Johnsons

Former Aspen city councilman Derek Johnson and his wife, Kerri, appeared in court Monday to face felony charges related to allegations they ran a years-long operation of selling skis and snowboards taken from stock belonging to the Aspen Skiing Co. — a scheme that allegedly cost the company over $2 million.

Derek Johnson, the former 17-year managing director of the SkiCo’s retail and rental operations, was seen on security cameras removing skis from racks in a company storage location and placing them into a SkiCo box truck, which took the merchandise to a Mill Street storage unit he owns, according to his arrest warrant. Police executing a search warrant on the storage unit allegedly found a booth inside to photograph equipment, and obtained from eBay the records of nearly 6,000 sales.

The five-month investigation into Derek Johnson, 51, and Kerri Johnson, 48, led to charges of theft, a class II felony, meaning the amount in question exceeds $1 million; burglary; cybercrime; and conspiracy. Their arrest warrants indicate the couple might have had tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

The SkiCo enlisted the Aspen law firm of Holland and Hart for a forensic accounting investigation. The firm’s summary, cited in the warrants, says the Johnsons reported $495,000 in sales of skis and snowboards — items the SkiCo had apparently designated for “salvage sales” — in 2017 alone and that the couple might have earned $1 million to $2 million in revenue since the alleged side business started, possibly in 2012.

Derek Johnson sold his ski- and snowboard-rental firm, D&E Ski and Snowboard Shops, to the SkiCo in 2001. Aspen police detective Adriana Minniti wrote that he found, after executing a search warrant for the defendants’ home, a letter Johnson wrote to a local defense attorney on Dec. 3 (Local media reported that he was the subject of a criminal investigation a week later.)

The warrant quotes Johnson writing in the letter that he used a similar online sales technique at D&E “to reduce used inventory.” Johnson’s alleged timeline submitted to the lawyer continues, presumably referring to the online operation:

  • “Ran with Ski Co knowledge early on in 2001 to ???

  • Wound down with small kids;

  • Council 4 years;

  • Brought back business, intended to run above board;

  • I ran inventory procurement, Kerri ran sales and shipping;

  • Work stress (SBH, Crowns, I can’t beat a $15B family!);

  • Reference detail in book. (This has taken a toll on my life, weight, drinking, health …) Spiraled out of control, goal was to protect family;

  • Kerri was not happy with her work, I was miserable with role at ASC (we were trapped).”

 

Regarding Derek Johnson’s contention that the SkiCo was aware he was allegedly doing this, his warrant, citing the Holland and Hart summary, says that the 2017 sales figure was “stored by Johnson on [SkiCo] servers.”

The one-time Aspen mayoral candidate made nearly $117,000 in 2017, the detective wrote, citing a tax filing.

 

SkiCo truck tracked with GPS

The investigation began when the SkiCo’s security manager, Keith Ikeda, went to Aspen police on Nov. 9, after Ikeda received an anonymous report. Submitted to the company’s human-resources department, the report said “someone was taking skis from the retired demo fleet of skis and selling them on eBay,” according to the arrest warrant. “They identified the eBay account as ‘sportandski.’ The ASC wanted to keep the name of the suspect hidden until they had more identifying information because he is positioned highly in the company.”

A person the company hired to help track inventory destined for salvage sales found, in 2017, 150 pairs of missing skis and reported it to his supervisor. That person, in turn, reported it to Derek Johnson, who told “them to not worry about it,” the warrant says. Last year, the same employee inventoried the merchandise and “noticed that 80 pairs of high-end demo skis were missing.” This led to the employee reviewing security footage that allegedly showed Johnson putting the skis into the work truck.

“The truck is equipped with GPS and the ASC was able to track that it stopped at Derek’s house … in Aspen,” Minniti wrote, adding the vehicle then went to the Johnsons’ storage unit.

Minniti, who worked in the SkiCo’s retail-rental branch before joining law enforcement, wrote that he recognized a spot on several pairs of skis where a barcode denoting them as rentals had been removed.

A few days into the investigation, Ikeda provided him with a list of 580 pairs of skis that had been sold and which matched skis that had been in the SkiCo rental inventory. These were sold for nearly $140,000

On Dec. 20, Minniti went to the defendants’ Aspen home and reported that, while Derek Johnson was cooperative, when he opened up a computer on which he said records were stored, “there were some documents and spreadsheets open … and Derek attempted to close the documents without saving them.”

The detective wrote that he took control of the computer, photographed the documents, shut the device down and unplugged it. A spreadsheet “showed the Johnsons currently [had] approximately $101,873 in credit card debt and owe approximately $294,367 in ‘other,’” the warrant says. There were also allegedly multiple spreadsheets from different years outlining eBay business expenses and sales from 2010 through 2018 that range from $1,437 in 2010 to a high of $440,232 in 2017. The years total $2.1 million in sales.

Police also used a search warrant for the storage unit and allegedly found $224,067 in inventory. The equipment was returned to the SkiCo. Derek Johnson told police that SkiCo officials were unaware he had restarted the side business and that his wife did not know where he was obtaining the merchandise.

After getting a winning bid on eBay, the couple also allegedly used SkiCo shipping boxes to complete the deal. At $7 a box for nearly 6,000 sales, the company was bilked of just under $42,000, the warrant says.

Attorneys for the couple on Monday waived formal advisement on the charges. Minniti escorted them from court to jail, where they were fingerprinted and released after posting $10,000 bonds. They are next due in court May 20.

Chad is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at chad@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @chad_the_scribe.