Aspen cocaine and gun case ends with ﬁve-year sentence
June 29, 2012
ASPEN – An Eastern European man who was living in Aspen illegally and arrested more than a year ago on allegations of having a loaded handgun and two blocks of cocaine – including one the size of a baseball – was sentenced to five years in the Department of Corrections on Friday.
Andrian Arapu, 26, received 510 days’ credit for the time he has already served in Pitkin County Jail following his arrest on April 6, 2011, by Aspen police. Once Arapu completes his sentence, he faces deportation to his home country of Moldova.
Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols blessed the plea agreement for Arapu, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of more than 25 grams of cocaine, but less than 450 grams, with an intent to distribute.
Prosecutor Arnold Mordkin dropped a felony charge of possessing a deadly weapon while committing controlled-substance crimes as part of the deal.
“In some ways the parties have reached an agreement, which makes my job easier,” Nichols said. “This is an unusually bad offense, for Aspen in particular. While we certainly have cocaine cases here, … we have not had a case with a loaded handgun that was located so close to that amount of cocaine.”
A three-day jury trial had been scheduled for Arapu in September.
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But Mordkin and Carbondale attorney John Van Ness, Arapu’s counsel, had been in settlement negotiations ever since the Colorado Supreme Court, on June 4, reversed Nichols’ November order that suppressed evidence that officers gathered from Arapu’s Cooper Horse apartment unit on Main Street. Among the items were a .38-caliber revolver and several packages of cocaine weighing a total of 1.5 ounces.
Acting on a tip that Arapu had been living in the United States illegally and had a firearm, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, along with assistance from the Aspen Police Department, went to his affordable-housing unit on April 6, 2011.
There, ICE officials arrested Arapu, while Aspen Police Detective Walter Chi, with Arapu’s permission, went inside the house. While in the residence, Chi reportedly saw such incriminating evidence as a bag containing what appeared to be cocaine, leading him to obtain a search warrant on the property; the findings led to the felony charges against Arapu.
But in November, one day before Arapu was to stand jury trial, Nichols ruled that police obtained the evidence illegally after executing a search warrant on the residence.
In its 15-page ruling reversing Nichols decision, the high court, in a 4-3 decision, noted that “We, accordingly, find that the trial court erred in finding Detective Chi was unlawfully in the apartment when he observed the open bag containing drugs, and therefore reverse the trial court’s suppression of the drug-related evidence.”
At Thursday’s hearing, held in Nichols’ chambers while a Russian translator assisted the proceedings on speaker phone, both Mordkin and Van Ness said the outcome worked for their purposes.
“We believe it’s an appropriate disposition in the case, recognizing Mr. Arapu’s acceptance of responsibility in the matter,” Mordkin said.
Said Van Ness: “We likewise think it’s appropriate. If we didn’t think this was appropriate, we wouldn’t do it.”
Arapu speaks and reads three languages, has 20 years of education, and comes from a prominent Moldovan family.
Nichols remarked that he has the potential to do good things.
“I find this is an appropriate settlement because of the danger you put our community in,” Nichols said. “And I hope in the future you will find yourself in the position to benefit yourself, your family and your community.”
She added, “On the other hand, you are very well educated and hard working, and obviously quite intelligent. You could be a real benefit to your community. You could have been a real benefit to the United States if you had avoided this activity.
“I do hope when you are released you will lead a law abiding life in whatever country you choose to live in.”