| AspenTimes.com

Alleged online troll a no-show for Aspen court hearing

While an Aspen law firm believes it has identified the poster of anonymous and false comments about a downtown pet store, it can’t seem to track him down.

A case management conference in the lawsuit pitting C.B. Paws against Ivan Lustig was held Friday, but Lustig was a no-show while the litigating attorneys from Garfield & Hecht PC appeared by telephone.

“To date, Mr. Lustig has not replied to our telephone calls and not responded to our emails,” David Lenyo, one of the lawyers representing plaintiff C.B. Paws, told Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin.

The court also attempted to reach Lustig by phone for the purposes of him attending the hearing but he did not respond, Seldin said.

The hearing came after C.B. Paws sued “John Doe” in March 2018, with the suit’s chief goal to stop the actions of what appeared to be an online troll who chided the business, using multiple online profiles, on the Google and Yelp review sites. The reviews, the suit said, ripped C.B. Paws about its return policy and prices, and included false statements about the shop’s “smells of dog urine, feces and drool.” In turn, C.B. Paws’ reputation was tarnished, the suit claims.

In January, C.B. Paws amended its complaint to identify Lustig, a former employee of C.B. Paws who was fired in November 2017 for his behavior toward a customer, as the poster.

“Lustig made the false statements and negative reviews under circumstances of fraud, malice and/or willful and wanton conduct,” says the suit, which is seeking an injunction to stop Lustig from trolling C.B. Paws on the internet.

Lustig could not be reached for comment Friday. During the hearing, Lenyo said he believed that Lustig might have moved out of Colorado. Lustig does not have an attorney in the case and he has denied the allegations against him.

In a hand-written court filing dated April 8 and entered into the record Tuesday, Lustig listed 403 Park Ave. in Aspen as his address. His filing said he doesn’t have the resources to hire an attorney and he has been unable to obtain pro bono counsel.

“This case is of importance, as it relates to the plaintiffs (word illegible) to suspend constitutionally protected speech based on flaws and evidence void of credibility,” Lustig wrote.

Seldin, meanwhile, instructed the plaintiff to prepare a proposed order, which would require the judge’s signature, telling Lustig to comply with the court’s order to confer with attorneys about the status of the case. Seldin said he was giving Lustig some slack because he doesn’t have an attorney. However, the judge noted Lustig must appear in person at a hearing scheduled May 28. If Lustig no longer lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, Lustig will be required to appear at the hearing by phone, Seldin said.

If he fails to do so, Lustig faces court sanctions and a possible default judgment, Seldin said.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Attorneys indicate Lake Christine Fire suspects are unified, won’t sell out one another

The boyfriend-girlfriend duo accused by police of starting the Lake Christine Fire will not point fingers at one another when their trials start later this spring, their attorneys indicated Thursday.

Richard Miller and Allison Marcus, both 24, are each facing three counts of felony arson for allegedly starting the fire while using the Basalt shooting range July 3. They pleaded not guilty in January.

Stan Garnett, attorney for Marcus, said in a pre-trial court proceeding Thursday that he has made no secret of the defense — she didn’t have the mental state to commit the crime. He said Marcus arrived in the Roaring Fork Valley from Maryland, went to her boyfriend’s dad’s house, then she and Richard Miller went to the shooting range. She was unaware of the fire ban in place at the time or what type of ammunition was with the rifle they borrowed from Miller’s father, according to Garnett.

“This is the one key issue in the case: What did Ms. Marcus know? What was she aware of?” he said.

Garnett later added, “The case is basically about what happened in 45 minutes of July 3.”

Josh Maximon, attorney for Miller, said there would be no antagonistic defense where Miller tries to pin the blame on Marcus. Instead his client will have a “general denial.”

That’s why a motion by Maximon to suppress evidence is so important to the case. Maximon wants a judge to rule that comments made by Miller to law enforcement officials at the Basalt shooting range July 3 while the fire was spreading cannot be used in the trial. Miller allegedly acknowledged that they had tracer rounds for the rifle Marcus was firing.

Investigators believe one of those rounds ignited fire in the grass along the rifle range. The fire spread and eventually burned more than 12,500 acres of national forest, state wildlife area and private lands. It also destroyed three homes.

Maximon and Garnett tried to establish during a four-hour hearing Thursday that Miller’s statement should be tossed because police did not first read him his Miranda rights, which inform a person that statements could be used to prosecute them.

Heidi McCollum, assistant district attorney in the 5th Judicial District, attempted to show that Miller and Marcus were never in police custody. The comments were made voluntarily, she said.

Eagle County District Judge Paul Dunkelman said he would “do my best” to rule on the suppression motion on Friday.

Chris Mandrich, an off-duty law enforcement officer with the White River National Forest, reached the scene before any other law officers. Mandrich testified Thursday he was in flip-flops, board shorts and a casual top after a day at Ruedi Reservoir.

He rushed to the scene from his home in Basalt but didn’t represent himself as a law officer to Miller and Marcus and didn’t detain them, he said. He left the scene when Eagle County Deputy Josiah Maner arrived.

Under cross-examination by Maximon, Mandrich acknowledged he had parked his vehicle in a way that made it difficult for the Jeep that Miller and Marcus were in to leave the scene had they wanted to.

“You could argue one way or another that I boxed in their vehicle,” Mandrich said.

When Maner took the stand, he said Mandrich told him Miller and Marcus were the two “leads” for starting the fire.

“Ms. Marcus kind of approached us and said she was responsible for the fire and was extremely sorry,” Maner said. He said she had voluntarily approached them while they were talking and “just sort of blurted it out.”

She was “very emotional,” he said, and appeared to be almost in shock.

Marcus further explained that she was using the rifle range with a rifle that Miller set her up with, Maner said. Miller said he was using a shotgun. When Maner asked what kind of rounds they were using, Miller said birdshot in the shotgun but he didn’t know about the rifle.

The equipment of Miller and Marcus was spread around so Maner asked if he could check an ammunition box. That’s when Miller acknowledged they had tracer rounds, according to Maner.

“After the admission that they were using tracer rounds,” Maner said, he told them about the fire ban and that they were responsible for knowing those rounds were prohibited. He said he told them they were responsible for the fire.

When asked by McCollum if he read them their Miranda rights, Maner said he did not.

“They weren’t in custody,” he said. “I did not restrain them in any way. I did not put them in handcuffs.”

He issued them a summons but they weren’t arrested or placed into custody.

Under cross-examination, Maximon established that Miller and Marcus were at the shooting range for one hour and nine minutes after Maner arrived. During that time, Maner told them at least five times to “hang tight.”

“They’re being ordered by an officer to stay where they are at least five times over a 69-minute period,” Maximon said.

He claimed that some accusatory statements were made by Maner, such as they were responsible for their weapon and they should have know about the fire ban.

“This was a situation where (Miller) was not allowed to leave. They were asked questions,” Maximon said.

The amount of time they were at the shooting range before Maner told them they could leave qualifies as custody and they were subjected to custodial interrogation, Maximon said.

McCollum saw it differently. “Hang tight” is a colloquialism that didn’t literally mean stay where you are. Instead, Maner meant he would be right back after attending to other duties. In addition to questioning Miller and Marcus, he was relaying conditions at the scene to his superiors, coordinating with firefighters on the scene and discussing if evacuations were needed in homes close to the shooting range.

Maner didn’t talk to Miller and Marcus for 69 consecutive minutes, she said. He talked to them for a few minutes in between those other duties.

McCollum said both Marcus and Miller volunteered information to Maner. Marcus took responsibility for the fire and called 911.

“Of course they were the prime suspects,” McCollum said. “She said, ‘Yes, it was me.’”

When Maner asked to look at the ammo box used by Miller and Marcus, Miller said, “Well, if I can be honest, it was tracer rounds,” according to McCollum.

“I don’t think the court should suppress any of the comments by Mr. Miller,” McCollum said.

Dunkelman acknowledged that the ruling in the suppression motion is substantial.

“A huge part of this case is Mister Miller’s statement,” he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Judge denies Aspen man’s request to withdraw guilty plea

An Aspen man who pleaded guilty to burglary and indecent exposure charges last year will have to suffer the consequences of that action after a District Court judge refused Thursday to let him withdraw his plea.

District Judge Chris Seldin said that though Benjamin Morton, 30, didn’t have a lawyer at the time of his plea, he was still properly advised of the consequences of his guilty plea, including the fact that he’d have to register as a sex offender.

Allowing Morton to withdraw the plea would “make a mockery” of the court’s regular, detailed efforts to ensure defendants pleading guilty understand what they’re doing, Seldin said. The judge routinely goes through a lengthy series of questions to make sure defendants who plead guilty know the consequences of their actions and understand the rights they give up in such situations.

Seldin, who handled Morton’s case from beginning to end, said he was always under the impression that Morton was able to make rational, adult choices about his case.

“There was no reason to doubt that his answers to my questions were accurate and truthful,” Seldin said.

However, Morton’s lawyer, Michael Fox, said his client had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what he’d done and what punishments he was in line to receive. Morton, who has a learning disability, didn’t even know what charges he’d pleaded guilty to, which was a just reason to allow the plea withdrawal, Fox said.

The judge disagreed.

Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies arrested Morton in May after a woman reported seeing him enter her apartment and masturbate in her roommate’s room. He later admitted the behavior to a deputy.

In October, he pleaded guilty to felony burglary and misdemeanor indecent exposure. The burglary plea was in exchange for a two-year deferred sentence, meaning the felony conviction would not appear on his record after two years provided he wasn’t charged with another crime.

The indecent exposure plea, however, came with no strings. That meant Morton would have to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years, prosecutor Don Nottingham said.

Nottingham said he wrote in the plea paperwork he gave to Morton in October that he would have to register as a sex offender, and repeated that information in an email he sent him.

The May offense was not the first time Morton had been in trouble for his behavior.

In April 2018, Morton pleaded guilty to misdemeanor public indecency after Snowmass Village police arrested him for allegedly masturbating in a condominium complex hot tub. He received a year of unsupervised probation in that case. He was originally charged with indecent exposure when he was arrested.

Morton is scheduled to be sentenced under terms of his October plea deal next month.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Bond reduced for alleged Glenwood child trafficker

A 9th District judge on Thursday significantly reduced bond for Damara Hester, accused of trafficking juveniles for sex from a Glenwood Springs hotel in 2017.

Along with Hester, 26, a grand jury indictment in October accused Dasjuan Goode, 31, of operating the prostitution ring, and accused Ronald Braden, 53, of allegedly paying for sex with one or more of the juveniles the other two allegedly trafficked.

District Judge Denise Lynch reduced Hester’s bond from $50,000 to $10,000 cash surety, after hearing arguments about Hester’s minor criminal record and her desire to reunite with her son.

“Damara has a place to stay, (and) she has family willing to take her in and care for her,” public defender Elise Myer, Hester’s attorney, said in court.

Hester was most concerned for the son she had with Goode, Myer said. The child, who is 8 months old, had been in Hester’s mother’s care, but now is with Goode’s mother, who is unresponsive. Hester has been in custody in Garfield County for more than five months.

Goode was not in court Thursday as he is in custody facing charges in Arapahoe County. He also pleaded guilty recently to weapons charges in Adams County and sentenced to 18 months in Colorado Department of Corrections.

Goode’s mother has refused to give the child back to Hester’s mother, Myer said, and there’s concern about the child’s welfare. Goode himself will apparently be unable to take care of the child, Myer said.

Myer also indicated that Hester was coerced and manipulated by Goode in his relationship with her, as well as in the alleged charges of setting up a juvenile prostitution ring.

Hester is committed to seeing the case to its conclusion, Myer said.

Janet Drake of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said the alleged victims in the case objected to reduction in bond for Hester, and said Hester’s family was clearly “ensconced in gang activity,” particularly through her father.

Myer countered that Hester’s mother is a business owner in Denver, and in a stable position to care for Hester and ensure she returns to Glenwood Springs for court, if she is able to make bond.

“I do think this bond was set so high due to the nature of the charges,” Lynch said. Hester’s record included only traffic and misdemeanor infractions, Lynch said.

It’s unclear what sort of conditions could be placed on Hester in the event she is released on bond, but Drake suggested an ankle monitor. Myer said they would accept any conditions of release.

Through his attorney, Braden requested a continuance in his case to June. The attorney said they are working with prosecutors on a possible plea deal, but if it doesn’t come by the next court date, Braden intends to plead not guilty.

tphippen@postindependent.com

Rage against bear killing leads to arson plea

A Pitkin County man admitted Wednesday to taking extreme measures when he retaliated against a hunter who legally killed a bear on a next-door ranch last fall.

Thomas Andersen, 69, pleaded guilty to felony attempted arson and misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Pitkin County District Court on Wednesday in exchange for a plea deal. The terms of the deal call for the felony conviction to be wiped from Andersen’s record after two years provided he is not charged with another crime during that time.

Andersen is scheduled to be sentenced in June, when he could receive time in the Pitkin County Jail or probation. He did not answer his phone or respond to a text message sent Wednesday seeking comment.

Andersen, who lives on Lower Brush Creek Road near Snowmass Village in unincorporated Pitkin County, confronted the hunter the evening of Sept. 7 after witnessing the bear killing on the Brush Creek Ranch next door to his home, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report. The hunter told sheriff’s deputies that Andersen was “in a rage” and began screaming at him, his two young sons and the ranch caretaker despite the fact that the hunter had a valid bear-hunting permit and permission to hunt on the property. Andersen called the boys — who were 5 and 7 years old at the time — “sons of bitches” and “little bastards” and told them their father was a “murderer” and a “dumbf—,” the report states.

Deputies were called back to the ranch later that night after the hunter reported finding gasoline poured on the ranch driveway, along with a gas can nozzle and a piece of brown paper bag. A deputy asked Andersen at that time if he poured the gas on the driveway in retaliation for the bear killing, and Andersen said, “Yeah, but I didn’t light the fire,” according to the report.

Andersen’s son told the Times in September that his father is a nature-lover, had been watching the bears all summer and was upset to witness the killing. He also said his father spilled the gas while carrying a heavy gas can and had no intention of lighting a fire.

In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutor Don Nottingham agreed to drop misdemeanor charges of interference with a hunter and telephone harassment. The telephone harassment charge was filed March 28 after Andersen allegedly called the hunter on March 22 or 23, according to court records.

Kurtis Tesch, Aspen area wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, urged prosecutors to file the interference with hunting charge against Andersen because the hunter was within his rights to kill the bear. On Wednesday, Tesch said Andersen’s actions were out of bounds.

“For one thing, to go after the kids, who are innocent bystanders,” he said. “Then to go back and plan to set the (driveway) on fire. It’s pretty egregious, if you ask me.”

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Social media star Cameron Dallas’ Aspen hearing rescheduled

A social-media and reality TV star charged with assaulting a gay man at an Aspen hotel in December returned to town Tuesday, though a hearing in his case was postponed until this summer.

Cameron Dallas, 24, appeared in Pitkin County District Court on Tuesday morning but a preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause exists to charge him with felony assault was rescheduled for June.

Pat Mika, Dallas’ Colorado Springs-based attorney, said the main reason for the delay was because his investigator had emergency back surgery.

Dallas — an actor and singer with millions of followers on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and a reality TV series on Netflix — was arrested by Aspen police Dec. 29 at the Hyatt Grand Aspen. He allegedly assaulted a 34-year-old man who hit on Dallas’ male friend.

Dallas told police he and his 19-year-old friend allowed the other man to come to their room to charge his phone late that night. Dallas then left the room and returned 30 minutes later to discover that the 34-year-old made sexual advances on his friend.

That prompted Dallas to tell the man to leave, though he refused, causing Dallas to lose his temper and punch him several times in the face and head, according to documents filed in court. Mika also has said the alleged victim was the aggressor, which forced Dallas to protect himself.

The 34-year-old man’s Aspen attorney, however, has said his client was never asked to leave the hotel room, and that Dallas “sucker-punched” the man and attacked him without provocation. The man plans to sue Dallas in the near future, Ryan Kalamaya, his attorney, said Tuesday.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Cops: Former city councilman stole $2.4 million from Aspen Skiing Co.

A former Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate allegedly stole and sold more than $2.4 million worth of skis, snowboards and other goods while working as an Aspen Skiing Co. executive for 17 years, according to court documents.

Derek Johnson, 51, and his wife, Kerri Johnson, 48, were charged Monday with theft of more than $1 million, a felony on par with attempted murder. The couple also were charged with burglary, cybercrime and conspiracy, which are all felonies.

Derek Johnson, who was fired by Skico in the wake of the theft allegations in December, is currently working as a delivery driver for an Aspen restaurant, while he and his wife and three children are surviving mostly on savings, Kenneth Citron, his lawyer, said Monday morning in Pitkin County District Court.

Citron asked District Judge Chris Seldin to grant the Johnsons personal recognizance bonds — which would have meant they could be let out of jail without posting any money — because the couple have “really limited financial resources.”

“This is a man who has dedicated his entire life — other than to his profession and family — to this community,” Citron said, noting that Johnson has sat on numerous boards including the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Snowmass Village Resort Association and the Red Brick Center for the Arts.

Prosecutor Don Nottingham, however, said that Johnson was filling those community roles — which also included coaching kids’ hockey and football — while he was allegedly stealing more than $2 million “over a lengthy amount of time.” In addition, the Johnsons are each facing as many as 24 years in prison if convicted, which could provide a compelling reason for them to flee, Nottingham said.

Seldin noted that he initially set the bond lower than the prescribed amount, and decided Monday to keep the Johnsons’ bonds at $10,000 cash or surety. As of Monday afternoon, neither Johnson was listed as an inmate on the Pitkin County Jail’s online roster.

Neither Johnson spoke in court Monday.

Johnson helped found the D&E Snowboard Shop and sold it to Skico in 2001, when he was kept on as managing director of the company’s retail-rental division. He also served on the Aspen City Council between 2009 and 2013 and ran for mayor in 2013.

Skico fired Johnson in December, calling the situation “tragic” and “very painful and personal,” though company officials declined to comment further. Johnson, at the time, said his firing was “a private employment matter” and also refused to comment further.

Court documents unsealed Monday indicate that Skico’s security manager told Aspen police Nov. 9 about an anonymous tip the company’s human resources department had received about Johnson stealing demo skis and selling them through an eBay account called “sportandski.”

Spreadsheets found on Johnson’s computer at his home showed that between 2010 and 2018, he and his wife listed $2.15 million in total sales from the eBay account, according to the court documents.

In addition, police found more than $224,000 worth of skis and snowboards in a storage unit rented by the Johnsons. That gear was turned back over to Skico officials, the documents state. Finally, the couple also billed Skico nearly $42,000 since November 2015 for ski boxes they used to send the allegedly stolen Skico skis to their eBay customers.

That is a total of $2.41 million in alleged theft, according to the Johnsons’ arrest warrant affidavits.

“I did not find any receipts or documentation relating to the procurement of ski equipment,” Aspen police Det. Adriano Minniti wrote in an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Pitkin County District Court.

Skico hired an Aspen law firm to investigate the situation, and provided Aspen police with a copy of the report.

The investigation led to an employee hired in 2017 to better track company inventory. During the 2017 inventory, the employee discovered 150 pairs of skis missing and informed his supervisor, according to the documents. The supervisor asked Johnson about it, who told him not to worry about it, so the situation was forgotten.

The next year, the same employee organized the inventory of skis into categories, then noticed that 80 pairs of high-end demo skis later went missing, the documents state. Security camera footage then showed Johnson taking the skis from racks the employee organized and putting them into a Skico box truck.

The box truck was equipped with GPS, and was tracked to Johnson’s home and then to his storage unit, the documents state.

“Based on existing evidence, Johnson would take skis from ASC’s inventory and he or his wife would deliver them to a small warehouse in Aspen that they rented,” according to the report’s summary quoted in the court documents. “It appears that their practice was to remove any stickers identifying the skis as ASC property, photograph them and post them on eBay for sale by auction.

“To facilitate delivery of skis to purchasers, the Johnsons used ski boxes that were purchased and paid for by ASC.”

The Johnsons billed Skico more than $6,000 for the ski boxes in August 2018 alone, according to the documents. In 2018, the couple allegedly sold 580 pairs of skis to the tune of nearly $140,000. Tax documents found on ASC servers indicated the couple reported $495,000 in sales in 2017.

In addition, a forensic audit found that more than $1 million in inventory was missing since 2008, and that “the ski sales increased in the last couple of years and … that the loss incurred last year was approximately $500,000,” according to the documents.

In its report, the law firm said it didn’t know if Johnson procured ski equipment from other sources besides Skico. Johnson allegedly told the firm he had other sources prior to 2012, though the only source he named later denied selling him anything, according to the court documents.

In a file found on his computer titled “timeline,” Johnson said the eBay situation started as a way for D&E to reduce used inventory and was run, at first, with Skico’s knowledge, according to the documents.

The operation wound down when his children were young and when he was on City Council, then was brought back and “intended to (be) run above board,” the documents state. It eventually “spiraled out of control,” Johnson wrote in the file, according to the documents.

“I was miserable with role at ASC (we were trapped),” he wrote, the documents state. “Kerri was not happy with her work.”

Johnson told Aspen police that senior Skico executives did not know he had restarted the eBay business and that his wife was the only other person involved, though he was solely responsible for obtaining the skis, according to the documents.

“Several times he volunteered that ‘Kerri didn’t know where I got the inventory,’” the documents state. She did know the source of the ski boxes, however, according to the documents.

According to documents found on Derek Johnson’s computer, the Johnsons have nearly $102,000 in credit card debt and owe more than $294,000 in other debts.

On Monday, Johnson’s lawyer said the couple own only their employee-housing unit in Aspen and no other property.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Craig Miller, father of Lake Christine Fire suspect, found not guilty in menacing trial

EAGLE — A jury found Craig Miller not guilty Wednesday of menacing his neighbors after he felt they interfered with his son’s arrest in July for allegedly starting the Lake Christine Fire.

The jury deliberated for about 80 minutes in the Eagle County Courthouse before reaching the verdict. Miller was charged with intent to commit second-degree burglary, two charges of menacing and criminal trespass. The burglary charge was a felony. If he had been found guilty, Miller could have been sentenced to one to three years in prison. The other charges were misdemeanors.

Michael Fox, Miller’s attorney, characterized the case in closing arguments as one of “miscommunication, misinformation and missing evidence.”

“This case is missing evidence and it’s missing evidence because the police didn’t see it,” Fox said. “It didn’t exist.”

In a statement issued after the verdict, Fox built off that theme.

“Craig Miller always maintained his innocence. We appreciate the time and thoughtfulness from these twelve Eagle County jurors to vindicate our client,” the statement said.

“This case was about the police jumping to conclusions and an incompetent investigation,” the statement continued. “For a variety of reasons, those issues were not detailed in previous news articles. If a sufficient investigation had actually been done in this case, Craig should have never been charged.”

Miller’s defense relied almost entirely on his own testimony. He took the stand for about two hours Wednesday explaining why the events of Saturday, July 14, at the home he then rented in Missouri Heights upset him so much.

Miller’s son, Richard Miller, and Richard’s girlfriend, Allison Marcus, had warrants issued for their arrests earlier in July for charges related to the Lake Christine Fire. They allegedly shot tracer rounds at the Basalt State Wildlife Area shooting range late in the afternoon of July 3 and ignited dry grasses and brush.

The fire charred about 12,500 acres of land, destroyed three houses and forced the temporary evacuations of thousands of residents. The firefighting cost was estimated at $17.1 million.

Richard Miller’s trial is scheduled for May 28-June 7; Marcus for June 17-28.

An attorney for Richard Miller and Marcus arranged with the district attorney’s office for the suspects to turn themselves in for arrest at Eagle County Jail on Monday, July 16, according to testimony in the two-day trial.

Craig Miller testified that he was looking forward to a family gathering at his home on the weekend before Richard and Allison had to “deal” with the charges. Those three along with Craig’s other son and his girlfriend as well as Craig’s 74-year-old mother prepared a late dinner together that Saturday night. Craig went to bed at about 9:45 p.m. and was awakened later by voices. After showering, he investigated and found out two Eagle County deputies had sought entry to the house to search for Richard and Marcus after getting a tip they were at the home.

The deputies were gone by the time Craig Miller got out of bed and showered. Richard Miller and Marcus had hidden from the deputies and were still at the home as events unfolded that night.

Craig testified that he was particularly upset because he had spoken to a detective from the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office earlier in the week and explained the surrender agreement. Miller felt he got a commitment that the sheriff’s office would honor the surrender agreement.

When the deputies were at his house that Saturday night, Miller’s first action was to call the detective shortly after 11 p.m. to ask him to call the deputies and “get the people to stop harassing us,” he testified.

He got the detective’s voicemail and left a message that said he didn’t trust him anymore.

Next, Miller headed out from his house to try to find the deputies who had been at his house. He found them a short distance away and approached two police vehicles. He admitted feeling “frustrated, exhausted and stressed out” when he talked to the deputies. A big part of the stress was from protectiveness for his son and his son’s girlfriend.

“The children did nothing wrong,” Miller contended Wednesday at the trial. “They don’t deserve any of this.”

He engaged the deputies in conversation about their efforts to enter his house.

“I’m saying, ‘Are you aware of the arranged surrender agreement and if you are, why are you here?’ ” Miller testified.

He said the deputies told him they had an obligation to act on a tip. Miller remained frustrated and called 911 in an effort to get the name of the deputies’ supervisor so he could complain about their conduct and get them to stop pursuing his son and Marcus that weekend.

“They’ve gone rogue. They’ve gone rogue. They’ve gone rogue trying to help their reputations,” Miller told the dispatcher.

While talking to their supervisor a short time later, he concluded the tip came from a neighbor.

What happened next was at the center of the dispute during the two-day trial. Neighbors Joseph Lewis and Jocelyn Terry testified Tuesday that Miller banged on their door, shined a flashlight in their windows and entered their gated backyard.

In a 911 call played at least twice during the trial, Terry sounded terrified about a man trying to enter their house.

But Miller testified he simply wanted to explain to his neighbors that his family had made a deal that would allow his son and Marcus to turn themselves in on Monday and that his family just wanted to be left alone that weekend.

He insisted that he never banged on the door at the house of Lewis and Terry, never attempted to enter the house and didn’t enter the yard.

Deputies responded to Terry’s 911 call. Craig Miller was arrested. Richard Miller and Marcus surrendered a short time later.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Chief Deputy Joe Kirwan of the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s office portrayed Miller as angry and vindictive when he went to his neighbors’ house.

“We all know, we heard the phone calls, he was peeved,” Kirwan said.

He contended that the trial proved Miller was guilty of all four charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I’m going to suggest there isn’t any doubt in this case,” Kirwan told the jurors. The testimony was 180 degrees different. If the jurors believed Miller’s testimony, they should find him not guilty. If they found the neighbors more credible, they should find Miller not guilty.

Fox countered Miller was stuck in a bad position because the surrender agreement wasn’t shared throughout the sheriff’s office, the neighbors were unaware of the agreement and, because of a lack of information, the neighbors’ concerns might have been exaggerated.

“This case is riddled with reasonable doubt because Craig Miller is innocent,” Fox said.

Man who stole Sno-Cat from Minturn sentenced to three years in community corrections

EAGLE — Jason Cuervo has had a year in jail to reflect on some things. One of those is the realization that stealing a Sno-Cat in broad daylight, in a drug-addled state, and driving it along Interstate 70 is a monumentally bad idea.

In fact, it’s such a monumentally bad idea that his mom exercised some serious tough love and told police where to find him and arrest him.

Cuervo admitted that he stole John Brandenburg’s General Lee Sno-Cat from Minturn, hauled it to a neighborhood west of Grand Junction in the high desert — not a Sno-Cat’s natural habitat — then eluded a SWAT team and fled to the Front Range. He also pleaded guilty to criminal offenses in Mesa, Clear Creek and Jefferson counties.

He’ll spend three years in community corrections, a residential program that oversees offenders outside of jail or prison. He also has to pay for $16,000 in repairs to the General Lee. If he messes up any of that, he goes straight to state prison, said Judge Rachel Fresquez, who handed down the sentence Tuesday.

Drugs to blame

Cuervo has been an opioid addict and told Judge Fresquez that drugs are at the root of his behavior problems. His year behind bars has given him plenty of time to look at his version of “the ghost of Christmas future,” his attorney J.B. Katz said.

Jason Cuervo stole a snowcat from the Turntable Parking Lot in Minturn and hauled it to Grand Juntion behind his tiny Toyota truck.
Special to the Vail Daily

Tuesday’s sentencing was on the one-year anniversary of his sobriety, Katz said.

Cuervo apologized, but he said the time in jail helped him get sober and get his life on track.

“I have no desire to ever use again. I didn’t like the person I was when I was using,” Cuervo said. “I want to turn a new page in my life and leave these choices behind me.”

Deputy District Attorney Johnny Lombardi said Cuervo’s criminal history began as a juvenile in 2003. He asked that Cuervo be sentenced to four years in state prison.

Patty Cuervo, Jason’s mom, said her son is a different person now than the one who committed those offenses.

She said she made the arrangements to have him arrested in a Jefferson County auto dealership where he was having his small truck’s transmission repaired. He ruined it hauling the General Lee from Minturn to Grand Junction.

Some of his Jeffco problems stemmed from trying to swap marijuana to cover some of that repair bill.

Cuervo’s Sno-Cat saga

As you may recall, it was Sunday, March 11, 2018, when Cuervo stole Brandenburg’s orange General Lee Sno-Cat from the Turntable restaurant’s parking lot in Minturn.

Cuervo hauled the big, orange Sno-Cat west on Interstate 70, out of Eagle County’s alpine environment and toward Western Colorado’s high desert.

When it was stolen, Brandenburg called the police, but he first posted the General Lee’s picture on Facebook. Brandenburg says the tips poured in, and his Facebook post was shared 3,000 times.

People messaged and called to say they saw the huge trailer being towed by a tiny Toyota pickup truck. One of the General Lee’s co-owners, a pilot, jumped in his plane to search from the air.

The General Lee was spotted by a woman in Mesa County who was curious about why such small truck was pulling such a huge trailer — and straining to do it. In fact, she was so curious that she followed it. The woman called the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, which asked the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office for a little help.

Mesa County deputies showed up to serve a search warrant, which is about the time Cuervo barricaded himself in the house.

Sure enough, The General Lee was in a garage at the same house as Cuervo.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Junction Police Department SWAT teams executed the search warrant. They found the General Lee, along with weapons, ammunition, drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Cuervo managed to escape until he was arrested in Boulder while his truck was in the shop. His mom told the police where to find him.

Menacing trial begins for father of Lake Christine Fire suspect

EAGLE — The curious case of Craig Miller, the father of Lake Christine Fire suspect Richard Miller, is either a massive miscommunication or a case study in anger management.

Craig Miller’s criminal menacing trial started Tuesday morning. Prosecutors say he was furious when he allegedly went to a neighbor’s house late at night on July 14, 2018, beat on the door with a flashlight and tried to open the locked door.

It was nothing of the sort, Miller’s defense attorney Michael Fox said Tuesday in court. His client calmly walked to his neighbors’ door, rang the doorbell and knocked.

The source of the upheaval was an apparent agreement between the District Attorney’s office and Miller’s son Richard Miller and fellow Lake Christine fire suspect Allison Marcus. Craig Miller wanted a calm weekend family visit with his 74-year-old mother, and then Richard Miller and Marcus would turn themselves in the following Monday for their part in sparking last summer’s blaze, which started July 3 and burned more than 12,500 acres on state, federal and private lands and destroyed three houses.

Fox insisted to the jury that the neighbor, Joseph Lewis, created the disturbance when, after calling 911, Lewis was screaming so loudly that other neighbors heard it as he approached Miller and two deputies with a piece of metal that looked like a tire iron.

Miller is he is charged with felony burglary, misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor menacing. The 12-person jury is comprised of five women and seven men.

Gianni Robinson, a detective with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, testified that while he knew about that agreement, he did not share it with any other law enforcement agencies.

“I viewed it as an agreement between lawyers,” Robinson said.

Former Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett represents Marcus. Garnett testified Tuesday that he spoke with District Attorney Bruce Brown and they agreed that Richard Miller and Marcus would turn themselves in on the following Monday — July 16, 2018. Garnett said that Eagle County Sheriff’s Det. Dan Loya was included in this agreement. He said it’s common in cases like this.

In his opening statement, Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said that 911 was called twice, once to report that the Lake Christine Fire suspects were at Craig Miller’s house, and again to report that a furious Craig Miller was banging on a neighbor’s door with a flashlight, rattling the door handles trying to get in, and was inside their fence shining his light in the windows.

Fox said his client did nothing like that. Fox told the jury that Craig Miller calmly walked to his neighbor’s door, knocked and rang the doorbell. Craig Miller wanted to explain the agreement, Fox said.

The jury heard two voicemails Craig Miller left on Robinson’s work cell phone. He sounded measured but clearly frustrated — he did drop one F-bomb — while saying that his son Richard and Marcus had been arrested, which he said violated their agreement. In his message, Craig Miller insisted that Robinson had violated his trust.

Craig Miller couldn’t reach Robinson, so at 11:25 p.m. he called 911 and spoke to a Pitkin County dispatcher. Among other things he asked who called the police, Kirwan said. He was told it was an anonymous tip, Kirwan said.

“It’s my neighbors!” Kirwan said Craig Miller replied.

“You don’t want to go over there or you might get arrested,” Kirwan said Miller was told.

Kirwan said that eight minutes later, at 11:33 p.m., Craig Miller’s neighbor Joselyn Terry called 911 to repeat that Miller was beating on the door with a flashlight and shining it in the windows. She said Miller went into their backyard and was shining his flashlight into the windows, and was trying the doors to try to get in.

Terry was on the phone, begging them to send the police, Kirwan said.

“Craig Miller was just trying to explain (the agreement) to several officers, both in person and over the phone,” Fox said. “When that didn’t work, he walked to his neighbor’s house and knocked on their door.”

“He did not menace, he did not enter their yard,” Fox said.

Kirwan said Craig Miller drove his truck rapidly up the dirt street and skidded to a halt, blocking the neighbor’s driveway.

Fox said it went more like this: Craig Miller drove up the street to find the deputies staking out his house. He left a couple messages with Det. Robinson, and after failing to reach him he called 911 to speak to someone from law enforcement.

Fox played Miller’s 911 call for the jury. Miller sounded calm and measured, although a bit frustrated. He was told it was an anonymous tip.

He figured it was a neighbor, but didn’t know which one so he walked to his nearest neighbor.

“He walked to their house and knocked on their door. He tried their doorbell a couple times,” Fox said.

It’s a rural area and a dirt road with no streetlights, Fox said.

He walked around the backyard fence and back to the front door to knock again. Again, no one answered, Fox said.

“Craig is not screaming anything. He does not try the door handle,” Fox said.

Miller was back on his property when two deputies showed up. He cooperated, he was handcuffed and put in the back of their patrol vehicle where he sat for 30 minutes, Fox said.

“This case is about miscommunication, misinformation and missing evidence,” Miller said.

Deputies found no evidence that he tried to enter their home, Fox said.

“That’s because he’s innocent,” Fox said.

Craig Miller was in his pajamas and a T-shirt through all this.

Joseph Lewis lives several dozen yards up the road. Miller said he did not know Miller before that night when “Miller tried to break into my house,” Lewis said.

Miller knocked and banged on his door, continuously and aggressively, and rang the doorbell around 40 times, Lewis said, they found 30 knuckle marks around their doorbell.

Miller also shouted things like:

  • “Answer the f—ing door!”
  • “Are you home?”
  • “Get the f— out here.”
  • “Open the f—ing door.”

Lewis said he stayed by the front door and grabbed a crowbar because “the guns were in the garage.”

Miller came through the front gate, which Lewis said he thought was locked that night, and shined a flashlight in the windows. The front door handle was being manipulated to try to open it, Lewis said.

When the deputies arrived Lewis went outside.

“Did you have the crowbar with you?” Kirwan asked Lewis.

“Damn straight I did,” Lewis replied.

Lewis said he dropped the crowbar when deputies ordered him to.

Lewis said he felt threatened and wanted to take action, such as … “smack this guy in the head with my crowbar.”

During cross examination Fox asked Lewis if he was angry with Miller.

“I’ve calmed down quite a lot since the night of the event,” Lewis said.

However, the night of the event when Lewis was giving his witness statement, that statement did not mention any of the things he said Miller shouted the night of July 14, 2018.

Terry testified that she was “terrified” and threatened, and her 911 call bears that out.

“He’s at the front door … he’s banging on it with a flashlight! Please hurry!” she tearfully told the dispatcher during her call.

She said she feared for her family’s safety when Miller was trying to get through their front door.

Terry suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and the symptoms hit her that night, she testified.

During cross examination with Fox, she said she could not hear what Miller was saying, only their doorbell ring “a few times.”