DENVER — Former Aspen resident Montgomery Chitty was convicted Thursday of having a years-long role in the distribution of hundreds of kilos of cocaine in Aspen.
A federal jury of nine women and three men deliberated for four hours before announcing the verdict after two days of testimony. Chitty, 61, faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison because of a prior marijuana conviction, and he could receive as long as a life sentence. He will be sentenced May 28.
Thursday marked the culmination of a stunning fall for Chitty, who touted friendships with three generations of Pitkin County sheriffs, and the late journalists Hunter S. Thompson and Ed Bradley of “60 Minutes.” He also had a reputation as a political gadfly, helping on the presidential and senatorial campaigns of Gary Hart and serving a stint on the Democratic National Committee.
But it was greed and hubris — including wearing a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office hat to drug deals — that led the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to Chitty, a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office said in her closing argument to jurors.
As Chief Judge Marcia Krieger of U.S. District Court read the verdict, Chitty showed little reaction. He stared down at the defense table, a hand on his face. He shook his head slightly before looking at each juror as they confirmed their support for the verdict and took a drink of water as Krieger thanked the jury for its service.
Chitty, who was the last of nine people convicted for helping import the drug from California to Aspen, was arrested in February 2012 at his home in the Florida Keys. He pleaded not guilty the following month to conspiracy to possess and distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine.
He told jurors that he was merely selling Navajo rugs to a wealthy drug dealer when he would take trips west, not buying cocaine by the kilo from the man.
Representing himself with the help of an advising attorney, Chitty spoke for a little over 20 minutes in his closing argument. He told the jury that the prosecution “didn’t prove anything” and that he wanted “the enormous lack of evidence to speak for itself.”
“I could go on for half a day about that, but we need to wrap this up so I can go home,” said Chitty, who has been held in federal detention centers without bail since his arrest.
Casinos and hotels in and around Las Vegas “have more cameras than the Pentagon,” but authorities chose not show jurors footage of him walking through the lobby of a Mesquite, Nev., hotel carrying rugs that he was trying to sell to cocaine dealer Alfonso Elvao-Allocati, Chitty said.
DEA agent Dave Storm acknowledged when Chitty cross-examined him Wednesday that his agency had no video or photographs of him involved in drug deals in Aspen, Nevada and California. Nor did agents ever hear him discussing drug or money amounts, dates or times for meetings, or any of the other evidence collected against other defendants, Chitty said, citing Storm’s testimony.
“Mr. Storm did not do his job,” he said. “There was no due diligence. Others were nailed with monumental amounts of evidence.”
But the DEA collected more than enough proof to sway jurors, the jury foreman said Thursday.
“The prosecution was much more convincing,” he said. “If it was a small piece of evidence [that would be one thing] … but the totality of the evidence indicated a long-term enterprise.”
That evidence included three men testifying Tuesday that Chitty took over a cocaine ring after Wayne Reid of Aspen, described by the DEA as the leader of the operation, went to prison in 2002 after a separate drug conviction. The witnesses told jurors that Chitty bought and sold more than 200 kilos of cocaine from 2002 to 2010.
Two of them, Allocati, 71, of Pasadena, Calif., and Joseph Burke, 65, of Aspen Village, have entered into plea deals with prosecutors after being arrested in the drug ring. They are expected to get reduced sentences in exchange for their cooperation with the U.S. government. Another government witness, Larry Bartenfelder, testified that he was granted immunity from prosecution before telling jurors that he once gave Chitty $125,000 to buy 5 kilos.
Bartenfelder said he eventually bought and resold 150 kilos over a decade from Chitty, while Allocati said he sold Chitty 80 to 100 kilos. They and Burke all said Chitty took over the trafficking business from Reid, at Reid’s behest, when he went to prison in 2002.
In his closing argument Chitty said Allocati was an “old fox” who told “just enough lies to save his plea deal [and] avoid life in prison.”
“That old man was not as confused as he wanted you to think he was,” he told the jury.
He referred to Bartenfelder as an “ice box” who was facing “God knows how many life sentences … but he was granted immunity.”
But he saved most of his vehemence for prosecutors not calling Reid to testify.
“Reid is the heart of operation,” Chitty said. “Where is Wayne Reid at? Where is this ghost Wayne Reid? He’s in federal custody right here in Denver, but he didn’t show up in this courtroom, and there’s a good reason for that.”
He said Reid, 61, would have faced a perjury charge had he testified. Reid has pleaded guilty to the same charge that Chitty was convicted of and faces between four and eight years at his sentencing later this month.
A total of 13 jurors listened to the trial, with an alternate being excused before deliberations.
Prosecutor Michelle Korver told them to exclude what was not entered as evidence, to consider only what was presented, and she again played a wiretapped phone conversation between Chitty and Allocati.
Chitty is heard saying that “business was slow. There’s one friend who is ready, others are not. They’re worried about our old friend who’s in trouble...”
Allocati immediately cut him off, saying he didn’t want anything to do with “that bull****.”
Korver said the old friend was Reid and that the “ready” comment was a reference to preparing to buy cocaine from Allocati. They were not discussing Chitty selling him rugs, Korver said.
In another DEA-taped phone call, Reid complained to Allocati that Chitty was trying to steal his distributors and customers.
Chitty’s son, who attended each of the trial’s four days, didn’t react after the verdict, but his girlfriend wept.
U.S. marshals cuffed Chitty behind his back.
“It’s all right, it’s all right,” he said as he was led away. He also thanked his friend Phil Eastley, who testified Wednesday on his behalf and was present Thursday.
“I’m perplexed by why the jury didn’t see reasonable doubt,” Eastley said.
The prosecution bribed witnesses who testified against Chitty by granting them freedom, he said.
“It’s a rank system,” Eastley said.
In a prepared statement, John Walsh, U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado, praised the “tireless dedication of a tenacious team of federal prosecutors and DEA special agents.”
“I am proud of this outstanding team and grateful for their dedicated public service,” he said.