Johnsons retain counsel in $5.2 million fraud suit

Attorneys for a local couple entangled in a multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit with the insurer of Aspen Skiing Co. are disputing the amount allegedly owed.

Derek and Kerri Johnson face a federal lawsuit filed in November by National Union Fire Insurance of Pittsburgh, which is seeking $5.2 million from the couple.

That’s the amount the company said it covered for Aspen Skiing Co. and parent Henry Crown and Co.’s financial losses stemming from the couple’s ski-selling scam when Derek Johnson held an executive position with Skico. Skico and Henry Crown and Co. were reimbursed through their their “employee dishonesty” coverage with National Union Insurance. The suit maintains the Johnsons should be held responsible for that amount because of the fraudulent activity they carried out from 2006 to 2018 leading to their criminal convictions.

“Defendants dispute that the amount paid was proper,” was the entire stated position of the Johnsons in a proposed scheduling order introduced Monday in U.S. District Court. Attorneys on both sides jointly filed the proposal.

The Johnsons, in accordance with a court order, retained the pro bono defense counsel of Joshua Landy and David Tenner on April 26, according to filings. Landy and Tenner did not respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

“Defendant Derek Johnson, in his capacity as managing director for Aspen (Skiing Co.), purposely purchased more inventory than was actually needed by Aspen so that any inventory misappropriated by Mr. Johnson was more likely to go unnoticed by Aspen,” read an excerpt from the summary of the allegations, which was included in the proposed scheduling order. “After that inventory was misappropriated by Mr. Johnson, he removed the insignia from the inventory that identified it as property of Aspen and listed the misappropriated inventory for sale online. The Defendants accepted payment from the misappropriated inventory and shipped the misappropriated inventory to buyers in boxes that were also misappropriated from Aspen.”

Local Derek Johnson in downtown Aspen after returning home from his period of incarceration on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Each Johnson admitted criminal wrongdoing. Derek Johnson, also a former Aspen City Council member, pleaded guilty in November 2019 to Class 3 felony theft and was sentenced the following January to six years in state prison. He was released from a halfway house in the Denver area in February. Kerri Johnson was not a Skico employee; she pleaded guilty to Class 4 felony theft in December 2019 and was sentenced to 90 days in the Pitkin County Jail and five years of probation.

The Aspen Times asked Johnson in February, before he and his wife had counsel in the lawsuit, about the business arrangement he initially had with Aspen Skiing Co. in 2001. That year, Skico acquired a company Johnson co-founded in 1993 — D&E Ski and Snowboard Shops — and made Johnson its managing director of retail and rental operations.

In that interview, Johnson said he and Skico initially had an arrangement where he would sell dated inventory online.

“This started at 100% legit … and it was a normal practice and then it snowballed,” he said in comments that were not printed in the original interview story. “I let that happen. I let it get away from me. I didn’t pay attention. I can make it sound so clean and sterile and appropriate, but I f—ed up. One hundred percent f—ed up … and one year led to two led to three led to four. I f—ed up.”

Asked about how he justified doing it at the time, Johnson said: “My rationale was this stuff is obsolete. That was my rationale. Again, my rationale, my f–k up, my wrong, my bad. It’s much easier to look at today. I was in a different place, I was in a different world. I was in a different person.”

Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in Grand Junction has been overseeing the proceedings in the civil case.