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El Chapo arrives at Supermax in Florence, Colorado Friday morning

NEW YORK (AP) — Only hours after receiving a life sentence, convicted Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was forced to make a sudden departure to the highest-security prison in the U.S. to serve the term, his lawyer said Thursday.

A government helicopter whisked the narco, notorious for his daring jailbreaks, out of New York City on Wednesday after the sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn, said defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. The lawyer said he was informed that his client was en route to the supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.

For most defendants, there’s a lag between sentencing and a decision by the Bureau of Prisons on where to house them. In Guzman’s case, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan agreed at the close of his sentencing to recommend to the bureau that it let Guzman stay at a federal jail in Manhattan for two more months to help his lawyers mount an appeal.

It’s now clear that behind the scenes, there already was a plan in place “to get him out of the city as soon as possible,” Lichtman said.

Prison officials and prosecutors wouldn’t talk about Guzman’s whereabouts on Thursday.

The 62-year-old Guzman had been the subject of extreme security measures carrying an untold cost ever since his extradition to the U.S. in 2017 to face drug-trafficking charges. Authorities were determined to prevent any repeat of Guzman’s legendary jailbreaks in Mexico, including the one in 2015 involving a mile-long (1.6 kilometer-long) tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.

Guzman was put in solitary confinement in a high-security wing of the Manhattan jail that has housed terrorists and mobsters.

“I drink unsanitary water, no air or sunlight, and the air pumped in makes my ears and throat hurt,” he said at sentencing. “This has been psychological, emotional and mental torture 24 hours a day.”

For pretrial hearings in Brooklyn, authorities transporting Guzman to and from jail shut down the Brooklyn Bridge to make way for a police motorcade that includes a SWAT team and an ambulance, all tracked by helicopters. Once the trial started, they secretly kept him locked up in the bowels of the courthouse during the week to make the logistics less arduous.

The apparent next — and last — stop for Guzman: a prison sometimes called the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Oklahoma City bombing accomplice Terry Nichols are among those who call it home.

Former Glenwood Springs City Councilor, colleague admit to bid rigging

Former Glenwood Springs City Councilor Todd Leahy and his real estate colleague both admitted rigging trustee foreclosure auctions on a few occasions, but took plea deals for lesser charges in a court hearing Thursday.

Leahy, 54, and James Gornick, 49, were each charged with bid rigging, a class 5 felony, through a grand jury indictment filed May 23.

Leahy, who finished his final term on City Council in April, and James Gornick, both pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury, a misdemeanor, and were sentenced in the same hearing to three years probation and 100 hours of community service.

They also paid restitution, in the form of payment to a Roaring Fork Valley charity, for what prosecutors called their “ill-gotten gains.”

As a stipulation of their plea deal, Leahy paid $16,000 and Gornick paid $7,278. Judge Denise Lynch did not impose any additional fines.

As part of the lesser perjury charge, Leahy and Gornick’s plea stipulated that they had intended to mislead in an official proceeding.

As a result of their pleas, both Leahy and Gornick are barred from serving in an elected office by the state constitution.

Robert Shapiro of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office argued that Leahy and Gornick deserved punitive sentences with jail time for violating the public trust.

The indictment details several cases of bid rigging that occurred in 2013 and 2017, but Shapiro told the court that he doesn’t believe that those were the only questionable auctions Gornick and Leahy were involved with.

“This was not a one-time incident,” Shapiro said.

Garfield County Treasurer Karla Longhurst (formerly Bagley), who runs the public trustee auctions for the county, spoke during the sentencing portion of the court hearing.

Leahy and Gornick “undermined the integrity of the foreclosure sale and system,” Longhurst said.

“It’s my opinion that the acts of the defendants were outrageous, and occurred over a period of four years or more,” she said.

Expressions of remorse

Both Leahy and Gornick, who have been partners for years and recently joined other realtors to form Integrated Mountain Properties, apologized for their actions and accepted responsibility for rigging the auctions.

After reflecting over past several months, Gornick said he has realized, “I’m the one that has caused undue stress to my family, business partners, and my real estate clients.”

“I can’t tell you how humiliating that is to me,” Leahy said. He then apologized to his family, friends and the greater community.

“Nobody deserved this humiliation except myself,” he said.

The maximum sentence for second-degree perjury is 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine, but lawyers for both Gornick and Leahy pushed for sentences without jail time.

“We weren’t able to find, in the last 15 years, any prosecutions for bid rigging,” attorney Kevin McGreevy said.

The lawyers also stressed that neither man had a criminal record, and both had strong ties in the community.

Several community members, including an unnamed former mayor of Glenwood Springs, wrote letters attesting to Leahy and Gornick’s ties to the community.

 “We understand and we agree, that interfering with the trustee (auction) process is problematic, and illegal,” said attorney Rick Kornfeld, representing Leahy.

Kornfeld asked that Judge Lynch consider the greater context of Leahy’s work for the community.

“Public service courses through his veins,” said Kornfeld of Leahy.

Both men also had been punished, though not officially, due to their loss of reputation, the defense lawyers said.

Judge Lynch declined to impose punitive jail time or additional fines, saying that serving their community was appropriate.

“You’re going to suffer some collateral consequences, I’m sure, and you already have,” Lynch said.

Both Leahy and Gornick are at risk of losing their state licenses to practice real estate.

“This has been a very public case, so I’m sure your reputation in the community has been damaged,” Lynch said.

She added that no one likes to be on the front page of the paper.

“I don’t even like it when they cover my courtroom,” Lynch said.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison

NEW YORK (AP) — The Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been sentenced to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, a humbling end for a drug lord once notorious for his ability to kill, bribe or tunnel his way out of trouble.

A federal judge in Brooklyn handed down the sentence Wednesday, five months after Guzman’s conviction in an epic drug-trafficking case.

The 62-year-old drug lord, who had been protected in Mexico by an army of gangsters and an elaborate corruption operation, was brought to the U.S. to stand trial after he twice escaped from Mexican prisons.

Before he was sentenced, Guzman, complained about the conditions of his confinement and told the judge he was denied a fair trial. He said U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct.

“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said in court through an interpreter. “When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite.”

The harsh sentence was pre-ordained. The guilty verdict in February at Guzman’s 11-week trial triggered a mandatory sentence of life without parole .

The evidence showed that under Guzman’s orders, the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for smuggling mountains of cocaine and other drugs into the United States during his 25-year reign, prosecutors said in court papers re-capping the trial. They also said his “army of sicarios” was under orders to kidnap, torture and murder anyone who got in his way.

The defense argued he was framed by other traffickers who became government witnesses so they could get breaks in their own cases.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017 and his remarks in the courtroom Wednesday could be the last time the public hears from him. Guzman thanked his family for giving him “the strength to bare this torture that I have been under for the past 30 months.”

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, U.S. authorities have kept him in solitary confinement in an ultra-secure unit at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Most inmates at Supermax are given a television, but their only actual view of the outside world is a 4-inch window. They have minimal interaction with other people and eat all their meals in their cells.

While the trial was dominated by Guzman’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun and stayed one step ahead of the law, the jury never heard from Guzman himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But evidence at Guzman’s trial suggested his decision to stay quiet at the defense table was against his nature: Cooperating witnesses told jurors he was a fan of his own rags-to-riches narco story, always eager to find an author or screenwriter to tell it. He famously gave an interview to American actor Sean Penn while he was a fugitive, hiding in the mountains after accomplices built a long tunnel to help him escape from a Mexican prison.

There also were reports Guzman was itching to testify in his own defense until his attorneys talked him out of it, making his sentencing a last chance to seize the spotlight.

At the trial, Guzman’s lawyers argued that he was the fall guy for other kingpins who were better at paying off top Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials to protect them while the U.S. government looked the other way.

Prosecution descriptions of an empire that paid for private planes, beachfront villas and a private zoo were a fallacy, his lawyers say. And the chances the U.S. government could collect on a roughly $12.5 billion forfeiture order are zero, they add.

The government’s case, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said recently, was “all part of a show trial.”

Distribution of cocaine to a minor charge dropped against Aspen family

An Aspen prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Monday morning in the case against two Aspen parents accused of giving cocaine to a 17-year-old.

Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham said he would drop the most serious charge of distribution of cocaine to a minor filed against both Joseph Lipsey III, 56, and his wife, Shira Lipsey, 44, because there’s not enough evidence to support it. The charge would have carried a mandatory minimum prison term of eight years upon conviction and a maximum of 32 years.

“(The) investigation has been somewhat stymied,” Nottingham said. “At this moment, there’s not a reasonable chance of success at trial with the details we now have on that count.”

Nottingham said he will file a motion to dismiss the cocaine distribution charges against the Lipseys by next week. Charges filed against the couple’s son, Joseph Lipsey IV, 19, did not change Monday, though he was not facing the severe penalties his parents faced. 

“When this case broke all over the media was that the Lipseys are drug dealers,” said Yale Galanter, Joseph Lipsey III’s lawyer and the lead attorney in the case against the family. “Today …  (the prosecutor) agreed to dismiss (the cocaine distribution charge) indicating they are not.”

The development “totally changes the complexion of the case,” Galanter said. 

“They were looking at a minimum mandatory eight years in prison,” he said. “Now they’re looking at probation. It’s huge.”

Galanter praised Nottingham for taking a close look at the case and making an honest assessment of the facts Monday. He also said he’d like to revisit the $100,000 in cash each Lipsey posted as bond in order to be released from the Pitkin County Jail in March. 

Joseph Lipsey III and Shira Lipsey still each face three felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and three misdemeanor counts of serving alcohol to minors.

Joseph Lipsey IV, who was also in court with his parents Monday, has been charged with two counts of felony distribution of drugs, felony contributing to the delinquency of a minor, four counts of possession of a controlled substance and other misdemeanor charges. He also is facing two counts of felony vehicular assault after crashing his parents’ Tesla with four other teenagers in the car in November. 

Suspects in Edwards bank robberies announced engagement before alleged crime binge

The FBI didn’t have much trouble finding the woman suspected of trying to rob two banks in the Edwards Riverwalk on May 1.

Karen Sophia Hyatt, 33, was in the Adams County jail for drug possession and ID theft. When she posted her $2,500 bond on June 25, FBI agents grabbed her on bank robbery charges, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office said.

According to an FBI arrest affidavit, Hyatt and Craig “Lucky” Dickson, the other suspect in the Edwards incidents, announced their engagement on April 8, 2019, in a Facebook post, then took part in five bank robberies in the next 30 days.

The FBI checked Hyatt’s and Dickson’s cell phone records and found that they were together — as engaged people like to be — at the scene when banks were robbed in Denver, Boulder, Centennial and on May 1 in Edwards, where Hyatt is suspected of asking tellers at Wells Fargo and US Bank for money with a hand-written note.

“Based on their intimate relationship and past associations, it is reasonable to believe they would be traveling in each other’s company,” the FBI’s arrest affidavit said.

Bank security photos matched photos on their Facebook pages, as well as their criminal mugshots, the FBI said.

Then there were the eyewitnesses. Metro Denver Crimestoppers received three anonymous calls from witnesses all independently naming Karen Sophia Hyatt as the Edwards bank robber, according to the FBI.

As for the Edwards bank robberies, Hyatt got away with $9,734 in cash from Wells Fargo.

The tellers in the Edwards US Bank branch did not understand what Hyatt wanted. When they took longer to respond than she wanted, Hyatt snatched back the note and left the bank with nothing, according to the FBI.

If convicted, Hyatt faces 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

Crime spree started at 4:20

The alleged spree started at 4:20 p.m. Friday, April 12, when Denver police officers were called to the TCF Bank on Broadway for a bank robbery in progress.

The teller told officers a man was waiting in line. When it was his turn he did not speak, but handed over a note saying, “Give me all the money in your drawer, I need all the $50s and $100s. No GPS,” according to the FBI.

The teller was frightened and handed over all the money in her drawer, which included a covert tracking bundle, the FBI said.

The robber again told the teller, “I need the $50s and $100s.”

When the teller told the robber that was all the money, he more forcefully repeated, “I need all the $50s and $100s.” The teller opened a bottom drawer, took out some large-bill currency and handed it over, according to the FBI.

The robber quickly left the bank and fled on foot with $1,304 in cash … and the covert GPS tracker. The robber apparently disabled the tracker, but hung onto it, and was picked up by an accomplice driving a dark blue Chevy Malibu.

A witness showed police a phone the robber might have dropped while fleeing the scene. When the FBI searched it, agents found several selfie photos, which Denver police checked against their criminal mug shots and social media.

Another quick check found that the phone had been used for web searches about “bank robbery,” the FBI said.

That phone was used to contact Dickson and a female the FBI later determined was Hyatt. Communications on that phone continued up to the minutes prior to that April 12 robbery in Denver, the FBI said. Among them are indications that Dickson is a member of the 211 Gang, a white supremacist prison gang, and had spent some time in a Colorado prison. Dickson’s criminal history includes drug distribution, robbery, kidnapping, motor vehicle theft, eluding police and burglary.

The FBI says security photos from a Tuesday, April 30, 2019, Boulder bank robbery indicate that that the perpetrator was likely Dickson, and that he might have used makeup to cover his neck tattoos.

Two Edwards bank jobs

The FBI says it appears Hyatt and Dickson ventured away from the Denver Metro area and into the mountains on May 1 for the two bank robberies in the Edwards Riverwalk at Wells Fargo and the US Bank.

A female, whom the FBI says was Hyatt, entered both banks about three minutes apart and handed tellers a robbery note demanding cash.

The Wells Fargo robbery was successful and Hyatt left with $9,734 in cash, the FBI said.

The US Bank robbery was not, the FBI affidavit said. The tellers were confused, so Hyatt snatched back the note and fled on foot.

Hyatt appears on the Wells Fargo security camera footage at 9:02 a.m. May 1, and on the US Bank security camera at 9:05 a.m.

“Hyatt’s most recent mug photo, taken March 3, 2019, bears a strong resemblance to the robber in the Wells Fargo Bank photographs,” the FBI said.

The FBI says Hyatt is a multi-state offender with arrests for things like possession of burglary tools, motor vehicle theft, vehicular eluding and drug possession.

Her attorney, Richard Stuckey, appointed in June to represent Hyatt, did not respond to requests for comment.

Robber may be part of notorious ’90s Aspen crew; ‘person of interest’ has been arrested

The man who robbed the Theatre Aspen concession stand at knifepoint Tuesday may be one of a notorious crew of Aspen teens who committed a string of armed robberies and burglaries in the area 20 years ago, police said Thursday.

Yuri Ognacevic, 38, was named as “person of interest” in the concession stand robbery Tuesday and two purse snatchings that occurred in Aspen in the past 10 days, according to an Aspen Police Department news release.

“Officers … investigated Ognacevic after multiple people identified him from photos and video released by the department (Wednesday),” the release states.

Officers searched for Ognacevic on Wednesday and Thursday, and he was arrested about 10:30 p.m. Thursday at the Aspen Police Department, Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said Friday morning.

“Additional details will not be made public at this time in an effort to maintain the integrity of the investigation,” according to the Thursday news release.

A man wearing a baseball cap, glasses, a flannel shirt, something covering his hands and a bandana over his face flashed a knife — though at least one witness described it as a screwdriver — at three employees of the Theatre Aspen concession stand Tuesday night and made off with $250 in cash, according to police and Theatre Aspen’s director.

Aspen police also believe the robber may be the same bicycle rider who snatched two purses off the back of outdoor restaurant seating areas July 3 and about an hour before the armed robbery Tuesday, then kept riding down the street.

The identification of Ognacevic — described as a white male, 6-feet-2-inches tall, 185 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes — may strike a chord with Aspen residents who lived in town in 1999 and the early 2000s.

Ognacevic was one of 12 local teens — sometimes known as “Aspen’s Dirty Dozen” — eventually implicated in an eight-month-long string of armed robberies and burglaries in Aspen and Snowmass Village in 1999. The crimes included two armed robberies at Stage 3 Theatres, using guns to steal cash from Clark’s Market in Aspen, pistol-whipping a store clerk at a market in Snowmass Village and several burglaries of businesses and private homes, according to media reports.

Many of the teens were well-known members of longtime local families.

Ognacevic was 18 when he pleaded guilty to felony robbery for taking part in the armed robbery at Clark’s Market. He also admitted to being involved in the burglary of a video store and supplying an unloaded .22-caliber rifle for one of the robberies, according to media reports.

Ognacevic served less than a year at a minimum security prison in Canon City, then finished his sentence in a halfway house, according to a 2003 Aspen Times story. At the time he reflected on his recent criminal past and said he wanted to join the military.

“It was a temporary lapse of pro-social thinking,” he told the Times in 2003. “We were doing bad stuff that we thought was just mischief, but it crossed the line and we realized that afterwards.”

Ognacevic’s Linkedin profile identifies him as an EMT and a ski patroller and a Carbondale resident, though that information is likely dated, Linn said.

No Colorado State Patrol criminal charges filed for accident that killed CDOT worker Eric Hill

EAGLE COUNTY — Nearly four months after the job-related accident that claimed the life of Colorado Department of Transportation worker Eric Hill, of Gypsum, the Colorado State Patrol has released its 94-page accident report.

Authored by Trooper K.C. Jenkins, the report concludes that poor communication between the three men working together on March 16 was the main contributing factor in the fatal accident. The state patrol did not file criminal charges related to the accident.

The Eagle County District Attorney’s office has also received the report and is conducting a review.

“The case review process is intended to determine if there is criminal conduct and if so, does the conduct constitute an appropriate basis to file charges,” said Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown. 

Jenkins’ report includes interviews conducted with the two CDOT employees who were working with Hill on March 16 as well as a motorist who spoke with the three men immediately before the accident. The report also includes comments from emergency responders, investigative notes and accident re-creation data.

Jenkins concluded that chemical impairment was not a contributing factor in the accident and the heavy machinery involved was not defective.

According to the report, on March 16, the three men were at work filling potholes along the North Frontage Road near milepost 134.5 at Dotsero. One of the crew members was operating a 2016 John Deere 624K loader while another was driving a two-ton pickup that was equipped with a signage board. Hill was on the ground, clad in a high visibility shirt, cleaning debris from the potholes and filling them with an asphalt mixture. At approximately 6:20 p.m. the CDOT worker in the loader moved the vehicle forward and ran over Hill.

The report notes that the loader operator thought he had run over a shovel and then put the loader in reverse. The other CDOT crew member yelled at him to back up and raise the bucket. Hill was pronounced dead on scene due to the injuries he sustained.

Contributing factors

Jenkins’ report outlines the timeline prior to the incident, noting immediately before the accident, the three crew members had a brief conversation about moving up to the next set of potholes. The trooper concluded that Hill likely thought a pothole close to where they were working was the next job while the other two men thought the next pothole was further up the road.

While citing poor communication as the main contributing factor for the incident, the trooper also cited distraction and training as contributing factors.

Shortly before the incident, the crew members were speaking with a passing motorist, and when they returned to work, the loader operator said in the report that he assumed Hill had accompanied the other crew member back to the two-ton truck. The CSP report notes that the loader operator failed to visually account for all members of the crew prior to moving the loader forward.

The report also noted the loader operator had not attended CDOT’s required training related to potholes or forklift/loader training. The report states there is documentation on the operator’s “job map” showing he had received loader and pothole training. But Jenkins noted job map training is subjective to the person conducting it rather than covering set guidelines provided by CDOT.

CDOT supervisors interviewed following the accident stated that loader operators are expected to check their surroundings before operating equipment. Additionally, the trooper cited a supervisor who reported that when workers are trained to use a loader, there is always a spotter present. “According to CDOT policy and procedures, a spotter is to be used when available,” Jenkins’s report states. “I was also advised that it is common to not have a spotter for this type of task.”

The report concluded that because the loader and the loader’s bucket were moved prior to the investigation, Jenkins was unable to accurately place the location of the loader prior to the accident. The trooper noted that based on multiple re-creations, it is possible that Hill was concealed by the loader bucket at the time of the accident.

Breckenridge ski thief gets 4-year deferred judgement and sentence

Thomas Edward Yacko, 33, who was arrested earlier this year after stealing thousands in ski and snowboard equipment, received a four-year deferred judgment and sentence after pleading guilty last month to the thefts.

Breckenridge Police Department officers began investigating a number of ski and snowboard thefts at and around Breckenridge Ski Resort in January. As more reports started to roll in, detectives eventually took aim at Yacko, who was attempting to sell high-end skis on the secondary market.

Officers responded to a report of a theft at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge in late January after a man reported the Black Crow Camox Freebird touring skis he rented were stolen, according to police reports. In February, another person claimed their Atomic Bent Chetler skis were stolen from a locker room in The Maggie building.

On Feb. 27, officers made contact with an employee at the ski area who said Yacko approached him to try to sell him skis. According to the report, the man said Yacko showed him pictures of “a bunch of skis” and six to seven snowboards he was attempting to sell for $200. The man also said Yacko told him he had “been walking around town at night picking them up,” which Breckenridge police later called “a crime of opportunity.”

On March 6, an informant contacted Yacko and purchased a pair of Atomic Bent Chetler skis for $150, according to the report. The skis were positively identified as the same pair reported stolen in February.

Detective Justin Polidori, along with other Breckenridge officers, executed a search warrant on Yacko’s Breckenridge home March 18, recovering 10 pairs of skis, 10 snowboards, 13 sets of goggles, six pairs of snowboard bindings, eight pairs of gloves, three helmets and more. The Black Crow skis reported missing in January were among those recovered.

Yacko was arrested later that day at Beaver Run Resort, where he worked. During the arrest, officers discovered Yacko also had an active warrant for failure to appear on a previous traffic offense.

Yacko pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor theft charges and was sentenced by Judge Edward Casias last month. He received 15 days in jail on the misdemeanor charge and a four-year deferred judgment and sentence on the felony. Additionally, Yacko was ordered to pay more than $3,000 in assessed fines and costs and is required to perform 120 hours of public service.

District Attorney Bruce Brown said if crimes such as ski equipment theft continue to be an issue around the area, his office might begin slamming offenders with harsher punishments to deter others from committing similar crimes.

“These serial thefts appear to be a recurring problem,” Brown said. “Maybe the approach that I’ve taken in the past to resolving those cases, which is more of the holistic variety, needs to turn more punitive. I don’t have a lot of tools to deter crimes, but one of the tools that I have is if you commit a crime that is a recurring community issue, we need to hold you accountable for felony offenses and impose a more punitive jail sentence. That’s probably what you’re going to be seeing here in the coming weeks and months. Mr. Yacko’s more lenient sentence may be a thing of the past.”

Yacko addressed his involvement in the crimes directly in a letter to the editor he wrote the Summit Daily News earlier this month, apologizing for his actions and for damaging what he called the “culture of freedom” we enjoy in Summit County.

“For the community, I took the trust, safety and reputation offered in Summit County, and I broke it,” Yacko wrote. “That is something that cannot be measured in a financial amount, and I hope that my apologies will at least make an impact.”

Colleen Goettelman, a spokesperson with the Breckenridge Police Department, said the department already has returned most of the stolen equipment they were able to match with victims. For those who haven’t had their gear returned, there are other options.

The Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office offers compensation for victims through the Snow Sport Equipment Theft Restitution Fund, a program set up about six years ago as part of a settlement on a similar case. Individuals who have had snow sport equipment stolen in Summit, Clear Creek, Eagle and Lake counties and haven’t already received full compensation for their loss can apply through the District Attorney’s website, DA5.us. Brown said the fund has paid out about 25 claims this year, averaging about $400 each.

Armed man in disguise robs Theatre Aspen concession stand (Video)

A man in disguise who used a knife or a screwdriver to rob the concession stand at Theatre Aspen on Tuesday night remained at-large Wednesday evening.

However, despite the fact that the man had not yet been caught, pictures released of him Wednesday morning led to numerous tips from the public, and police were following several leads to try and find the robber, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said.

“We made strong advances today,” Linn said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m optimistic we will break the case quickly.”

The bizarre-for-Aspen crime occurred about 9 p.m., and witnesses described the robber as a white male wearing a baseball cap, glasses, a flannel shirt, something covering his hands and a bandana over his face, Linn said.

He declined to say how much money was stolen, and he said no one was injured in the incident. Another source said the robber made off with $250.

“Employees of the concession stand were approached by a man wearing a mask and disguising his identity,” according to an APD news release. “The man demanded money from the cash register. The three employees complied with the demands.

“Officers canvassed the area but were unable to locate the suspect.”

The weapon used was “edged,” though there was some discrepancy over whether it was a knife or a screwdriver, Linn said.

Jed Bernstein, producing director of Theatre Aspen, said the robbery occurred about 10 minutes before intermission of the company’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” The man flashed the weapon, forced a concession stand employee to show him the money in the cash register and fled with $250.

“The first thing to say is that what happened with completely unexpected and scary for everybody,” Bernstein said. “Safety is the number one thing and we take that really seriously.”

The police’s news release linked the armed robbery to two purse snatchings that occurred in recent days in the downtown core.

The first of those happened about 8 p.m. July 3, when a man riding a bicycle grabbed a purse hanging from the back of a chair in the outdoor seating area of Kirby Ice House, 307 S. Mill St., according to the release.

A nearly identical crime occurred just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, when a male bicyclist snatched another purse from the back of a chair, this time at Casa Tua, 403 S. Galena St., and kept riding down the street, the release states.

Three surveillance video photos from Rubey Park accompanied the news release, which came out Wednesday morning. Linn said the man pictured was seen Tuesday at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching. The man generally fits the description of the Casa Tua robber, he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Aspen police also released a video of the man taken Tuesday night at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching.

“Descriptions gathered from victims and witnesses are consistent enough to suggest (all three incidents) are associated,” according to the second APD news release.

Bernstein praised the three young people on duty at the concession stand and said they kept their heads, gave up the money and were able to continue on and serve beverages to the audience, which was mostly unaware of the robbery, during intermission.

“I’m proud of my staff at the concession stand,” Bernstein said. “They gave up the money and called police.

“As theater folks like to say, ‘The show must go on.’”

Bernstein was able to rule out one class of people as suspects, however.

“The reviews have been so positive (for “Guys and Dolls”) that I think we can be fairly certain it wasn’t a disgruntled audience member,” he said.

Bernstein and Linn emphasized that the event was unusual and that the Theatre Aspen tent and surrounding area near Rio Grande Park are safe, despite the fact that police had not yet caught the man.

“An armed robbery and a purse snatching?” Linn said. “We’ve never had that here before. It’s surprising.”

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor also sought to reassure the community Wednesday.

“We understand these are unusual crimes to occur in Aspen and that members of our community will be concerned,” he said in a second news release. “These appear to be crimes of opportunity …”

The last armed robbery in Aspen occurred in May 2016, when a then-21-year-old local man used a hammer to rob a marijuana dispensary near City Market then fled across country in a stolen SUV.

Anyone who recognizes the man in the photos of the recent robberies can call Aspen Police at 970-920-5400 or text tips to 970-274-4128.

Alleged Vail bike thief is convicted arsonist on parole

VAIL — A Denver man will face additional charges for two more bike thefts that occurred in Vail last month, police said.

Robin Jay Clifton

A Yeti mountain bike reported stolen June 25 from City Market in Vail was recovered in Idaho Springs on Wednesday. It was valued at $2,000.

A GT 4 Series road bike reported stolen June 25 from Vail Das Schone was recovered in Denver on Wednesday. It was valued at $500.

Robin Jay Clifton, 60, will face additional charges in the two thefts, said Sgt. Justin Liffick of the Vail Police Department.

Clifton already faces charges of second-degree burglary, two counts of felony theft and misdemeanor criminal mischief in connection with two high-end bikes stolen from the Base Camp shop in Vail Village on June 23 and 25. The June 25 theft included breaking a window on the shop’s storefront.

He was arrested July 3 in Denver. He is now in the Eagle County Detention Facility.

A total of seven bikes were reported stolen in Vail between June 23 and June 27.

Additional stolen property has been recovered in Westminster, Liffick said. He said he could not comment further on the Westminster property due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

Long criminal history

In 2007, Clifton pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree arson in connection with four buildings that were set on fire in Rifle on Sept. 5, 2005. The blazes caused more than $1.5 million in damages.

He also pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count each of aggravated motor vehicle theft and indecent exposure.

He was sentenced in 24 years in prison.

The buildings that were burned in Rifle were the Fireside Lanes bowling alley, townhomes, the Mi Hacienda Nightclub, and an Amoco service station.

Before the fires, Clifton was arrested for indecently exposing himself at the Rifle Wal-Mart parking lot, according to a report in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He was in a truck that had a stolen trailer with a motorcycle on it, the report said.

Prosecutors said that Clifton later set the blazes in order to try to destroy evidence, as well as distract authorities, the paper reported.

Clifton’s criminal history dates back to 1978 and includes convictions ranging from robbery to drugs to prison escape, the report said.

Clifton was released on parole in 2015, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

The July 3 arrest was made with the assistance of Clifton’s parole officer.