Karl Herchenroeder

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May 15, 2014
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Despite Manhattan verdict, Sam and Charles Wyly viewed fondly in Aspen

Roaring Fork Valley residents are reacting after a civil-trial jury found Monday that brothers Sam and Charles Wyly acted fraudulently by trying to hide assets they controlled in four public companies that sold for billions of dollars.

According to The Associated Press, the New York City jury returned its verdict against 79-year-old Sam Wyly and the estate of his deceased brother Charles, whom the Securities and Exchange Commission had accused of earning more than $500 million illegally by using offshore accounts to trade securities. Damages are yet to be determined, and defense attorney Stephen Susman reportedly said, “We will continue to fight for justice through the next phase of the legal process,” according to the AP.

Sam and his brother Charles Wyly, who died in an August 2011 car accident on Highway 82 near the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, are known for their philanthropic contributions and involvement throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Charles Wyly provided seed money for the independently run Wyly Community Art Center in Basalt, while Sam Wyly — who purchased Explore Booksellers in 2007 after founder Katherine Thalberg died — has made contributions to the Aspen Animal Shelter.

Aspen Animal Shelter Director Seth Sachson, who has been following the years-long court battle, said Monday’s verdict has not changed his opinion about the Wyly family. He said Sam Wyly and his wife, Cheryl, have donated countless time and energy to the shelter while also offering their home for animals and guests.

“Even if we never saw another cent from the Wyly family, it won’t change my opinion of them,” Sachson said. “I think they have been a huge asset to the community beyond their financial contributions.”

Former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling, who was married to Thalberg, said he didn’t know what to expect when Sam Wyly bought Explore Booksellers. Stirling had submitted a $5 million offer to buy the store on behalf of a 10-person group he was aligned with, but Thalberg’s estate chose the billionaire Wyly. For all Stirling knew, the bookstore — which he regards as the “literary, cultural and moral center of town” — would be turned into high-end condominiums by a man who didn’t see its value.

When Stirling found out Sam Wyly was a voracious reader, he asked how it was possible the well-known contributor to Republican campaigns could be so conservative.

“His answer was, ‘Reading can lead you anywhere, Bill,’” Stirling said.

Still, Monday’s verdict did not come as a surprise to Stirling, who regarded Sam Wyly as a libertarian thinker against big government.

“It’s not a surprise to me or anybody else in town that he would be in the situation he is in now with the federal government,” Stirling said, adding later that Sam Wyly is “colorful, generous and a great character as part of the second-home community here in Aspen.”

Longtime valley resident Michael Cleverly said he can’t deny that they’ve made all the right moves in Aspen, but he detests their political tactics. It is well-known that the brothers have used their wealth to heavily support Republican candidates and causes. According to The New York Times, by the Wylys’ own estimate, they’ve donated more than $10 million to Republican candidates since the 1970s. They also contributed about $30,000 to the infamous Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Sen. John Kerry in 2004’s presidential race.

“I detest everything they’ve done politically,” Cleverly said. “They’re right-wing power brokers, and they’ve used their billions for their political agenda, and that’s that. Nowadays, we focus on the Koch brothers, but the Wylys are doing it right along with them, and they’re still doing it. It’s just that the Koch brothers are slightly more egregious.”

Like Sachson, Wyly Community Art Center board member Jay Magidson said the verdict does not change his opinion about the Wyly brothers.

“The Wylys have been so generous to us and so terrific to the community,” he said, adding that he does not know all the facts about the verdict. “Personally, this doesn’t mean anything to me. I mean, I know them personally — I think they’re terrific, some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I’m sorry about Charles’ passing.”

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The Aspen Times Updated May 14, 2014 10:04PM Published May 15, 2014 12:36PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.