Dad’s letter started investigation of Aspen drug suspect
ASPEN – The arrest of a suspected drug dealer late Saturday night was the product of an anonymous letter sent to Aspen police by the father of a 17-year-old girl, combined with an officer’s findings on a cellphone and video surveillance from a downtown nightclub.
Aspen resident Thomas Jade Simmons, 22, faces mandatory prison time if convicted of selling cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy and psilocybin mushrooms. Simmons ran afoul of the law previously, but, as Judge Gail Nichols noted at his advisement hearing Monday in Pitkin County District Court, “I think you understand you’ve kind of hit the big time.”
Simmons’ criminal history includes marijuana and drug-paraphernalia cases in Garfield County in 2006 and 2007, when he was a juvenile, according to state records.
And on Nov. 22, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft in Pitkin County Court, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin.
Yet the stakes are considerably higher now for Simmons, who came on the Aspen Police Department radar on Nov. 29 when Aspen Police Officer Jeff Fain reviewed a letter from someone who called himself “an anonymous concerned father who is writing to warn you of a drug dealer living in Aspen.” The note is an exhibit to an arrest-warrant affidavit written Friday by Fain and tendered Monday to the court.
The letter identifies the dealer as Thomas Simmons, who “frequently goes to bars and club (sic) and sells drugs to people of all shape (sic) size and age. Including my 17 year old daughter. I have found out he sells cocaine, mdma, and marijuana. Thomas has several plants growing in his house and keeps all the drugs in his bedrooms, where you would also find paraphernalia, scales, drugs bags and other misc. drug related items.”
The letter adds that Simmons hangs out at the Belly Up nightclub – where he was arrested Saturday – and that “with your help these drug dealers will be off the streets and will no longer be able to sell drugs to our children.”
The letter is one piece of the Aspen Police Department’s case against Simmons, which evolved Dec. 24 upon Fain’s arrest of 18-year-old Aspen resident Max Brandon Puder on suspicion of selling Ecstasy on the exit stairs of Belly Up. Police found Simmons’ name stored on Puder’s cellphone, Fain’s affidavit says.
But it wasn’t until Jan. 22, when police obtained video from Belly Up from the night of Puder’s arrest, that they also discovered something else: surveillance footage of Simmons trying to hide suspected Ecstasy that Puder had discarded moments before his arrest. Puder had fled the scene, and Fain chased him down by foot. Meanwhile, surveillance showed Simmons – police weren’t in his vicinity at the time – trying to move the drug out of plain view by sliding it with his feet, moving it with his hand and holding a door frame over it, the affidavit alleges.
“After review of the video, the afore-quoted letter, and connecting Simmons to Puder in his own phone, I believe that Simmons and Puder are certainly associated,” Fain wrote in the affidavit, adding that “I also believe the two possibly (are) working in tandem to distribute MDMA.” Puder currently is attending Sober College in California, a drug-rehabilitation program for adults 17 to 26 years old, as part of an agreement blessed by Nichols.
Fain’s findings were enough to convince Nichols to sign the warrant, and police used it Saturday to nab Simmons at Belly Up. At the time Simmons was arrested, police allege they found him in possession of cocaine and Ecstasy, according to a court filing from Fain. While at Belly Up, Fain found a package of cocaine and a package of Ecstasy on Simmons as well as $200 in cash.
And following a search of Simmons at Pitkin County Jail, Fain found nine Ziploc-style bags of cocaine and another five containing MDMA, which is Ecstasy in a powdery form, Fain’s affidavit says.
The bust prompted police to obtain a search warrant that they executed on Simmons’ Park Circle apartment and his 1996 Audi. All told, police said they found 134.7 grams of MDMA; 1.2 grams, or 21 hits, of LSD; more than 27 grams of psilocybin mushrooms; 4.4 grams of hash; 46.5 grams of cocaine; a ledger identifying Simmons’ customers and how much they owed him; nearly $10,000 in cash, of which $7,900 was found in his sock drawer; and pills, scales and cylinders, among other items, the affidavit alleges.
Mordkin said the amount seized represents a “type of quantity we haven’t seen.” The prosecutor said the evidence is strong and that Simmons “clearly is on his way to state prison.”
He faces four felony charges for distribution of a Schedule I substance – Ecstasy, LSD and mushrooms. Each carries a mandatory minimum of four years in state prison and as much as 16 years. He also faces one count of sale of a Schedule II substance, cocaine, and felony charges of possession of more than 4 grams of Ecstasy, mushrooms and cocaine.
Simmons did not have an attorney at the hearing and said since he has been on probation he has passed his drug tests and is “really just trying to get this behind me.”
Nichols said Simmons doesn’t appear to be succeeding in that quest.
“The evidence is extraordinarily good, which is bad for you,” she said, setting a cash-only bond of $50,000 for the pending drug-distribution charges and a $5,000 bond for a felony count of tampering with evidence, which stems from the Dec. 24 incident at Belly Up.
After the hearing, Mordkin said the parent’s letter provided the catalyst for the Police Department to investigate Simmons.
“If more people came to us and talked about drug dealers, we might be able to apprehend more people who need apprehending,” he said.
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