DENVER — Along with the Aspen area’s general disdain for undercover drug investigations, a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday brought up another, unexpected obstacle: The town’s lack of parking.
Lori Butler, a DEA operative based in Glenwood Springs, testified during the cocaine-trafficking trial of former Aspen resident Montgomery Chitty that the town’s pedestrian atmosphere means that the feds sometimes join the citizens they’re following on foot.
“It’s a very small town, and it can be difficult to find a parking place in Aspen,” she said. “We can do surveillance on foot. The targets are often not driving around and are often meeting in locations we don’t have access to.
“They meet freely and may not talk on phone.”
Those under the DEA’s gaze “just regularly know that they’ll see each other [around town] and will conduct business at those times,” Butler continued.
That DEA agents live in the small-town atmosphere of the Roaring Fork Valley can also be problematic, she said.
“Some of the investigators are known, and we don’t always want to take the risk of someone seeing us because they know who we are and what we do,” Butler said.
Still, the DEA set up surveillance cameras outside the homes of some residents suspected of having roles in a California-to-Aspen cocaine ring and tapped several of those people’s phones, according to court testimony.
Other observations from Tuesday’s proceedings:
• The DEA contacted Comcast after a wiretap on the home phone of alleged drug trafficker Wayne Reid of Aspen initially resulted in only one side of the conversations being recorded. The cable company apparently fixed the problem;
• Alfonso Elvao-Allocati, a California resident who said he sold hundreds of kilos that ended up in Aspen, used a cell phone attached to the name “Juan Valdez” to avoid police;
• Chitty’s final question of the day was to Aspen Village resident Joseph Burke, who also has been convicted in the trafficking operation. Chitty asked him if it was true that Burke once dated the actress Anjelica Huston.
“Yes, I have,” Burke said.