Judge: Recent Aspen area theft cases informed Johnson sentence
Embezzlement and theft are recurring themes in the Aspen-area crime annals, and the District Court judge who sent Derek Johnson to prison for six years Tuesday brought up three recent such cases before passing down the sentence.
Johnson, a former Aspen Skiing Co. executive, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft for stealing more than 13,000 pairs of skis valued at $6 million from the ski company over 12 years and selling them on eBay for more than $3 million. He is scheduled to begin his prison sentence Monday at 7 p.m. when he reports to the Pitkin County Jail.
His wife, Kerri, also has pleaded guilty to felony theft and is scheduled to be sentenced next month, though she will not face a prison term under terms of her plea deal.
“The utmost consideration for the court is the integrity of the judicial process,” District Judge Chris Seldin said Tuesday.
Seldin told Johnson, a former Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate, that he first pondered the cases of Shannon Nagle, a former office manager who stole more than $660,000 from a local women’s clinic where her sister was a doctor, and Angela Callen, who embezzled at least $125,000 from the nonprofit Red Brick Council for the Arts.
Seldin, who adjudicated both cases, noted that each ended with probationary sentences that included 90 days in the Pitkin County Jail, the maximum jail term he could have given under terms of the plea deal.
Because Nagle embezzled money that belonged to her sister and her sister’s business partners, her crime involved “a betrayal no less acute” than Johnson’s, as well as a significant amount of money. However, Nagle’s sister did not want her to go to prison, which contributed to the terms of a plea deal in which the District Attorney’s Office agreed not to recommend a prison sentence.
Seldin said Tuesday — as well as during Nagle’s sentencing in June 2018 — that he probably would have given her a prison sentence without the stipulation from the DA’s Office.
“I was concerned it would depreciate the severity of the (crime),” he said Tuesday.
Also, Nagle had already begun paying more than $570,000 in restitution — she returned $110,000 worth of cash and jewelry to the women’s clinic — which also weighed in favor of a probationary sentence.
Restitution also was a deciding factor in his decision to sentence Callen in July to probation as well, Seldin said. Callen wrote a check for $50,000 the day she pleaded guilty toward the $125,000 in restitution she stole. She also took significantly less than either Nagle or Johnson, the judge said.
“(Those) two recent cases would suggest a probationary sentence (for Johnson),” Seldin said.
Then the judge turned to the case the Robin McMillan, who investigators said embezzled more than $440,000 while working at the Garfield County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Glenwood Springs. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2015, though that sentence was reduced to nine years.
Finally, Seldin noted the gravity of Johnson’s theft and betrayal. He said it “dwarfs” the prior theft cases he’s dealt with. He called it an “incredibly serious offense” and pointed out Johnson’s “willingness to subjugate the interests of the company‘s division, over which he had authority, to his own personal interest.”
Also, the fact that, according to Skico executives, Johnson ordered two to three times the number of demo skis the company needed to pad the inventory he eventually sold on eBay — “that, to me, really stood out,” Seldin said.
“The scale of the theft here and the deliberate nature of it is such that a probationary sentence would depreciate the seriousness of the offense,” he said.
So, in the end, when he looked at the facts of the Johnson case weighed against the law, Seldin said he concluded that it was more like McMillian’s.
“The scale and the amount of theft is enough to justify a Department of Corrections sentence,” he concluded.