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Eagle County Sheriff’s petty offense case dismissed

EAGLE — James van Beek’s petty offense case has been dismissed.

In his motion to dismiss the case filed late Thursday, special prosecutor Ben Sollars said there was “no reasonable likelihood” of convicting Eagle County’s sheriff of the misdemeanor charge.

Van Beek said he had always been “confident” that, after a thorough investigation, the case would be dismissed.

‘Unwarranted personal attack’

District Attorney Bruce Brown, a Democrat, presented the case that convinced a grand jury to hand down a petty offense indictment against van Beek, Eagle County’s only elected Republican.

At issue in the case is a county fund containing money seized by the Sheriff’s Office. Brown convinced a grand jury that van Beek might be improperly spending money from that reserve fund and the grand jury indicted van Beek with a misdemeanor petty offense. Brown claims he should have been part of any spending decisions.

Brown declined to comment Friday afternoon, referring questions to Sollars, a deputy district attorney in the 9th Judicial District’s Glenwood Springs office.

Van Beek, though, had plenty to say, calling the indictment “unwarranted,” a “personal attack,” and an attack on the “men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.”

“I am pleased with the result. It is unfortunate the taxpayers of both Eagle and Garfield counties had to fund a case that resulted in the dismissal of an ill-conceived petty offense charge,” van Beek said in a written statement. “I not only looked at this as an unwarranted attack on me personally, but an attack on the fine men and women who commit their energies to the Sheriff’s Office.”

“I was confident that the result of a fair assessment of this allegation would result in its dismissal,” van Beek said. “I will continue to believe and promote the candid conversations between public officials as the best way of resolving disagreements and better serving our citizens. I am thankful for the support I have received from the office and the community. I look forward to putting this matter behind me and focusing on doing the job I was elected to do.”

Fund at center of disagreement

The dustup centers on a disagreement over how seized money was being spent. Van Beek and Brown are two of the three committee members who oversee that fund. Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu is the third.

Among expenditures from that fund were a new freezer for the jail, paying a ghostwriter to produce van Beek’s columns in the Vail Daily, Crimestopper rewards and support for Little League baseball teams and a local high school booster club.

The case was handed over to Sollars and Summit County Judge Ed Casias.

Parking lot conversation

The tempest began when then-Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan, also a Democrat, spoke with Brown in a parking lot after a meeting.

“I know Bryan (Treu) is acting like I filed some formal complaint,” Ryan said in a Friday afternoon phone call. “I asked if (the three-member committee) were meeting. That was the extent of my involvement. This was part of my formal duties as a commissioner.”

Ryan resigned from the Eagle board of county commissioners when Gov. Jared Polis appointed her as executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

‘Could’ve solved it over coffee’

The grand jury investigation began late last winter when Brown subpoenaed van Beek for the grand jury.

In an email to Treu and van Beek, Brown demanded that the confiscated funds — also called a forfeiture fund — and sheriff reserve accounts be frozen, and the $81,239.51 in them be deposited into bank accounts that the District Attorney’s Office controls.

Van Beek and Treu said no, prompting Brown’s grand jury case and the investigation by special prosecutor Sollars that ended with his motion to dismiss the case, filed Thursday.

“We appreciate the common-sense approach taken by the 9th Judicial District in this matter,” Treu said. “It has always been my opinion that the sheriff acted appropriately.”

Treu added that van Beek remains open to discussions on process improvements.

“Any disagreements about the expenditures identified in the indictment could have easily been resolved over a cup of coffee,” Treu said. “Convening a grand jury for a petty offense was unnecessary and we are thankful the 9th Judicial District ended it quickly with a voluntary dismissal of the charge.”

Van Beek took it seriously, hiring former state public defender David Kaplan to lead his defense. Kaplan now works for the same law firm that defended Kobe Bryant in his Eagle County sex assault case.

“I am thankful we were able to bring a swift conclusion to this matter working with the 9th District Attorney’s; an office who evaluated the allegation and the evidence as we did finding no criminal conduct,” Kaplan said in a written statement. “The sheriff’s possession and expenditures of funds has always been appropriate, transparent and in the best interest of the citizens of Eagle County. It is unfortunate that there was such an expenditure of time and resources when a simple conversation could have resolved any difficulties.”

No clean getaway for El Jebel laundromat robbery suspects

EAGLE — The two people accused of stealing less than $300 from a coin laundry in El Jebel could face $500,000 fines.

Loyd Fuller III, 34, and Hannah Marie Hendershot, 23, did not get away clean from their alleged coin laundry caper. They were arrested and charged in connection with the Dec. 2 burglary.

They made their first court appearance Thursday afternoon.

Hendershot has no criminal history, her defense attorney Stacey Shobe said in arguing for a bond lower than the $7,500 that Deputy District Attorney Polly Keene requested.

In fact, Hendershot cares for a cancer patient in exchange for room and board, Shobe said.

Eagle County Judge Rachel Fresquez set Hendershot’s bond at $2,000.

Fuller is a different story. He has a lengthy criminal history and was out on bond in a Garfield County case when he allegedly broke into the El Jebel laundromat, Keene said.

Keene asked that Fuller’s bond be set higher $10,000. Citing the pending felony case, Judge Fresquez set Fuller’s bond at $7,500.

Hendershot and Fuller will both be back in Eagle County court Dec. 20. Fuller also is scheduled for a Dec. 19 appearance in Garfield County for the felony case.

It only took a few hours for deputies to catch up with the two after the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office released photos earlier this week and offered a $1,500 reward for information.

“The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the community for the many tips that were received reference the El Jebel laundromat burglary,” the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said in an email.

The pair face charges including second-degree burglary from a business, third-degree burglary, criminal mischief (under $300) and second-degree criminal trespassing. Prison sentences could go as high as six years and fines could reach as high as $500,000.

Suspects arrested for El Jebel burglary after tips roll in

A man and woman suspected of burglarizing the El Jebel Laundry Mat on Dec. 2 were arrested Wednesday after the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office was showered with tips about the duo.

Hannah Marie Hendershot, 23, a transient with a last known address in Carbondale, and Loyd Fuller III, 34, a transient with a last known address in Silt, were arrested at a midvalley lumberyard at about 10:30 a.m., according to Eagle County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amber Barrett.

The Sheriff’s Office sent out a news release Tuesday with a photo of the suspects taken by a surveillance camera. The Sheriff’s Office sought help from the public identifying and locating the duo. It also posted the news release on its Facebook page.

Barrett said the deputy stationed in El Jebel started getting “many” tips immediately Wednesday. Most of them identified Hendershot but the tipsters couldn’t say where she could be found. Finally, one of the tips came from a person at the lumberyard that said Hendershot was there at the time. The deputy contacted her there minutes later and Fuller ended up coming up to the deputy and asking what was going on, Barrett said. They were arrested without incident.

Hendershot and Fuller were arrested for suspicion of second-degree burglary from a business, third-degree burglary, criminal mischief and second-degree criminal trespassing. They were being held Wednesday afternoon on $7,500 bond in Eagle County Jail.

Barrett said it was unknown if the duo is a couple. When the deputy contacted them, they were wearing articles of clothing that were apparent in the surveillance video, Barrett said.

“Her hoodie was very standout-ish,” she said. The man in the video hid his face well, but the shoes Fuller was wearing matched the shoes in the video, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The laundromat’s soap vending machine was broken into and cash and coins were taken.

Alleged burglars make clean break from El Jebel Laundry Mat

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is asking for help identifying a man and woman suspected of breaking into the El Jebel Laundry Mat early Monday, Dec. 2.

Images of the suspects were captured on surveillance video. The man and woman broke into a soap vending machine at about 3:30 a.m. and stole cash and coins. They are wanted on possible charges of felony burglary, trespassing and criminal mischief.

The man had a tall, heavy build and was wearing a dark-colored hoodie, a bandana with a red design covering his face, dark rim glasses, a blue shirt under his hoodie and blue jeans.

The woman appears to be around 5 foot, 4 inches tall with a thin build. She has shoulder-length dark hair and was wearing dark rim glasses, a red-and-white hoodie, a dark-colored bandana around her neck and blue jeans. The surveillance camera picked up better images of her than the man.

Anyone with possible information about these suspects or the crime is urged to call the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office at 970-328-8500 or Eagle County Crime Stoppers at 970-328-7007, 1-800-972-TIPS, submit tips online at www.tipsubmit.com, or text a tip by texting STOPCRIME plus your message to CRIMES (274637). If the tip leads to the arrest and indictment of any suspect involved, the person could earn up to a $1,500 reward from the Crime Stoppers.

Snowmass homeowner agrees to $4M settlement with SEC

A Snowmass homeowner has agreed to pay more than $4 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission and not trade penny stocks for 10 years as part of an agreement with the federal agreement over his alleged marijuana racket.

In a deal finalized Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Colorado in Denver, Jeffrey O. Friedland did not admit or deny the SEC’s accusations that OWC Pharmaceutical Research Corp. of Israel paid him 5.1 million shares of stock to promote the company’s marijuana without disclosing the arrangement to investors.

Yet court documents show he and his company Global Corporate Strategies consented to paying a disgorgement penalty in the amount of $2.1 million as well as $69,020 in interest to settle the case. Friedland also agreed to pay a $2 million civil fee to the SEC. Friedland signed the consent form Nov. 1; it was made public in the case Wednesday.

Friedland acquired the stocks in early 2017, and sold them in March at an average price of $1.27 per share, the SEC alleged. By doing so, Friedland reaped a profit of nearly $6.5 million, and used some of the money to buy a 2,796-square-foot Snowmass home for nearly $2 million in a cash transaction done in August 2017, the SEC alleged.

What made Friedland’s profits actually ill-gotten gains, the SEC alleged, was that he failed to publicly disclose that OWC gave him minority interest in its stock in exchange for touting it, which is against federal securities law. Friedland promoted its stock through blogs, media interviews, news releases and other mediums.

By the time the SEC sued Friedland in March 2018, the stock had dropped to 26 cents a share.

At one point during the litigation, Chief Judge Marcia S. Krieger ordered that Friedland could not sell his Snowmass Village home, located at 46 Meadow Road. The home remains under the ownership of Aspen Upper Ranch LLC, a Denver limited liability company that Friedland controls, according to Pitkin County property records.

Friedland was the featured speaker at the Aspen Business Luncheon in August 2016. The topic of his discussion was entitled “Marijuana: The World’s Most Misunderstood Plant.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Independence Pass hostage-taker pleads guilty to 2016 incident

A Colorado Springs real estate agent who took three men hostage and terrorized them at gunpoint on Independence Pass in July 2016 faces up to two decades in prison after accepting a plea deal Tuesday.

Brolin McConnell, 33, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court to criminal attempt to commit first-degree kidnapping and felony menacing. The first charge is considered a crime of violence because he used a deadly weapon.

He could have faced up to 32 years in prison for the attempted kidnapping charge, though the District Attorney’s Office agreed to a sentencing range of between eight and 20 years as part of the plea deal. He will have to serve a mandatory five years of parole once he’s released from prison.

McConnell, who has been in custody at the Pitkin County Jail since July 27, 2016, made no comments in court except to answer yes or no to District Judge Chris Seldin’s questions about whether he understood what he was doing.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 3.

McConnell used two handguns to take the three men he did not know hostage on Lincoln Creek Road. He forced the men to remove their shirts, repeatedly threatened to kill them and fired guns at birds he said were drones.

Two of the men were able to run away from McConnell, but the third man had a leg injury and couldn’t get away as easily. McConnell fired a round from one of the guns at the injured man’s feet and another next to his head before he was able to get away.

McConnell, who later was found to have only a small quantity of marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, gave up soon after the third man ran away and was arrested without incident.

He initially pleaded not guilty to the 18 felony counts the DA’s Office filed against him, including attempted first-degree murder. In December 2017, nearly a year and a half after he entered that initial plea, McConnell changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

That stopped all movement in his case until he could be examined by psychiatrists at the state hospital. Fourteen months later, the state psychiatrists found him sane. McConnell’s 10-day trial was scheduled to start Tuesday.

One of the three victims was in court for Tuesday’s hearing but told Seldin he didn’t want to speak.

The three victims have filed a civil lawsuit against McConnell, which has been effectively on hold for two-and-a-half years while the criminal case was pending. That case can now move forward, said Ryan Kalamaya, an Aspen lawyer whose firm represents the three victims.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Aspen man pleads guilty to sending child porn

A former Aspen restaurant manager pleaded guilty Monday to sending child pornography to a woman he was chatting with online this summer.

Blair Gibsone, 48, could have faced as many as 12 years in prison for the guilty plea to sexual exploitation of a child but will serve only a possible local jail sentence followed by probation as part of a plea deal with the District Attorney’s Office.

Gibsone will have to register as a sex offender, though his lawyer said he will almost certainly be deported to his native New Zealand because of the plea. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 3.

Gibsone was arrested in June after a female acquaintance on Facebook told Aspen police that during late-night chat sessions Gibsone admitted to molesting and raping a young girl he frequently babysits. He then sent the woman a picture of the girl sitting at a local Aspen restaurant, according to court documents.

During a later chat session monitored by an Aspen police detective, Gibsone allegedly named the girl and said the sexual abuse had been going on for two years.

“Honestly, I’d rather she do it with me so she is safe,” he wrote, according to court documents. “I let her do whatever she wanted only if she liked it and wanted it.”

Gibsone included pictures of two naked female children and one naked male child in the Facebook chats he sent to the woman.

However, the story about babysitting the girl turned out to be untrue. Gibsone told police he’d never done any babysitting and didn’t know the girl in the Aspen restaurant picture. He said he was drunk during the Facebook chats and didn’t remember them.

On Monday, he elaborated on his life at that time, saying he’d been working 14-to-16-hour days in the hospitality business and drinking heavily.

“I’d been blacking out for the last year,” Gibsone said. “I’m still a bit confused about things because I don’t remember.”

He also said he’d been dealing with a lot of family members dying the past five years, including his sister-in-law who died by suicide this summer.

“In the last five years, I’ve had quite a bit of death,” he said, adding that he’s been sober in recent months.

Gibsone admitting sending the child pornography but said he didn’t remember doing so.

Prosecutor Don Nottingham pointed out that police found numerous other items of sexually exploitative material in Gibsone’s home. Gibsone also admitted to a detective in June that he’d been having sexual fantasies about children and had watched child pornography, according to court documents.

Gibsone, who will undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation before his sentencing in February, faces an undetermined jail sentence or probation sentence or both.

However, Monday’s plea “will result in almost certain deportation,” said Jeffery Weeden, Gibsone’s Denver-based lawyer.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Beware of scammers going door-to-door claiming to represent Colorado Mountain College

Forget the phone. Scammers in Eagle County are coming to your door implying that they’re fundraising for Colorado Mountain College’s study abroad programs or for veterans groups.

They’re not, said Dr. Marc Brennan, college vice president and campus dean for the Vail Valley campus at Edwards.

“Just so that there are no misunderstandings going forward, we want the community to know that door-to-door fundraising is not being done on behalf of Colorado Mountain College,” Brennan said.

The door-to-door approach is not something CMC is doing now, or ever would. Anyone who wants to support students in the study abroad program should do so through the CMC Foundation.

To support veterans around the region, go through the Western Slope Veterans Coalition at http://www.westernslopeveterans.org.

“Colorado Mountain College would never send students or employees door to door to solicit funds,” Kristin Heath Colon, CEO of the CMC Foundation said. “The college does, however, have a robust study abroad program, and students who need support to have this opportunity.”

All kinds of information about the CMC’s study abroad program is available at the college’s website, especially for students who want to participate, Heath Colon said.

“Many of our students have not had the opportunity to travel. Those of us who have had the chance to learn about and visit other countries know how life-changing it can be,” Heath Colon said.

Scammers are getting better

Refund or warranty scams are also becoming more popular with scammers, according to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

When someone calls asking is you were happy with a service, and you say you weren’t, the scammer offers a refund. Instead of returning money into your account, they withdraw money.

If a caller tries to “create a sense of urgency or uses high-pressure tactics, it’s probably a scam,” the Federal Trade Commission said in a warning on its website.

“Scams can be difficult to recognize and usually end with a stranger gaining access to personal computers, information, financial accounts and can leave family members short of thousands of dollars,” the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release urging people to be cautious.

Among their latest incarnations, scammers pose as a lawyer or bondsman demanding money to release a family member “in trouble.”

It’s likely not real. Call the cops right away.

“If something seems suspicious, hang up and call directly to a trusted source for confirmation,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

Woman who tried to rob two Edwards banks pleads guilty in federal court

The woman accused of attempting to rob two banks in the Edwards Riverwalk in May pleaded guilty in federal court.

Karen Hyatt, her fiancé, Craig “Lucky” Dickson, and the couple’s sidekick Christopher Lutz all pleaded guilty in federal court to a springtime bank robbery spree. Sentencing is scheduled for January. All three face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

The FBI says Hyatt and Dickson announced their engagement on April 8, 2019, in a Facebook post, then were part of five bank robberies in the next 30 days: Denver, Boulder, Centennial and two May 1 in Edwards — Wells Fargo and US Bank, according to an FBI arrest affidavit.

The FBI said bank security photos of Dickson and Hyatt matched photos on their Facebook pages as well as their criminal mug shots. Three eyewitnesses called Metro Denver Crimestoppers naming Hyatt as the Edwards bank robber, the FBI said.

After three robberies in the Denver metro area, it appears Hyatt and Dickson ventured into the mountains May 1 for the two bank robberies in the Edwards Riverwalk at Wells Fargo and US Bank, according to the FBI

Hyatt appears on the Wells Fargo security camera footage at 9:02 a.m., and on the US Bank security footage at 9:05 a.m.

Hyatt handed a robbery note to tellers in both banks demanding cash, the FBI said.

She walked out of Wells Fargo with $9,734 in cash.

The US Bank robbery was a failure, the FBI affidavit said. The tellers were confused and took longer than expected, so Hyatt snatched back the note and fled on foot.

The FBI says Hyatt is a multi-state offender with arrests for things like possession of burglary tools, motor vehicle theft, vehicular eluding and drug possession.

Late paperwork lets suspects in 29-pound meth deal leave Garfield County jail without bail

Four people suspected of selling 29 pounds of meth to undercover officers in Glenwood Springs were released without bail this week after paperwork in the case was filed late.

Garfield County’s drug task force arrested three men and a woman Nov. 15 for allegedly bringing the drugs Glenwood Springs at the request of undercover officers.

The four suspects, who apparently reside in California, received personal recognizance bonds. That means cash up-front was not required for them to be released, “due to the court not having been able to review ‘probable cause’ within 48 hours of their arrest,” District Attorney Jeff Cheney said in a statement.

They were arrested Friday but the affidavit for warrantless arrest was not filed until Monday, well past the 48-hour rule for judicial review.

The Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team (TRIDENT) had been in contact with someone in Mexico while pretending to be drug dealers since October.

Their contact initially agreed to send 2 pounds of methamphetamine to Glenwood Springs for $1,500, and the TRIDENT officer wired the money.

The contact then said it wasn’t possible to send 2 pounds of methamphetamine “due to the present security of the border,” according to arrest documents, but promised to send 30 pounds for $75,000 through another contact named Jose. The TRIDENT officer agreed to the deal.

The driver was allegedly going to drive through the night from Tuscon, Arizona, and meet the undercover officers in Glenwood Springs. The contact was late to the Nov. 14 rendezvous and didn’t arrive until Nov. 15 around noon.

The task force, coordinating with Glenwood Springs Police and other drug task force agencies, waited much of the night for the arrival of the shipment, but eventually called it off.

Around noon Nov. 15, the alleged drug dealer informed the undercover TRIDENT officer that he had arrived. Other officers were observing two vehicles, a Chevrolet Silverado and a Chevrolet Camaro, parked near a convenience store in Glenwood Springs.

While the undercover officer was on the phone with the alleged dealer, the cops saw a man in the Camaro communicating by cellphone.

The undercover officer asked to meet the dealer at a gas station, and while the Camaro got onto Interstate 70, a Colorado State Patrol trooper pulled the car over.

The two male occupants, later identified as Francisco Alejandro-Escobar, 21, and Christopher Paredes-Moreno, 21, verbally consented to a vehicle search, according to the affidavit.

In the trunk of the car where the spare tire should have been, the trooper located a black duffle back with 28 plastic bags containing a crystalline substance that later tested positive for methamphetamine.

Garfield County Sheriff’s officers then pulled over the Silverado and arrested the two occupants, Jose Santos Trochez-Sanchez, 27, who allegedly was communicating with the undercover TRIDENT officers, and a Karen Paredes, who was with two children.

Paredes gave consent to a vehicle search, according to the affidavit, but despite a K-9 handler indicating that a dog detected the presence of drugs, no illegal substances were found in the vehicle.

All four were granted personal recognizance bonds with high amounts. All of them have been released without having to pay the bond amount, but they will face hefty fines if they fail to make a court appearance scheduled Dec. 12.