Cops: Former city councilman stole $2.4 million from Aspen Skiing Co. | VailDaily.com

Cops: Former city councilman stole $2.4 million from Aspen Skiing Co.

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A former Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate allegedly stole and sold more than $2.4 million worth of skis, snowboards and other goods while working as an Aspen Skiing Co. executive for 17 years, according to court documents.

Derek Johnson, 51, and his wife, Kerri Johnson, 48, were charged Monday with theft of more than $1 million, a felony on par with attempted murder. The couple also were charged with burglary, cybercrime and conspiracy, which are all felonies.

Derek Johnson, who was fired by Skico in the wake of the theft allegations in December, is currently working as a delivery driver for an Aspen restaurant, while he and his wife and three children are surviving mostly on savings, Kenneth Citron, his lawyer, said Monday morning in Pitkin County District Court.

Citron asked District Judge Chris Seldin to grant the Johnsons personal recognizance bonds — which would have meant they could be let out of jail without posting any money — because the couple have “really limited financial resources.”

“This is a man who has dedicated his entire life — other than to his profession and family — to this community,” Citron said, noting that Johnson has sat on numerous boards including the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Snowmass Village Resort Association and the Red Brick Center for the Arts.

Prosecutor Don Nottingham, however, said that Johnson was filling those community roles — which also included coaching kids’ hockey and football — while he was allegedly stealing more than $2 million “over a lengthy amount of time.” In addition, the Johnsons are each facing as many as 24 years in prison if convicted, which could provide a compelling reason for them to flee, Nottingham said.

Seldin noted that he initially set the bond lower than the prescribed amount, and decided Monday to keep the Johnsons’ bonds at $10,000 cash or surety. As of Monday afternoon, neither Johnson was listed as an inmate on the Pitkin County Jail’s online roster.

Neither Johnson spoke in court Monday.

Johnson helped found the D&E Snowboard Shop and sold it to Skico in 2001, when he was kept on as managing director of the company’s retail-rental division. He also served on the Aspen City Council between 2009 and 2013 and ran for mayor in 2013.

Skico fired Johnson in December, calling the situation “tragic” and “very painful and personal,” though company officials declined to comment further. Johnson, at the time, said his firing was “a private employment matter” and also refused to comment further.

Court documents unsealed Monday indicate that Skico’s security manager told Aspen police Nov. 9 about an anonymous tip the company’s human resources department had received about Johnson stealing demo skis and selling them through an eBay account called “sportandski.”

Spreadsheets found on Johnson’s computer at his home showed that between 2010 and 2018, he and his wife listed $2.15 million in total sales from the eBay account, according to the court documents.

In addition, police found more than $224,000 worth of skis and snowboards in a storage unit rented by the Johnsons. That gear was turned back over to Skico officials, the documents state. Finally, the couple also billed Skico nearly $42,000 since November 2015 for ski boxes they used to send the allegedly stolen Skico skis to their eBay customers.

That is a total of $2.41 million in alleged theft, according to the Johnsons’ arrest warrant affidavits.

“I did not find any receipts or documentation relating to the procurement of ski equipment,” Aspen police Det. Adriano Minniti wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Pitkin County District Court.

Skico hired an Aspen law firm to investigate the situation, and provided Aspen police with a copy of the report.

The investigation led to an employee hired in 2017 to better track company inventory. During the 2017 inventory, the employee discovered 150 pairs of skis missing and informed his supervisor, according to the documents. The supervisor asked Johnson about it, who told him not to worry about it, so the situation was forgotten.

The next year, the same employee organized the inventory of skis into categories, then noticed that 80 pairs of high-end demo skis later went missing, the documents state. Security camera footage then showed Johnson taking the skis from racks the employee organized and putting them into a Skico box truck.

The box truck was equipped with GPS, and was tracked to Johnson’s home and then to his storage unit, the documents state.

“Based on existing evidence, Johnson would take skis from ASC’s inventory and he or his wife would deliver them to a small warehouse in Aspen that they rented,” according to the report’s summary quoted in the court documents. “It appears that their practice was to remove any stickers identifying the skis as ASC property, photograph them and post them on eBay for sale by auction.

“To facilitate delivery of skis to purchasers, the Johnsons used ski boxes that were purchased and paid for by ASC.”

The Johnsons billed Skico more than $6,000 for the ski boxes in August 2018 alone, according to the documents. In 2018, the couple allegedly sold 580 pairs of skis to the tune of nearly $140,000. Tax documents found on ASC servers indicated the couple reported $495,000 in sales in 2017.

In addition, a forensic audit found that more than $1 million in inventory was missing since 2008, and that “the ski sales increased in the last couple of years and … that the loss incurred last year was approximately $500,000,” according to the documents.

In its report, the law firm said it didn’t know if Johnson procured ski equipment from other sources besides Skico. Johnson allegedly told the firm he had other sources prior to 2012, though the only source he named later denied selling him anything, according to the court documents.

In a file found on his computer titled “timeline,” Johnson said the eBay situation started as a way for D&E to reduce used inventory and was run, at first, with Skico’s knowledge, according to the documents.

The operation wound down when his children were young and when he was on City Council, then was brought back and “intended to (be) run above board,” the documents state. It eventually “spiraled out of control,” Johnson wrote in the file, according to the documents.

“I was miserable with role at ASC (we were trapped),” he wrote, the documents state. “Kerri was not happy with her work.”

Johnson told Aspen police that senior Skico executives did not know he had restarted the eBay business and that his wife was the only other person involved, though he was solely responsible for obtaining the skis, according to the documents.

“Several times he volunteered that ‘Kerri didn’t know where I got the inventory,’” the documents state. She did know the source of the ski boxes, however, according to the documents.

According to documents found on Derek Johnson’s computer, the Johnsons have nearly $102,000 in credit card debt and owe more than $294,000 in other debts.

On Monday, Johnson’s lawyer said the couple own only their employee-housing unit in Aspen and no other property.

jauslander@aspentimes.com