Ex-Aspen kitchen worker gets two years for coke charges
ASPEN – A former kitchen worker at a now-defunct downtown Aspen tavern was sentenced Monday to two years in state prison for attempted distribution of cocaine.
Raul Perez Cortes, 51, of Aspen pleaded guilty to the felony in exchange for the dismissal of four other charges as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. The most severe count against Cortes that was dropped, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, 25 to 450 grams, carried four to 16 years behind bars.
Cortes has been incarcerated at the Pitkin County Jail on $20,000 bond since his Feb. 12 arrest at Bentley’s at the Wheeler. Police, acting on a search warrant, alleged that he had 60 grams of pure, uncut cocaine and $2,500 in cash at the time of his arrest, which came less than an hour before the establishment was set to do business on a Saturday.
A second kitchen worker arrested that day, Vicente Vasquez Gomez, 28, pleaded guilty March 1 in Pitkin County Court to misdemeanor charges of providing a false name and false identification.
At Monday’s arraignment and sentencing hearing, in the chambers of Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols, both Chief Deputy District Attorney Arnold Mordkin and public defender Tina Fang noted their agreement that Cortes was not a major player in the operation.
“It’s clear from reading the police report that Mr. Cortes was not the head honcho in this situation,” Fang said, adding that there was “substantial evidence” that implicated Cortes as a middleman, and striking a plea deal over going to trial “minimizes his exposure to the Department of Corrections.”
Cortes, who received 156 days of credit for the time he’s served in the Pitkin County Jail, “at the same time is admitting responsibility for what he did,” Fang said.
Said Cortes: “I’d like to say I’m sorry for what I did – no more.”
Nichols, too, agreed that Cortes was “not the top guy in this distribution. That means there were a lot of other people making a lot more money than you did. Nonetheless, the evidence shows that this went on for a long time.”
The official charge to which Cortes pleaded guilty is attempted distribution of a controlled substance (cocaine), 25 to 450 grams, a class-four felony; Cortes told the court the amount he had was “a little bit over 25 [grams], but 450 is way too much.”
Mordkin said he expects Cortes to be deported to Mexico once he serves his prison sentence. Nichols also sentenced him to three years’ parole and ordered him to pay a $1,500 drug surcharge to the court. She also gave him a stern, albeit short lecture.
“I believe you have now seen … how devastating drugs have been on our community,” she said. “Cocaine, like alcohol, can be devastating to the people who become addicted.”
Police said cocaine was being sold out of Bentley’s from Oct. 13, 2010, through February.
The warrant for the arrest of another suspect, Marco Antonio Ruiz Leal, who’s in his late 30s, was issued about a week after the Bentley’s raid. Police say they executed a search warrant on his Aspen resident on Feb. 12 and found 38 grams of cocaine and $1,400 in cash. He remains a fugitive.
While Mordkin has kept the search warrants under seal, law enforcement provided some details that led to the Bentley’s bust, which included the Basalt Police Department receiving video evidence of “individuals packaging a white powdery substance on food preparation surfaces in the kitchen at Bentley’s,” according to a press release Aspen police issued shortly after the February arrest.
Bentley’s closed in May so that the city of Aspen could begin renovations to the Wheeler Opera House. Earlier this year the city, which owns the opera house, awarded a new lease for the restaurant space to Fiercely Local LLC.
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