Ex-manager of Vail liquor store ordered to repay $250,000 | VailDaily.com

Ex-manager of Vail liquor store ordered to repay $250,000

EAGLE — Just two weeks before Robert "Mickey" Werner was arrested for stealing at least a quarter million dollars over a four-year stretch from a local liquor store, the owner gave him a $17,000 bonus for running that business so well. Werner pleaded guilty to felony theft and will repay $250,000 he admitted stealing from Alpine Wine and Spirits, located in Vail's City Market. Werner could have gone to prison for three years and still might. If he has any more legal trouble, he goes back before District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman for sentencing. For now, though, the prison sentence is being deferred. "The point is to make the victim as whole as possible," Dunkelman said. Rebecca Wiard, the assistant district attorney who negotiated the deal with Werner's defense attorney, Jesse Wiens, called the deal "favorable" for Werner, known locally as "Mickey the Wine Wizard." Four years of theft The thefts went on for at least four years, said Eric Kenealy with Alpine Wine and Spirits. "I don't think we'll ever know the exact amount stolen, but it was in excess of $250,000," Kenealy said. "I hope he learned his lesson," Kenealy said. "He admitted to me that he stole the money." That admission came after Werner was paid that $17,000 bonus. "He was very well compensated," Kenealy said. Prosecutors say Werner also has about $400,000 in a retirement account. Payment plan? Interestingly, Werner was supposed to hand over the $250,000 during Wednesday's hearing. Wiens, his defense attorney, explained that Werner's bank accounts were frozen. Werner wrote a personal check for the restitution, but he was told the payment needs to be a cashier's check. He couldn't get a cashier's check prior to Wednesday's court appearance because the funds in his accounts remain frozen. The money is scheduled to change hands Friday. Kenealy was frustrated with the delay, but said he understood the bank's position. "I'd think the bank wouldn't release the money to him because they'd be afraid he'd skip town, because he is a thief," he said in court Wednesday. "I would ask that we make sure the check clears. A cashier's check can easily be forged. I'm just concerned that the money comes back to the store." About his arrest Werner's scheme began to unravel on Feb. 2, when Vail Police Detective Nicola Erb met with a witness who wished to remain anonymous at that time. The witness provided eyewitness accounts, receipts, inventory records, photographs and accounting records to show regular thefts were occurring, according to Werner's arrest affidavit. Werner was the only one with the access needed to commit the thefts, the witness told Erb, and said Werner did not have permission to deprive the business of funds beyond his salary. Several days later, Erb met with Werner at the store and showed him all the evidence indicating that cash refunds were being made at the store almost daily — and that the cash was being funneled to him. When he was arrested, Werner was carrying three bank bags. Two of the deposit slips in the bank bags matched the amount of the daily deposit. However, the third bag had a deposit slip — not specific to any bank — for $87. Werner is accused of pocketing the rest of the money from that bank bag and several others over the years. Those two methods — cash refunds and altering bank deposits — were among the methods he used to steal at least some of the money, prosecutors said. Werner was also carrying $1,239 in cash when he was arrested, plus four other folded packets of money containing a total of another $930. The four packets were stashed in various compartments of his wallet. Werner was booked into the Eagle County jail on Valentine's Day. Following his arrest, Eagle County Court Judge Katharine Sullivan ordered him held without bond, to make sure he didn't use any of the stolen money to bail himself out of jail. High praise for police and prosecutors Kenealy had high praise for the Vail Police Department the District Attorney's Office and the local judicial system. "They are highly professional and they pursued this case with the passion, that justice be done," Kenealy said. "Without all three of the working together on this, justice would not have been done." The money to be returned will go back into the store, and the business is expanding its selection of wine and spirits in order "to better serve the Vail Valley," Kenealy said. The business doesn't miss Werner, Kenealy said. "Since we have a new manager, sales are up 20 percent," Kenealy said. "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from customers about the changes. I think justice has been served." Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Embezzler gets 30 days, plus restitution in plea agreement

EAGLE — An admitted embezzler paid $250,000 in restitution and will also spend 30 days in jail because the judge said it's not enough to repay the victim and walk away. Robert "Mickey" Werner repaid Alpine Wine and Spirits $250,000 as part of a plea agreement. In addition, Werner was ordered to jail for what the judge said was a "minimal" sentence. "I accepted this plea agreement because I wanted to make that man whole, and you did that. But I have a hard time letting you pay it back and walk out of here," said District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman. Dunkelman said it's not uncommon for people to go to prison in cases like this, even if it's their first offense. "If you had wasted this money it would have been much different. On first offense people go to prison for something like this," Dunkelman said. Werner pleaded guilty to felony theft. He paid Eric Kenealy, owner of Alpine Wine and Spirits, $250,000 in restitution. During the course of four years, Werner stole an average of $200 on the days he was working, investigators said. 'Violation of Trust' "It's something you thought about for a long time, and it went on for a long time. It was a violation of trust. This was a violation of Mr. Kenealy's trust and the community's trust. The man put a significant amount of trust in you and, in your owns words, you betrayed it," Dunkelman said. "There has to be some punishment for this type of action and this is a minimal sentence." Werner's attorney, Jesse Wiens, took issue with the amount of restitution, saying Werner agreed to it if Kenealy agreed not to file a civil lawsuit looking for more. "He's not standing before the court saying he took $250,000. The restitution went beyond what was taken," Wiens said. Wiens ticked off a list that included a month of hotel bills, groceries, dinners and billing for Kenealy's time. Rebecca Wiard, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, said they have receipts and a paper trail for everything Werner stole from 2010. Forensic accounting put the amount above $300,000, she said. "I don't think anything can hurt him more than what he has been through. He has lost everything he has fought for," Wiens said. Werner apologized for his actions. "I want to apologize to my friends and coworkers, people who put their trust in me. I worked hard and diligently to make the store profitable. This has been devastating for me and my family," Werner said. Werner said it was small incremental amounts during a long period of time. He said he did not realize how much he was taking. "I'm sorry I let it go on," Werner said. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

‘Log jams’ cause trouble on Crystal River

CARBONDALE – Several trees have fallen and blocked the Crystal River in Bogan Canyon, and White River National Forest officials want to advise boaters of the situation. “These obstacles can be a significant hazard to kayakers, rafters and other boaters,” said Aspen/Sopris Acting District Ranger Mike Kenealy, who on Wednesday posted signs in the area warning boaters of the danger. The upper blockage consists of two trees primarily without branches and is located downstream of a sharp left-hand turn in the river, leaving boaters little time for reaction. The second blockage is a large spruce that fell across the river. The tree has many visible limbs and can be seen by boaters from more than 100 yards upstream. At current flows, both blockages are directly at water level, and while it is a tight squeeze, there is room for kayakers to portage around the trees. “This section of Bogan Canyon is very steep, and the river is stretching from bank to bank,” Kenealy said. “It’s unsafe to send a saw crew into the area to remove the trees until the river subsides.” In the meantime, Kenealy recommends that boaters assess the situation before paddling by walking above the canyon and scouting the river. Signs posted upstream of the canyon instruct boaters to do the same. During high water, Bogan Canyon between the towns of Marble and Redstone is a popular section of the river, primarily for experienced kayakers. “Boating is a potentially hazardous activity, and with Bogan Canyon being a Class III or higher run, it is important for people to know their limits and to expect these types of extraordinary conditions,” Kenealy said. ###

Bridges will be built to protect wetlands

EL JEBEL ” The U.S. Forest Service is trying to protect a sensitive wetland from getting trampled, without creating a trail that captures more human attention. The agency is trying to “get people up and out of the natural system” in a wetland along the Roaring Fork River in El Jebel, said Mike Kenealy, acting ranger in the Aspen/Sopris district. A crew is building bridges in two swampy areas where people have traditionally crossed logs and skipped along boards and rocks to avoid the water. By building bridges, Kenealy said, people won’t wander to find the easiest route through the wetlands. When they do that, they can crush sensitive vegetation. A few narrow trails wind through a diverse range of vegetation. One trail is within spitting distance of the river. The Forest Service held onto 56 acres of the old tree farm when it swapped property with Eagle and Pitkin counties in the 1990s. Some of that acreage includes the wetland. It is great habitat for wildlife, and one of the few river areas in the Roaring Fork Valley in public hands that is not threatened with development, Kenealy said. The Forest Service owns about a mile of riverfront property. That wetlands absorb flood waters in the spring and filters sediments: “It’s the liver, if you will, of the river system,” he said. Forest Service officials think it’s a good bet that use of the wetland will increase when nearby Crown Mountain Park opens this year. Although the wetland isn’t part of the park, Kenealy said, some people will discover it by wandering away from the park. The bridges appear to be a bit of overkill because, in order to clear flood waters, they hang several feet over the wetlands and dwarf the logs that people previously used to navigate the swampy areas. Kenealy said the bridges could make the trail network more attractive for less adventurous hikers. However, the agency won’t promote the trail as a destination. No signs will lead to the area from Crown Mountain Park, he said. The bridges represent more active management of the wetlands. The Forest Service closed the area to hunting in 2005. Bicycles probably will be banned, Kenealy said, and dogs probably will be restricted to leashes. That always causes dog owners to “freak,” but it is in the best interest of the wetland, Kenealy said.

Deal revises deed restrictions for Gypsum project

EAGLE, Colorado – Eagle County may not end up with the deed restrictions it paid for under a new Stratton Flats deal. A Denver company has a contract to buy the struggling project, and that could change the way the county’s deed restrictions work. The county commissioners sank $4.5 million into the floundering project in January 2008. The tax money is supposed to buy deed restrictions on 113 of Stratton Flats’ 339 units, say the county commissioners who spent the money. That means taxpayers paid more than $40,000 for each of the county’s Stratton Flats deed restrictions. But the nature of those deed restrictions will change under a deal with a new developer and price caps will be removed, say partners in the Stratton Flats deal. Also up in the air is whether the county’s taxpayers will be paid the 6 percent interest on their money they were promised as part of the original deal. County Attorney Bryan Treu says the deal is negotiated, and they’re waiting for banking regulators to approve it. “There will be a presentation in a couple weeks, and we’ll answer questions at that time,” Treu said. The county has been trying to restructure the deal for more than a year. Banking regulators are in the mix because Colorado Business Bank, CoBiz, sank more than three times the money into Stratton Flats that Eagle County did, a bank spokesman said Tuesday. The bank has between $12 million and $18 million in Stratton Flats. “You could say $12 million is in the neighborhood,” said Sue Hermann, spokesperson for Colorado Business Bank. The bank will stay with Stratton Flats, Hermann said. “We are integrally involved and intend to remain so until it comes to a successful completion,” Hermann said. Critics say county taxpayers’ $4.5 million was squandered on Stratton Flats and is lost. But county officials say it’s no more lost than it ever was. For the county to recover any of its $4.5 million, Stratton Flats units have to sell, said Alex Potente, Eagle County’s housing director. But Gypsum is the county’s slowest real estate market, and Stratton Flats is located near the end of the Eagle County airport’s runway. Of the 338 home foreclosures this year in Eagle County, 93 are in Gypsum. One Stratton Flats house has sold in the last year, a $379,494 government-to-government deal. The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District negotiated a deed restricted purchase for one of its staff members. That deal closed Sept. 21, 2009. On the Stratton Flats website Tuesday, three bedroom homes were listed for $325,000 on the open market. “The money is gone, but the affordable housing remains part of our community,” said County Commissioner Sara Fisher. Fisher, along with Peter Runyon and former county commissioner Arn Menconi, voted unanimously to get Eagle County involved in Stratton Flats. “We’re fortunate that we were able to forge a partnership with the owners and the bank to keep it as an affordable housing project,” Fisher said. Fisher said when she was running four years ago, affordable housing was the highest priority. “All the Vail projects had been approved and were getting under way,” Fisher said. “It was full speed ahead. Some thought we’d never stop growing. They banked on it.” Not all deed restrictions are created equal. Stratton Flats is a three-way deal between the town of Gypsum, Eagle County and the developer. Gypsum waived its tap fees, real estate transfer taxes and other up-front costs, in exchange for deed restrictions on 113 units. Gypsum has no money tied up in Stratton Flats. Eagle County’s deed restrictions limit a home’s value to increases of not more than 3 percent per year. Gypsum requires that the homes be sold to locals, and have no price caps. Under the new deal, the county’s price caps will be removed, say Gypsum officials. “Their deed restrictions will change under the new deal,” said Lana Gallegos with the town of Gypsum. The other 113 Stratton Flats units are being sold on the open market. Stratton Flats has always struggled. The project was submitted to Gypsum at the same time as the Tower Center, a proposed shopping center in Gypsum that has never gotten off the ground. Stratton Flats was floundering when the county commissioners poured in $4.5 million to keep it afloat. In January 2008 the commissioners at the time – Menconi, Runyon and Fisher – spent the $4.5 million from a facilities fund. The three did not officially appropriate the money until February 2008. The three commissioners did not form the county’s housing authority until March 2008, two months after the money was spent.

Maroon Bells fee legitimate

ASPEN – A Forest Service review has concluded that the recreation fee it charges visitors to the spectacular Maroon Bells area southwest of Aspen is legitimate. The agency conducted a nationwide review last year to determine if each individual site where it charges a fee was qualified for the program under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. The agency wasn’t looking at individual campgrounds but broader geographic areas such as the Maroon Valley. The act, approved by Congress in 2000, essentially says the Forest Service has to offer amenities where it charges a fee. It cannot require a forest visitor to pay a fee simply for parking at an obscure trailhead and going for a hike. Mike Kenealy, recreation special uses coordinator for the White River National Forest, said 96 fee sites across the country were reviewed for compliance with the recreation enhancement act. Changes will be required at several of them, though Kenealy didn’t know the exact number. The White River staff conducted a self-check of the Maroon Bells site for compliance with the law and then filed a report with the Forest Service’s regional office in Lakewood. The regional office concurred with the conclusion that the Bells qualified for a fee and then submitted its decision to the agency’s Washington, D.C., office. It, too, upheld the decision. “I really don’t envision any changes up there at all,” Kenealy said. The Durango-based Western Slope No-Fee Coalition wanted the review to produce changes in policy at the Maroon Bells. Kitty Benzar, president of the coalition, said hikers who want access from the East Maroon and West Maroon trailheads – but otherwise don’t use amenities in the Maroon Creek Valley – shouldn’t be forced to pay a fee. Those trailheads provide access to numerous backcountry lakes, streams and geographic features. Benzar said it is the coalition’s position that charging hikers a fee in those areas doesn’t meet the intent of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. The act allows the Forest Service to charge a standard amenity fee for day uses when six amenities are provided: a permanent toilet, a permanent trash receptacle, a picnic table, interpretive signage, developed parking and security services. An expanded amenity fee can be charged when amenities exist for overnight camping. Kenealy said the East Maroon Trailhead qualifies for a fee because of the amenities that exist at the trailhead. To qualify, West Maroon requires an interpretative sign and a fire pit, where people on a picnic can warm lunch, he said. Kenealy said the Forest Service’s ability to regulate traffic in the Maroon Creek Valley and charge the fee was never in jeopardy from the review. The White River National Forest raised $185,175 in fees collected from visitors to the Maroon Bells in 2010. The agency charges $10 per vehicle, although travel times are restricted. It also collects 50 cents per ticket from the hundreds of people who ride buses to Maroon Lake. Bicyclists and rollerbladers aren’t charged for travel up Maroon Creek Road. That policy will remain the same after the review, Kenealy said. The White River National Forest’s position is that the Maroon Bells area would be overwhelmed and the natural setting spoiled if it couldn’t regulate visitors to the area and charge a fee to produce revenues to pay for trash collection and toilet services. “It would be a nightmare,” Kenealy said. “It would be untenable. It is one of the most visited sites in the country.” U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., asked the Government Accounting Office in July to update an independent audit of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act program. His request said he wants to make sure “that government is using our federal revenues as efficiently and responsibly as possible.” Tipton, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, also questioned last summer whether user fees charged by the Forest Service to access public lands are too expensive.

Powerball winner: thieves cleaned me out

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A man beset by problems since winning a record lottery jackpot says he can’t pay a settlement to a casino worker because thieves cleaned out his bank accounts. Powerball winner Jack Whittaker gave that explanation in a note last fall to a lawyer for Kitti French, who accused him of assaulting her at the Tri-State Racetrack and Gaming Center, a slots-only casino near Charleston, according to a motion French’s lawyer filed this week demanding payment of the confidential settlement. Whittaker won a nearly $315 million on Christmas 2002, then the largest undivided lottery prize in U.S. history. He took his winnings in a lump sum of $113 million after taxes. Since then, he has faced his granddaughter’s death by drug overdose; he has been sued for bouncing checks at Atlantic City, N.J., casinos; he has been ordered to undergo rehab after being arrested on drunken driving charges; his vehicles and business have been burglarized; and he has been sued by the father of an 18-year-old boy, a friend of his granddaughter’s, who was found dead in Whittaker’s house. In the latest lawsuit, Whittaker told French’s lawyer, John Barrett, that “a team of crooks” cashed checks in September at 12 City National Bank branches and “got all my money,” according to the motion Barrett filed Wednesday in state court. “I intend to pay but can’t without any money,” Whittaker wrote, according to the motion. An official with City National Bank said Friday the bank is investigating “small discrepancies” in Whittaker’s accounts. Calls to Whittaker and his lawyers Friday were not immediately returned.

Season extended to make Aspen-area campers happy

ASPEN, Colorado – Campgrounds in some of the most spectacular settings around Aspen will stay open longer than usual this fall thanks to an experiment by the U.S. Forest Service.Weller, Lost Man and Lincoln Gulch campgrounds will stay open through Sept. 27. The three small campgrounds up Independence Pass typically close right after Labor Day Weekend.Difficult Campground, the largest in the Aspen area with 47 sites, will also be open through Sept. 27, one week later than originally planned.Officials at the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District negotiated the longer season with Thousand Trails Management Services Inc., the company that has a contract to manage the campgrounds, according to Mike Kenealy, an official in the White River National Forest supervisor’s office in Glenwood Springs.The Forest Service sought the change because there were “lots of requests last year” for the campgrounds to stay open during the fall color season. Some observers have found it ironic for years that the campgrounds closed just when the leaves turned brilliant yellow, the skies were deep blue and the mountaintops were often dusted with snow.The Forest Service and its vendor said supply-and-demand dictated the closure dates. They claimed in the past that there weren’t enough campers to justify keeping some of the smaller sites open. This fall will be an experiment to see how the public responds.”If they get used, we’ll consider it longer term,” Kenealy said.Staying open longer will add to Thousand Trails’ management expenses. There won’t be a camp host at the three smaller campgrounds, but area managers will visit the campgrounds to collect fees and interact with campers, Kenealy said.Thousand Trails has trouble keeping camp hosts on the job into September, according to Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Irene Davidson. The hosts, particularly at the smaller campgrounds, get antsy to migrate to jobs in warmer climates to the south, she said.In the Maroon Creek Valley, the three “silver” campgrounds will remain open until late October or as late as weather allows, whichever comes first. Silver Bar, Silver Bell and Silver Queen are operated by the Forest Service rather than Thousand Trails.In the Crystal Valley closure dates were extended into October, in some cases. Avalanche, Bogan Flats and part of the Redstone campgrounds will remain open through Oct. 25. Half of Redstone will close Sept. 27. Avalanche and part of Redstone will remain open without facilities until Nov. 15 for hunting season.At Ruedi Reservoir, Little Maude will close Sept. 7 while the Marina campground will close Sept. 21. Little Mattie will close Oct. 26. Molly B will remain open as long as conditions allow.Further up the Fryingpan Valley, Dearhammer, Elk Wallow and the sprawling Chapman campgrounds will be open through Oct. 25. Chapman and Dearhammer will remain open without facilities for hunting season.The campground management contract for Thousand Trails expires in two years. Davidson said the Forest Service is holding internal discussions on conditions it wants to include in the next contract. “We’ve talked about keeping [the campgrounds] open later,” she said.scondon@aspentimes.com

Some White River trails off-limits to snowmobiles

SUMMIT COUNTY – A steep trail on Vail Pass will be closed to motorized use this winter due to a policy change in the White River National Forest Plan. The trail, a connector route between Vail and Searle passes is located less than a half-mile above Janet’s Cabin at the head of Wilder Gulch and is primarily used by expert snowmobilers, said Dave VanNorman, assistant district ranger of the Holy Cross district that manages that area. “It’s not one of the more popular trails up there because of the difficulty,” he said. “It’s a very steep trail to get into, and very difficult to get out of.” VanNorman said, however, that snowmobile club members in Eagle County are opposed to the closure, saying more people use the trail than the Forest Service believes. Based on fee-demo permits purchased for use in the area, an average of 18,000 people recreate in the area each winter. VanNorman said Forest Service officials believe half of the use is people on snowmobiles and the rest is non-motorized, such as Nordic skiing. The change is the only one in Summit County that was the result of “prescription” or zoning changes in the Forest Plan. “Prescriptions” address general uses on larger chunks of land, as opposed to individual trails that are analyzed in the agency’s “Travel Management Plan.” Forest Service officials are working on a draft of the Travel Management Plan, which will be available for public perusal and comment early next summer, said Ken Waugh, Dillon District recreation officer. Ultimately, the plan will outline what’s allowed on which trails. “We want to give people the chance to get out in the field and look at what we’re proposing,” he said. “The issue that will drive potential restrictions will be the Canada lynx. There might be some areas where we get a lot of conflicts and we have to separate the uses. Our job is to provide balanced opportunities.” Many users said they wanted the Forest Service to provide separate areas for different uses – particularly cross country skiing and snowmobiling. Those two groups have a long history of conflict. Recreationalists also recognized that there will be places where activities must overlap. For this season, anyway, there will be no other trail closures in Summit County for motorized vehicles. But snowmobilers will see many changes this season in other parts of the White River National Forest, notably in Eagle and Pitkin counties. New prescriptions under the Forest Plan mean there will be closures near the Thomas Lakes area near Mount Sopris and areas recommended under the plan to be designated as wilderness areas, said Mike Kenealy, forestry technician with the Sopris Ranger District in Carbondale. The recommended wilderness designation encompasses Red Table Mountain north of Ruedi Reservoir and Assignation Ridge west of Highway 133 near Redstone. Most of the Red Table Mountain lands that have seen snowmobile use in the past, accessed off Cottonwood Pass in Eagle County, remain open to the machines, Kenealy said. But several other, smaller areas have also been recognized as recommended wilderness and are now closed to motorized uses. “Most of the smaller areas never saw much snowmobile use anyway,” Kenealy said. “That’s one of the reasons they’re being recommended as wilderness.” Motorized travel also is prohibited within the boundaries of any ski area or resort on national forest lands, except when authorized by a special-use permit or in emergencies. Forest Service personnel are creating a map that will show the new closures.

Treasury rule to require that mutual fund companies report suspicious transactions

WASHINGTON – Mutual fund companies will be required to file reports on suspicious financial transactions as part of an effort to catch drug dealers, terrorists and other money launderers.The Treasury Department said the new rule was published in the Federal Register on Thursday. Mutual fund companies will have to start filing such reports to the government in 180 days.The rule brings mutual fund companies more in line with banks, securities firms, money-services businesses, casinos and other companies that are required to file similar reports with the government.Mutual fund will have to file suspicious activity reports with the government for any questionable transaction or series of transactions valued at $5,000 or more, Treasury said.Like other financial companies, mutual funds are encouraged to report financial transactions of lesser amounts if the company suspects a law might have been broken.”Suspicious activity reporting by mutual funds is expected to provide highly useful information to both law enforcement and regulators and will be an additional tool to protect the U.S. financial system from terrorism and other illicit finance,” said Robert Werner, director of the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.Mutual funds are already required to set up anti-money laundering programs.Mutual funds are a popular investment. As of last year, investors held approximately $8.6 trillion in U.S. mutual fund shares, according to Treasury’s document on the new rule.Separately, Treasury Secretary John Snow, who delivered a speech Thursday to employees at the Treasury agency, applauded their role in helping to combat terrorist financiers and other criminals.”The skillful use of the financial information at your disposal is a critical asset in going after terrorists, disrupting their funding networks and frustrating their objectives,” Snow said.Vail, Colorado