Aspen Skico insurer sues Johnson couple for $5.2 million over ski-selling scam

Lawsuit seeks reimbursement from ‘employee dishonesty’ coverage National Union Insurance paid out

An insurance company is suing to collect just over $5.2 million from a couple criminally convicted of selling 13,000 pairs of skis belonging to Aspen Skiing Co.

National Union Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh’s civil complaint, which was filed against Derek and Kerri Johnson on Wednesday in Denver federal court, said the pair should be held responsible for the seven-figure sum the carrier paid to Henry Crown and Co. and its subsidiary Skico.

Skico and its parent company were reimbursed for their financial losses stemming from the scam under their “employee dishonesty” coverage with National Union Insurance. The Johnsons’ 12-year-long racket triggered the coverage payment.

“National Union issued a policy of insurance to Crown in which National Union agreed to insure Crown and Aspen for losses sustained due to employee dishonesty,” the suit said.

Reached Thursday, Kerri Johnson declined comment. Derek Johnson, who once ran Skico’s retail division, currently is serving a six-year prison sentence that Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin handed him in January 2020.

Though their criminal cases have been adjudicated — in February 2020, Kerri Johnson was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation for her guilty plea to one count of felony theft — the civil court is the latest venue for the continued fallout from the scam that lasted from 2006 through November 2018.

It was during that time period that the Johnson couple, National Union’s lawsuit says, “engaged in a scheme whereby they misappropriated thousands of skis, snowboards and other related equipment from Aspen and resold them online for personal profit. Mr. Johnson, in his capacity as Managing Director for Aspen (Skico), was able to carry out the theft by purposefully purchasing more inventory than actually was needed by Aspen, so that any inventory misappropriated by the Defendants was more likely to go unnoticed by Aspen. Given his position as Managing Director and his control of Aspen’s ski and snowboard inventory, Mr. Johnson was able to conceal the theft from Aspen during the course of the scheme.”

Kerri Johnson was culpable as well, the lawsuit said, when she “removed any insignia from the inventory that identified it as property of Aspen (Skico), listed the misappropriated inventory for sale online, accepted payment from the sale of misappropriated inventory and shipped the misappropriated inventory to buyers in shipping boxes that also were misappropriated from Aspen (Skico).”

Derek Johnson
Colorado Department of Corrections photo

Skico discovered the theft activity in November 2018 and fired Johnson, who pleaded guilty to Class 3 felony theft in November 2019. Kerri Johnson, who was not a Skico employee, pleaded guilty to Class 4 felony theft in December 2019.

Under the terms of the Johnsons’ plea deals with prosecutors, they agreed to reimburse Skico with $250,000, which was the amount the company said it paid to satisfy its insurance deductible in light of the Johnsons’ ski-selling scam.

National Union’s lawsuit did not specify the amount coverage provided in Skico’s employee-dishonesty insurance policy, yet as “a result of the Defendants’ actions, (Skico), and thus National Union, suffered a loss in the principal amount of $5,212,484.”

National Union’s lawsuit consists of counts of conversion, civil conspiracy and unjust enrichment against both Johnsons, and separate counts of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty fraud against Derek Johnson.

“Pursuant to the Policy, National Union indemnified Crown and Aspen for the losses that they sustained as a result of the theft by the Defendants,” the suit said.

As a result, National Union is “subrogated to Crown and Aspen,” the suit argued.

“Subrogation is a well-known principle of insurance law. It allows an insurer who has paid a loss to its policyholder to ‘step into the shoes’ of the policyholder and attempt to recover its payment from a tortfeasor who caused or contributed to the loss,” according to Lawyer Monthly.

Victor M. Morales of the Englewood law firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of National Union Insurance. He did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.

Skico also had no response when contacted about the matter Thursday.

The suit came the same week the Colorado Department of Revenue, in two filings with the Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder’s office, said the Johnson couple had unsatisfied judgments of $37,794 and $69,827 for back taxes.

The Aspen Times reported in June that Johnson, a former Aspen City Council member and Skico executive, had been transferred to a halfway house in Jefferson County on the Front Range.

Johnson’s next parole hearing is scheduled for March 2022 and he is eligible for parole in June 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections website. He was not available for comment Thursday, according to Kerri Johnson.