A former Aspen man pleaded guilty on Monday to stealing about $2,000 from his former employer’s safe during an episode in which his attorney said he was “not in his right mind.”
Joseph Kern, 36, was sentenced to two years of supervised probation by Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court.
He was using medication prescribed to him but had not mixed it with alcohol until a party hosted by his former bosses, Aspen restaurateurs Craig and Samantha Cordts-Pearce, said public defender Laura Koenig.
Kern was arrested Oct. 3, a few days after the party, when surveillance footage showed him walking into the office at CP Burger, opening a safe and taking the money, a police report says.
He pleaded guilty to felony theft of $1,000 to $20,000 and a misdemeanor count of obstructing a peace officer; two felony counts of burglary were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
Kern is suing Samantha Cordts-Pearce, contending he is owed more than $5,200 in unpaid wages from his stint as the director of operations for the couple’s six Aspen restaurants. She, in turn, has counter-sued Kern, saying he should pay them about $5,600 in damages.
Cordts-Pearce said in a recent small-claims hearing that she incurred expenses in re-keying the restaurants, buying new safes and taking care of other business that Kern had been handling. The civil case remains pending.
In court Monday, Aspen prosecutor Andrea Bryan said the Cordts-Pearces were very angry and frustrated by the crime, and by Kern’s lawsuit against them.
This was Kern’s first felony conviction, which was the main factor to warrant the disposition, Bryan said.
“It’s clear at the time [the theft] occurred that this defendant was on some controlled substance or was having some sort of mental [breakdown],” she said, adding that it was possibly a combination of the two.
Kern has a fairly severe substance-abuse problem, Bryan said.
Koenig, while agreeing that her client “was not functioning in his right mind,” said the issue involved prescription medication and alcohol, not illegal drugs. Kern has since worked with his doctors to adjust his medication, she said.
Kern told Nichols that he took the plea deal because he didn’t want to “further anyone’s embarrassment” by going to trial.
“I feel pretty awful that the Cordts-Pearces had to suffer through that,” he said, adding that the couple had tried to help him when they saw his erratic behavior.
The money taken from the safe was recovered, and Kern does not have to pay restitution.
The count of obstructing a peace officer stemmed from Kern’s failure to cooperate with police when he was arrested shortly after taking the money. Nichols gave him two years of probation for that charge, but ruled that it be served concurrently with the felony sentence.
In addition to probation, Nichols also sentenced Kern to undergo random urinalysis if the probation department orders it; 24 hours of community service; abstain from alcohol for two years; and write a letter of apology to his former employers after the lawsuit concludes.
In other court news, Nichols reduced the bond for a Snowmass Village man charged with a felony for allegedly punching and head-butting a police officer.
Gerardo Borja, 26, appeared in orange clothing from the Pitkin County Jail, where he had been held on a $5,000 bond since his arrest Thursday after a melee at The Regal Watering Hole.
He allegedly told police that he had been drinking heavily while celebrating his birthday with his brother and friends. According to an arrest affidavit, he told an officer that he had only vague recollections of the brawl inside the Regal and punching someone.
That someone is Aspen police officer Nick Farrell, who arrested Borja, authorities say.
Koenig, representing Borja, asked for a $1,000 bond, saying he has no criminal record nor any financial means to pay the $5,000 bond.
But Bryan said a $1,000 bond is only appropriate for a misdemeanor-level crime and that Aspen police “do take this very seriously.”
Farrell was treated at Aspen Valley Hospital and may lose a tooth, Bryan said.
Nichols said Borja’s lack of ties to the valley — he said in his initial court appearance that he is working for an Aspen Skiing Co. restaurant in Snowmass Village and may stay through the summer; and that he was living in Belgium before visiting his brother here — concerned her.
Borja, though, has no money to travel back to Europe and is willing to consult with the Aspen Counseling Center about his drinking, Koenig said.
Nichols ordered Borja to surrender his passport and reduced his bond to $3,000. He bonded out of jail later Monday and is due back in court April 1.