Cash, ski gear found in Aspen Mountain shack dweller’s SUV | VailDaily.com

Cash, ski gear found in Aspen Mountain shack dweller’s SUV

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Police found thousands of dollars in cash Friday and numerous articles of ski gear with price tags still attached when officers searched an SUV belonging to a man they believe has been living in an illegally built shack on Aspen Mountain, an officer said.

In addition, officers found numerous uncashed checks from GearTrade.com, shipping receipts from the Aspen post office and unused post office bags for shipping items in a 2005 Nissan Xterra registered to James Hogue, said Aspen police Detective Jeff Fain.

"One can likely assume that he was stealing stuff from places in town and selling it on GearTrade.com," said Fain, who was in the process of logging the items Friday afternoon. "I've got a huge pile of stuff on the hood."

Finally, an area resident hiked up to the area above the Shadow Mountain Condominiums on Friday where Hogue's illegally built shack was located and found a stash of skis, snowboards and bike frames under a tarp, Fain said. The detective and other officers planned on heading up to the area late Friday to search for other stashes, he said.

"We're talking a pretty major felony here (if the items turn out to be stolen)," Fain said.

Meanwhile, Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely ordered Hogue, 57, held in lieu of a $5,000 bond Friday after he appeared in court to face a felony charge of criminal impersonation. That charge relates to Hogue's arrest Thursday at the Pitkin County Library, when he told an officer his name was "David Bee" from Ontario, Canada.

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Hogue told the judge he was both jobless and homeless and asked for a bond "a lot lower than $5,000." Asked where he lived, Hogue said, "Wherever I am."

Police believe Hogue was living in the illegally built shack on Shadow Mountain, the westernmost peak on Aspen Mountain, for possibly the past year and a half to two years. Officers knocked on the door of the fully enclosed, insulated shack in late September, but the man inside jumped out a window and disappeared into the woods.

Police said the same man — who later turned out to be Hogue — attempted to build another cabin about 100 feet west of the previous cabin Tuesday but was confronted by Aspen Skiing Co. employees and told to leave.

When the employees noticed Hogue was loading duffel bags into a Nissan Xterra, which had a ski patrol parking pass hanging from the rearview mirror, they called police. Fain arrived and asked Hogue through a loudspeaker to come down the mountain and speak to him, but Hogue instead again disappeared.

A library patron spotted him Thursday using a computer in the facility's basement and called police. He was arrested on the impersonation charge and a Boulder County warrant from August 2015 charging two counts of misdemeanor theft between $750 and $2,000.

Hogue is the same man who posed as a 16-year-old high school student in Palo Alto, California, when he was 26 years old, then in his late 20s and early 30s fraudulently competed for the Princeton track team for two years under a fake name. He's also served time in prison for stealing bike frames in California and numerous items valued at more than $100,000 in the Telluride area.

Fain, who wasn't yet done searching Hogue's SUV on Friday, said he'd already discovered about 20 ski jackets, each with a price tag of between $400 and $500. There also were about five pairs of ski pants, he said.

Some of the items were brands like Millet and Mammoth that are only sold at one particular place in town, while others appeared to be from the North Face and Ute Mountaineer stores, Fain said.

"He's got a whole ski-gear swap running out of the back of his truck here," Fain said.

Fain also said he discovered between $13,000 and $14,000 in cash in the Nissan as well as an industrial-strength magnet and wire cutters that could be used to cut off store security tags.

jauslander@aspentimes.com