Because of identical allegations against a former Aspen city councilman and his wife, who are charged with stealing over $2 million worth of gear from the Aspen Skiing Co., a single preliminary hearing will be held in August for both of the defendants.
The Aug. 7 hearing will determine if there is enough evidence to bind Derek Johnson and Kerri Johnson over for trial. That date was set Monday in Pitkin County District Court after attorneys for the Johnsons waived advisement of slightly amended charges. They are each charged with two counts of theft of $1 million or more, theft of rental property and conspiracy to commit those crimes.
The Johnsons allegedly ran a years-long operation of selling skis and snowboards taken from stock belonging to the SkiCo. According to his arrest warrant, 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 company box truck. The vehicle took the merchandise to a Mill Street storage unit he owns, and police executing a search warrant on the space allegedly found a booth inside to photograph equipment, and obtained from eBay the records of nearly 6,000 sales.
An Aspen police detective wrote that he found, after executing a search warrant for the defendants’ home, a letter Derek 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 his former company, D&E Ski and Snowboard Shops, “to reduce used inventory.” Johnson’s alleged timeline submitted to the lawyer says that this enterprise, presumably referring to the online operation, was run with the company’s knowledge.
The prosecution’s witness list, filed Friday, shows that at least eight SkiCo officials may be called to testify. They include people in charge of rental and retail operations, a warehouse manager and a SkiCo financial analyst, as well as, from outside the company, the owner of a local sports consignment store.
Kerri Johnson’s attorney, Dru Nielsen of Denver, told Judge Chris Seldin of Pitkin County District Court that she expects to receive “voluminous” amounts of evidence from the district attorney’s office. The entirety of Aug. 7 was reserved for the preliminary hearing.
In other court news:
The strange saga of a 19-year-old man who was struck in the head with a lead pipe and stabbed with a screwdriver for what his attorney said was a drug deal gone wrong pleaded guilty to possession of 6 to 12 ounces of marijuana, a misdemeanor.
William Morris, a Carbondale resident, has “come through a very tough time,” said his lawyer, Dan Shipp of Basalt, noting his client ended up with 13 staples in his head and multiple bruises. “He had been worked over extremely well.”
The alleged assault occurred July 16. Another man, Israel Carreno, is set to be sentenced in July after pleading guilty to attempted assault, and cases are pending against Lilith Snyder and Benito Santoyo. Affidavits suggest that Snyder and Carreno retaliated against Morris after he allegedly stole “a significant amount” of marijuana following a transaction with which Morris wasn’t happy.
Prosecutor Don Nottingham on Monday said that the aim is for Morris to never again end up in “such a dangerous and painful situation.”
Shipp said Morris has gone through a wilderness-based treatment program, is starting college and getting his life back on track.
Morris told Judge Seldin that the legal process has allowed him to grow as a person, and his father said Morris made a horrible mistake but has a huge heart.
In sentencing him to a two-year deferred sentence and 60 hours of community service, the judge told Morris that there was no punishment he could dole out that would compare to the alleged assault, saying it will “likely be seared into your memory.”
In another case, Judge Seldin sympathized with the man who allegedly came within inches of hitting a pedestrian near Buttermilk, sped over a median and nearly collided with a sheriff’s deputy, and then drove the wrong way down Highway 82 at high speed before colliding with a center barrier, but he refused to lower his bond.
The toxicology report on John Reno, 45, of Thornton, showed that he had no drugs or alcohol in his system, said Scott Troxell of the public defender’s office.
There is a plea deal in the works that involves Reno pleading guilty to a low-level felony, but if it falls through, Troxell said his client will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Reno was not in his “right mind” during the March 14 incident because of a mental-health issue, he said.
Reno is charged with menacing and vehicular eluding, which are both felonies, and Troxell sought a reduction in his $25,000 bond, calling it excessive.
Nottingham, though, said the results of the toxicology test “doesn’t make anyone” feel safer and that drug use would have at least represented a cause. He said it was miraculous that no one was hurt, claiming Reno put “hundreds, if not thousands, of people at risk.”
Reno told the judge that he wants the chance to get back on his feet and see his daughters. He apologized, saying, “I wish I could tell you why it happened.
“I used to be a solid guy,” he said. “I hope you believe that.”
Judge Seldin said mental-health issues are difficult to contend with, noting they can be elusive and persistent. But a more concrete mental-health plan needs to be in place before Reno’s bond can be reduced, he said. The judge agreed that Reno allegedly put “many, many people at risk” and told him he was lucky to be alive.
Jail time for indecent exposure plea
An Aspen man who was on probation for public indecency when he was arrested for allegedly masturbating in another person’s home was sentenced to 10 days in jail after his bid to withdraw from a plea agreement involving indecent exposure was denied last month.
Benjamin Morton, 30, didn’t intend to alarm or hurt anyone, but being arrested for a second offense of a similar nature is “not to be taken lightly,” Nottingham said. He added that the May 23, 2018, incident represented an escalation by Morton because he went into the victim’s home and said a jail sentence was appropriate punishment.
Glenwood defense attorney Michael Fox said his client has always taken ownership of the fact that what he did was wrong, but said a high level of intoxication and a mental-health issue were contributing factors. He asked that Morton only receive probation, saying articles about his case have made his life “tremendously difficult,” including difficulty holding a job. That outcome is much harsher than 10 days in jail, he said.
Fox also said Morton pleaded guilty to a charge that is harsher than what his client actually did.
Morton told Judge Seldin that the shame and embarrassment he’s gone through has been tremendous to him and his family. His mother told the judge that her son is extremely remorseful and that he will be supported during probation.
The judge was unpersuaded, noting Morton was already on probation for a similar offense when “he proceeded to go into the home of someone who had rejected his advances, rifle through their personal effects and masturbate over them.
“This is a deeply troubling incident [and] a massive invasion of a person’s property,” Judge Seldin said. “This is a seriously creepy thing that you did … and after already being on probation is what animates the concern.”
Morton will be required to register as a sex offender, though can petition to be not designated as such after a few years. He was given credit for two days of time served.