Former Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Aspiri was arrested by Glenwood Springs police and charged with criminal extortion — a class 4 felony — and misdemeanor ethnic intimidation harassment and theft.
According to a Glenwood Springs Police Department press release issued Tuesday, Aspiri — who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination to oppose then-Sen. Mark Udall in 2014 — allegedly randomly selected a victim for his scheme to harass, threaten and extort $1,200 from a Latino man.
Aspiri allegedly told the victim the money was owed to a third party — but could provide little to no information in the way of why the money was owed or to whom, exactly. The victim terminated the call and, after receiving several additional calls from Aspiri, blocked the phone number.
But then Aspiri began calling from different numbers, and his “associates,” as the press release described them, did, too.
“After receiving numerous threatening calls, the victim became very scared. Mr. Aspiri told him that he knew the victim, ‘was here illegally.’ He made several other similar statements threatening to have the victim deported. He demanded payment that day as the next day would be too late,” the release details. “The victim told Mr. Aspiri that he was afraid of him and asked him to stop calling and making the threats. Friends of the victim told the victim that Mr. Aspiri is very powerful and influential, and he should just pay him.”
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras said Tuesday that while neither Aspiri nor his “associates” ever explicitly told the victim of his political and business connections, Aspiri allegedly inferred his influence by telling the man to Google him to find out who he was.
“If you do that, you’ll find he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Deras said. “He lost that race, but apparently that’s where some of that influence may come from, or some inference on their part to scare these people. He never directly said that, but that’s the inference.”
The victim’s alleged immigration status was the center of several threats on several occasions, hence the ethnic-based extortion charge.
“On another occasion, Mr. Aspiri again demanded payment that day. He said, ‘tonight is your opportunity and believe me, you don’t want any problems with me.’ He again referenced the victim being in the United States unlawfully which was a theme woven throughout the interactions,” the press release reads.
Ultimately, the victim did meet Aspiri and paid him $500. Aspiri allegedly had instructed the victim to meet him at his ranch in Silt to deliver the money, but the victim opted to meet in a public place instead, Deras said.
“The victim said no, so they met at a retail place in Silt with a lot of customer traffic. That’s when the additional demands came,” he said.
Police officers recommended that the victim seek a civil restraining order while the criminal case was being investigated, and in doing so, he consulted with an attorney.
“It was reported that Mr. Aspiri told an attorney retained by the victim’s family that he has, ‘done this often and gotten thousands of dollars from people,’” per the press release in outlining the allegations.
Aspiri was arrested and subsequently released from jail, pending a hearing in Garfield County District Court. Deras said that the case was particularly concerning to him and his colleagues because the victim seemed to be targeted specifically because of his ethnicity and alleged immigration status.
In addition to his failed bid for the Senate nomination, Aspiri’s resume also includes president of economic development company Generation Point, LLC and vice president of American Backgrounds, which provided criminal background investigations and drug testing, according to reporting from the Colorado Springs Gazette. Much of Aspiri’s communications on his campaign’s Facebook page were in Spanish.
“We strongly encourage anyone, regardless of immigration status, who may be a victim of any crime to contact us without concern of their status,” Deras wrote in the press release on behalf of his department. “We have NO interest in nor will we consult with immigration authorities or investigate any person’s status who is a witness or victim of any crime.”