California woman accused of Aspen retail thefts pleads guilty
The Aspen Times
A California woman who was arrested in September on suspicion of stealing more than $3,000 worth of items from four downtown Aspen retail shops pleaded guilty Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court to one count of felony theft.
Kimberly Ann Gardner, 27, of Stanton, California, also pleaded guilty to third-degree trespassing, a petty offense.
Gardner’s sentencing was set for March 2. Her plea agreement with the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office includes a recommendation for a two-year deferred judgment on the felony charge, but not the petty offense. District Judge Gail Nichols, who accepted the two guilty pleas, does not have to abide by the sentencing recommendation.
Nichols told Gardner that she must participate in a pre-sentencing evaluation with the state probation office prior to the March 2 hearing.
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In a September arrest affidavit, Aspen police officer Vanessa March wrote that she was contacted on the afternoon of Sept. 21 by an employee of Ute Mountaineer, on South Galena Street, concerning a theft.
The officer then went to the store and reviewed surveillance video from the evening before. The employee pointed to a woman in the video, later identified as Gardner, whom he believed had taken two pairs of shoes from the store.
A few hours later on Sept. 21, the store employee contacted emergency dispatchers to say that the same woman had returned to the store but left. A description of the woman was provided to police.
A policeman in a patrol vehicle searched the downtown area while March, after meeting with the Ute Mountaineer employee and looking at the new video, searched on foot. She wrote that she found Gardner washing her hands in the public restroom near Wagner Park.
“I told her that I was investigating a theft; she became very nervous and asked if she could go back to the restroom,” March wrote. “I asked Gardner for consent to search her purse and she said that it was her private property.”
Another Ute Mountaineer employee was nearby and identified Gardner as the suspect, March said. He had told March previously, during her search for Gardner, that a worker from another sports store also was missing some items.
Gardner was arrested and gave police consent to search her purse. Several items of clothing, with the tags still attached, were found, including:
• Four T-shirts from the T-Shirt Co. on the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall.
• Two pairs of leggings and one price tag for a pair of leggings from The Sports Center on East Cooper Avenue.
• Two price tags, one for a vest, one for a hoodie.
March wrote that she later found Gardner’s car parked on South Monarch Street. She looked through the windows and could see several items with tags on them. Two pairs of shoes matched the description of the shoes taken from Ute Mountaineer on Sept. 20.
The vehicle was towed to a parking lot near the Pitkin County Courthouse. Inside of it, investigators found 14 items, mostly clothing, believed to have been stolen from Ute Mountaineer and Aspen Sports, also located on East Cooper Avenue.
Gardner was represented in court by Aspen attorney Mark Rubinstein. He told Nichols that Gardner is prepared to pay restitution prior to sentencing.
In other district court action:
• Nichols issued an arrest warrant for Jessica Dawn Sorensen, 41, of Basalt, who also goes by the name of Jessica Pendergrast.
Sorensen pleaded guilty in district court last May to three counts of felony theft after admitting that she stole more than $40,000 from account holders of the Grand Junction Federal Credit Union in 2012 and 2013 while working in the financial institution’s Aspen office. In July, District Judge Gail Nichols sentenced her to 60 days in the county jail and four years of supervised probation. She was allowed to work during the day and report to jail at night.
In August, as she was nearing the end of her jail term, which was shortened due to good behavior, a deputy discovered alcohol in her water bottle as she was returning to the jail from work. A condition of her probation was to refrain from possessing or consuming alcohol.
Sorensen was set to be re-sentenced Tuesday and faced five to 15 years in a halfway house or state prison on the felony theft charges. But she did not show up for court, which led Nichols to issue the arrest warrant. Another arrest warrant had been issued previously for Sorensen because of an alleged bond violation.
Sorensen is said to be enrolled in an inpatient rehabilitation program in California. Nichols recently denied a request to postpone Tuesday’s resentencing hearing because of Sorensen’s participation in that out-of-state program.
In addition to her Pitkin County troubles, Sorensen also faces felony charges in Garfield County stemming from an arrest in December after she allegedly used a fake check to obtain $1,800 cash from a check-cashing service in Carbondale.
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