Former Aspen councilman and 17-year managing director of retail and rental operations for Aspen Skiing Co. Derek Johnson pleaded guilty on Monday to theft between $100,000 and $1 million — a class 3 felony.
Johnson, 52, served on Aspen City Council from 2009 to 2013. In 2013, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor. And between June 2013 and January 2019, Johnson sold skis and snowboards that belonged to SkiCo on eBay. Police were able to obtain records from the online sales platform of nearly 6,000 sales, according to an arrest warrant.
In addition to potential time in the Department of Corrections — class 3 felony theft can net between four and 12 years in prison, with five years of mandatory parole — the parties have agreed that Johnson will pay $250,000 in restitution, Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham said.
The plea is a considerable reduction from the class 2 felony theft of more than $1 million Johnson initially faced when he was arrested in April — in addition to felony charges of burglary, cybercrime and conspiracy that would be dropped as part of the plea deal. Had Johnson been found guilty of the original class 2 felony theft charge, he’d be facing between eight and 24 years in prison.
Johnson’s wife, Kerri, has also been implicated in her husband’s crimes, though her case was granted a Dec. 16 continuance in court Monday, over Nottingham’s objections. She currently faces the same charges her husband did before pleading — including the class 2 felony theft — though Nottingham has offered her a plea deal. Negotiations on those details, however, are still pending.
When asked specifically what made Johnson guilty of theft, he replied relatively vaguely, though he added that he looks forward to clarifying his motivations and intentions during his Jan. 21 sentencing hearing.
“I acquired some items without permission,” he said. “However, during sentencing, I’m looking forward to explaining some of the circumstances surrounding that.”
Derek Johnson and a partner founded D&E Ski and Snowboard Shops in 1993. After he sold his company to SkiCo in 2001, Johnson stayed on to run the store, becoming managing director of retail and rental operations.
During his tenure with SkiCo, Johnson siphoned high-performance skis and snowboards off the company’s retired demo rack. Security footage caught Johnson taking equipment from the racks in a SkiCo-owned storage facility, loading a truck and transporting the stolen goods to a Mill Street storage unit he owned, according to the affidavit. Early estimates suggested the years-long operation accumulated more than $2 million in sales, none of which came back to SkiCo.
“We continue to be deeply saddened by this whole situation,” reads a statement SkiCo issued after Monday’s hearing. “While Derek Johnson's public admission of responsibility for these serious crimes is an important first step in finding closure for Aspen Skiing Company, that process will take significant time. These crimes impacted a number of people, caused them emotional trauma that continues to this day, damaged trust and had financial impacts on individuals and on the company.”
Other than the $250,000 restitution, the plea deal didn’t recommend a specific outline for sentencing. As such, District Judge Chris Seldin ordered a pre-sentence investigation, or PSI, report, in which the local probation office investigates a case and makes sentencing recommendations accordingly. Those recommendations are not binding, and Seldin will hear requests from both the prosecution and defense, as well as weigh whatever statements Johnson makes at the time.
For SkiCo’s part, the company statement emphasizes its desire to see a fair outcome balanced with compassion.
“... Ensuring that Derek Johnson is appropriately held accountable through sentencing is important to us,” it reads. “Recognizing that the Johnsons have a family, we hope that the court nonetheless considers the broad human impacts of these crimes, and what an appropriate sentence will say to the community as a whole as it determines Derek Johnson’s sentence.”
During his court appearance Monday, Seldin asked Johnson if he knew that his actions constituted theft.
“Certainly not initially,” he replied. “But I made some poor choices, and that is the case.”