A Glenwood Springs man who allegedly extorted $2,600 in cash from a Latino couple during a minor traffic accident near Aspen Village turned himself in on Wednesday.
Aron Kendrick, 35, faces a felony charge of criminal extortion, said Brad Gibson, Pitkin County Sheriff’s investigator.
Gibson has been probing the case since shortly after the alleged incident occurred on Oct. 26. He drafted a warrant for Kendrick’s arrest in the weeks after the accident, but former Aspen prosecutor Arnold Mordkin declined to prosecute the case.
“The previous DA believed it to be a civil matter, and we respected his decision,” said Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo. “But we kept it in our back pocket and ran it by the new DA.”
The accident occurred around 8:30 a.m. during a snowy day, Gibson said.
The alleged extortion victim, who was driving his girlfriend to work in Aspen, lost control of his car and hit a Jersey barrier. Kendrick had to swerve around the man’s car and then parked on the shoulder, according to the arrest warrant.
The investigation began when a Colorado State Patrol trooper who responded to the accident called the sheriff’s office.
“After the accident [the man] and his girlfriend were contacted by a man in a white pickup truck,” Gibson’s warrant says, citing the trooper. “The male demanded money after learning that he and his girlfriend were not in the U.S. legally.”
In a subsequent interview, the alleged victim said he is here legally and produced for another sheriff’s deputy an identification card from El Salvador, the warrant says.
On Nov. 2, Gibson interviewed the couple at their Carbondale home.
In that interview, the man said that when he ran up to Kendrick after the accident to see if he was all right, Kendrick “asked me, ‘You have papers? You have everything?’” according to the warrant.
He told Kendrick no, believing that he was being asked for his driver’s license, registration and insurance. Kendrick allegedly said to the victim, “I’m gonna call the sheriff.”
The man apparently told Kendrick to go ahead and do so, and Kendrick said, “Well, you need to give me money. You were driving this way (causing the accident) and it is your fault,” Gibson wrote in the warrant.
Kendrick allegedly asked for $5,000, saying that his SUV had been damaged.
The man and his girlfriend were scared, especially since the insurance on their car was expired by four days, the warrant says.
Also, Kendrick allegedly told the man that if he gave him money Kendrick would go away.
The girlfriend told Gibson that her “understanding of the situation was they could give Aron Kendrick money or he was going to call the police and have them arrested,” the warrant says. “[He] gave Kendrick the money so he would not have any problems.
“[He] was not sure this was the best solution to the problem, but at that moment he was very nervous.”
The girlfriend had $2,600, which they handed to Kendrick, who then drove off, though the girlfriend wrote down his license plate number and gave it to the state trooper.
Mordkin told the sheriff’s office shortly after the incident that the two men had entered into an oral agreement and that the matter should be handled in civil, not criminal, court.
DiSalvo said he disagreed and complimented Gibson for keeping the investigation active, calling the alleged incident “predatory behavior.”
“Brad stuck to it and knew that it was, by our standards, a crime,” he said. “This is not the behavior we want to see in Pitkin County.”
Asked why they had so much cash with them, they told authorities that it was unusual for them to have such an amount and that the money was meant for rent and purchases.
Kendrick allegedly told a deputy that he had indeed stopped near Aspen Village that day, but said he neither demanded money nor was offered the cash.
DiSalvo said he was glad the case received a fresh set of prosecutorial eyes.
Deputy district attorney Andrea Bryan, who replaced Mordkin when Sherry Caloia was elected district attorney, decided last week that the case can be prosecuted. Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court signed the arrest warrant for Kendrick on Wednesday.
Gibson said Kendrick was allowed to turn himself in because he is not suspected of a crime of violence.
That October morning got worse for the alleged victim. After totaling the car, he was cited by the CSP for careless driving, Gibson said.