger just before 10 a.m. Wednesday on a report of a “recently terminated employee” who was trespassing in the Durant Avenue business.
Burger joint staff told police that they had called owners Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce to tell them Kern had entered the store and was in the business’s upstairs office.
Kern had left by the time police arrived, Chi’s police report says. But the detective wrote that he saw “one of the safes was open” and that one bank bag was present.
Cordts-Pearce told police that Kern “shouldn’t have been in the office and that he had been trying to contact him [to] terminate his employment, but he didn’t respond to phone calls or texts.”
Chi wrote that he soon found Kern in the Rubey Park bus terminal and told him that he was investigating his actions in the restaurant office. He also “explained that Kern needed to remain in the building, as [Kern] had begun to walk away, stating that he was going outside,” the report says.
Kern was told that if he did not remain inside with another officer, he’d be arrested for obstruction. Kern allegedly persisted in trying to leave the bus station and was placed in handcuffs.
While walking him to a police car, Chi said he observed a large amount of cash in Kern’s left front pants pocket.
“The cash appeared to be folded in half and had paper clips dividing the funds,” Chi wrote.
The money was confiscated and totaled slightly more than $2,100, the report says.
Chi wrote that the restaurant owners showed him security video of the office where the safes are kept.
“[I] observed Kern in the video enter the store, proceed directly to the office, open a safe ... remove several white bank-type bags and remove selected cash,” the police report says.
Cordts-Pearce told police that Kern had been employed since mid-July as director of operations for the four restaurants he and his wife own in Aspen.
During his advisement hearing Thursday, Kern told Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court that he has worked in a similar capacity for Montagna restaurant at The Little Nell and at the Hotel Jerome.
The work history shows he has been gainfully employed since coming to the valley about three years ago, he said when asked by Nichols about a bond amount.
“I can tell you I don’t think there will be an issue with me being employed ... and paying my bills,” Kern said.
Aspen prosecutor Arnold Mordkin had asked that Nichols set bond at $12,500, noting Kern’s lack of employment and housing.
Despite the “quite serious charges,” Nichols reduced it “substantially” to $5,000, citing his compliance in an earlier traffic infraction and his support from his fiancee and chances at future employment.
Kern’s next court date is Oct. 15.