A Guatemalan man believed to have been involved in a string of recent thefts of items donated to The Thrift Shop of Aspen was arrested early Wednesday morning and placed on an immigration hold at the Pitkin County Jail.
Esblimer Perez-Ruano, 30, whose address is listed as the Pan and Fork Trailer Park in Basalt, has been deported at least twice before, according to Pitkin County District Court records. During an advisement proceeding before District Judge Gail Nichols on Wednesday, he was told he faces a felony charge of criminal impersonation. Nichols set his cash surety bond at $5,000 and scheduled his next court appearance for Monday.
Perez-Ruano and another man, Jairo Canales-Ramirez, 19, of El Jebel, were arrested on misdemeanor charges on Sept. 9 by Aspen Police following an investigation into several days of thefts behind the East Hopkins Avenue thrift shop. At the time, Perez-Ruano provided a Mexico driver’s license showing his name as Christian Hernesto Rodriguez.
After “Rodriguez” was released from jail that same day with a summons to appear in Aspen Municipal Court three weeks later, local authorities learned that he had provided false identification in order to avoid another deportation, according to police and court records, and a new arrest warrant was issued.
Meanwhile, Canales-Ramirez was in Municipal Court on Wednesday for a disposition on charges stemming from the Sept. 9 arrest. Assistant City Attorney Debbie Quinn, who prosecutes municipal cases, said Canales-Ramirez was ordered to pay restitution of $20 to The Thrift Shop and his case was dismissed on Tuesday, she said, an informal “restorative justice” meeting was held at City Hall. It was attended by Quinn, Canales-Ramirez, his aunt, police, a thrift-store representative and an interpreter.
“Everyone who talked with him believed that he misunderstood what the stuff in the alley was for, that someone had told him he could take what he wanted,” Quinn said. “We believed him and he apologized.”
Signs in the alley behind the thrift store in Spanish and English provide warnings that the items left to be donated to the nonprofit organization are not up for grabs, police and store employees point out.
Diane Wallace, co-president of the nonprofit, all-volunteer shop, said that in the wake of the recent thefts, her organization will step up its control of the drop-off area behind the store with additional signs — in Spanish and English — that plainly state, “nothing here is free.”
Already, the store relies on outdoor surveillance cameras, which provided photographs that aided police in their recent investigation.
“Dumpster diving” — the practice of jumping into the outside trash container for discarded items that store workers don’t believe they can sell — always has been illegal. But the store recognizes that there might be some confusion among local residents about items left to the side of the dumpster and a recycling container, Wallace said.
That’s because years ago, the thrift store provided a “free pile” where people could pick up anything they wanted. The “free pile” is long gone, she said.
“We don’t want to be policing everything, but we have to get it under better control,” she said. “It’s been an ongoing problem.”
The thrift store, which counts 130 volunteers, makes annual donations totaling more than $450,000 to schools, clubs, charities and nonprofit groups throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, Wallace added.