Nikos Hecht of Aspen cleared in federal civil suit alleging rape in Mexico
DENVER — A federal civil jury took just 45 minutes Friday to decide that Aspen developer Nikos Hecht did not rape or assault a Florida woman three years ago in Mexico.
The five women and two men on the jury found that Hecht proved the sexual encounter with Suzanna Dailey was consensual.
“These baseless allegations have taken a terrible toll on me and my family,” Hecht, 47, said in a statement emailed to The Aspen Times after the verdict. “I am thankful the jury saw these claims for what they were — utterly and completely false.
“I look forward to putting this matter behind me and returning my full attention to my family whose support has been unwavering.”
Dailey, 68, said after the verdict that she had no regrets.
“I won,” she said outside the U.S. District courtroom. “I came here and I confronted him and he was guilty. I feel proud of us all.”
Dailey alleged that after a March 2014 dinner at a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, which included Hecht’s then-wife and children and Dailey’s 90-year-old mother, Hecht asked Dailey if she wanted a tour of the gardens. Dailey testified that she accepted, hooked her arm through his and that about 60 feet down the path, Hecht grabbed her by the back of the neck, forcibly kissed her, then threw her to the ground and raped her.
The two had met for the first time just four days before through Dailey’s sister, who knew the Hecht family and ran into them on the beach.
During his testimony, Hecht told a story that was the exact opposite of Dailey’s.
Dailey fawned over him when they first met, Hecht testified, then joined him while he was already walking down the garden path at the restaurant looking for his son. Dailey kissed him first, performed oral sex on him, then took off her own shorts and his pants and invited him to her.
Even U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson commented on the vast chasm between the two stories before he read the verdict.
“It’s somewhat unusual in civil court to have stories that are so diametrically different,” he told jurors.
The trial began Tuesday with jury selection and featured three-and-a-half full days of testimony at the Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse in downtown Denver. The jury received the case at nearly 4 p.m. Friday, and returned with a verdict at about 4:45 p.m.
Friday morning began with the continuation of the cross examination of Hecht by Jennifer Altman, one of Dailey’s attorneys. It featured many graphic, sexual details and words repeated over and over again as Altman attempted to cast doubt on Hecht’s version of events.
Near the end, Altman brought up Hecht’s 2015 divorce and wondered about the reasons.
“There was trouble at that time,” Hecht said. “There were a number of causes. (The incident with Dailey) didn’t help.”
Judge Jackson allowed juror questions after every witness and one question stood out before Hecht left the stand.
“Do you frequently cheat on your wife?” Jackson said, reading the juror’s question.
“I have cheated beyond that time,” Hecht said. “But frequent? No.”
Sara Willis, Hecht’s personal chef since 2010, took the stand after her boss and also had to answer a question about Hecht’s infidelity.
“Is it true that Alison Hecht accused you of having sex with Nikos Hecht?” said Aryeh Kaplan, one of Dailey’s attorneys.
“Yes,” Willis replied.
Before that, Willis said she thought Dailey had been trying to get Hecht’s attention during the cocktail party when the two first met at Hecht’s home in Cabo San Lucas.
“I said I thought she was pretty old — like twice his age,” Willis said. “I thought it was gross.”
Four days later at the restaurant, Willis said she was looking for Hecht at one point and saw him with Dailey up the garden path and they were having a conversation about 8 inches apart.
“I felt like they were standing very close,” she said. “I thought I would wait for a minute until they finished talking.”
However, the next thing she said she saw was Dailey kneel down in front of Hecht.
“I saw Suzanna grab his jeans in the front and get down on her knees,” Willis said. “That’s all I saw. I made the assumption that she was going to (perform oral sex on him) and I turned around quickly.
“I was embarrassed.”
Willis also testified that Hecht invested in her business and loaned her money to buy land and build a house in Eugene, Oregon, where she lives. She said she’s paying him back.
Alison Hecht testified Friday briefly by video deposition and declined to answer question about drug use.
“I’ll plead the Fifth,” she said after being asked if she was on controlled substances or cocaine at the cocktail party when Hecht and Dailey first met.
“It was a really hard time in my life,” Alison Hecht said. “Anything between then and a year ago has been completely repressed.”
She also said she heard nothing about the rape allegations until Dailey filed her lawsuit in March 2016.
“Quite frankly, I was shocked,” she said. “I knew about the affair but hadn’t heard of the rape before.”
The last witness was Andy Hecht, Nikos’ father and a partner in the longtime Aspen law firm Garfield and Hecht. Andy Hecht said he was at the restaurant that night in Cabo San Lucas, but saw no interactions between his son and Dailey.
He testified that Dailey’s sister, Jeanne Andlinger, came to his office a month or two after the incident in Mexico “and told me Nikos and Ms. Dailey had some sort of sexual encounter” that her son witnessed.
“She thought her sister was flattered because Nikos was younger,” Andy Hecht said, adding that Andlinger never mentioned rape or assault during the conversation. Andlinger testified earlier in the week that she made an appointment to see Andy Hecht because she was so angry and wanted him to know what his son did, though she didn’t say exactly what she told him.
Andy Hecht said he didn’t hear of the rape allegations until Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo called him in August 2015 and told him about meeting with Dailey.
The first mention of a specific amount of money in the case came at the end of Altman’s closing argument, where she told jurors that Dailey deserved $1 a minute for the past three years of suffering. That comes out to $524,000 a year for three years, she said, or $1.57 million.