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July 12, 2010
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Bert Fingerhut quietly seeks return to old Aspen life

ASPEN -He was once a steward of Aspen's outdoor community, until the federal government snared him in an elaborate securities scheme that netted millions of dollars.Now Bert Fingerhut is trying to recapture those post-Wall Street retirement days of guided tours and rescue missions, in both the Aspen area and elsewhere in the West. Fingerhut has petitioned a judge to shorten his three-year supervised release sentence so that he can obtain an EMT certification to work for such organizations as Aspen Mountain Rescue, court records show.An alternative to parole or probation, supervised release includes Fingerhut regularly reporting to two U.S. court officers who monitor his behavior. He also faces random drug tests and must get permission to leave his home state of California. In a four-page letter to U.S. District Judge James S. Ware, of the Northern District of California, Fingerhut says he has grown from his experience in federal custody, which included stints at the Lompoc Federal Prison Camp in California, a halfway house and home confinement. His two-year sentence began in November 2007, but he was let out early - May 8, 2009 - because of good behavior.Fingerhut, who declined to comment for this story, notes he's not eligible for EMT consideration because he is on supervised release, which took effect immediately after his custody ended. As a general rule convicted felons are not allowed to obtain EMT certification, but Fingerhut wrote that consideration is "sometimes given ... on a case by case basis." Fingerhut's EMT certification expired while he was in custody."My service as an EMT has been an important part of my life," Fingerhut wrote to the judge, "and something I have done for over 20 years. I have always worked as a volunteer, mostly on the Aspen Mountain Rescue team. For a short time before my incarceration, I also served on the Santa Clara Search and Rescue Team. By being involved in these things I felt I made a strong contribution to others in my community."Fingerhut, who owns an Aspen home and currently resides in Palo Alto, Calif., pleaded guilty in May 2007 to federal conspiracy charges stemming from a decade-long plot to make illegal profits by circumventing state and federal banking regulations to make lucrative stock purchases. Prosecutors said Fingerhut would illegally buy stock in mutual banks that were about to make their initial public offerings, and in doing so, cheated investors out of $12 million. As part of a civil lawsuit settlement with the government, he agreed to forfeit $11 million in illegal profits.At the time of his plea, Securities and Exchange Commission regional director Mark K. Schonfeld called the scheme "the most extensive bank conversion fraud we have ever seen."Before the scam, Fingerhut, now 66, made his fortune on Wall Street as a securities analyst, and at one time was the director of research at Oppenheimer & Co. In 1983, when he was 40, he retired and moved to Aspen, according to published reports.Fingerhut's criminal conviction shook the conservation and environmental community, where he'd been a board member of the Wilderness Society, among others environmental groups. Locally, he served on Mountain Rescue Aspen for 18 years. And, before his August 2007 sentencing hearing, both Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and members of Mountain Rescue Aspen's board of directors, including its president, Hugh Zuker, sent letters to a judge touting Fingerhut's selfless work as a volunteer. Zuker is running for sheriff, a seat Braudis will leave in January. Zuker said Thursday that he has not been in touch with Fingerhut, but he would welcome him back to Mountain Rescue. "We put his status as a member of Mountain Rescue, in spirit," Zuker said. "He's still well thought of."In his letter to the judge, Fingerhut notes that he has rejoined the board of Aspen nonprofit EcoFlight, an environmental nonprofit.Another nonprofit, the Grand Canyon Trust, has not accepted Fingerhut back to its board because of the supervised release, Fingerhut wrote, "though the board is eager to have me return. And I am eager to do so."Fingerhut also has spent time with his family, and worked on such nonprofits as the Peninsula Open Space Trust in Palo Alto. He led a nine-day hiking trip through the Grand Canyon for the Sierra Club, and recently was guest speaker at a criminology class, according to his letter to the judge.Additionally, Fingerhut writes that he's been invited to speak at the University of Oregon, and is helping a Stanford Law School student on a paper she is doing on former inmates who re-enter society."I know that I have complied fully with all of my obligations and responsibilities and hope the court can recognize that, given my age, family responsibilities, the nature of the crime that I have committed and my recent behavior, the risk of my ever engaging again in illegal and criminal activities is very remote."He continues: "Your Honor, the last several years have been certainly the low point of my life, but I have not wasted them. Nor shall I waste the years left to me. I learned much about myself from the prison experience. There are surely gentler teachers than shame but few are more effective."In an order issued June 30, Judge Ware appeared persuaded, writing that Fingerhut "has presented colorable basis for early termination of supervised relief." The judge noted before he can cut short the release, he needs a response from the government and a report and recommendation from the probation office supporting Fingerhut's petition. The responses are due no later than July 12. rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jul 12, 2010 06:38AM Published Jul 12, 2010 12:53AM Copyright 2010 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.