Feds regroup in case against public lands abuser David Lesh

Five misdemeanor counts dropped for allegedly entering Hanging Lake

The United States government on Thursday dropped five criminal counts against David Lesh for allegedly entering Hanging Lake illegally last summer.

Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will focus on trying to prosecute Lesh for allegedly operating a snowmobile in a closed terrain park at Keystone Ski Area last winter and using the national forest for his outdoor clothing company’s marketing and sales efforts without authorization.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Hautzinger didn’t comment on the change of strategy during a brief hearing in federal court in Grand Junction. Hautzinger said during a hearing on Jan. 11 he would investigate comments Lesh made in an article in The New Yorker last month. Hautzinger said at the time it could influence how the prosecution proceeded.

In the article, Lesh said photos of him walking on a log in Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon and defecating in Maroon Lake southwest of Aspen were doctored as part of a hoax. He made the same claims in court. He told the magazine he wanted to “bait” authorities into charging him. Lesh posted the photos of himself in Hanging Lake and in Maroon Lake on social media.

He told The New Yorker: “I want to be able to post fake things to the internet. That’s my f***ing right as an American.”

Denver resident David Lesh posted photos of himself snowmobiling at Keystone Resort in April. He pleaded not guilty Thursday to two misdemeanor charges filed in connection to the incident.

Lesh told the magazine he feels he was treated unfairly for riding his snowmobile in a closed area of Independence Pass in July 2019. That case was settled with a plea agreement that required Lesh to pay a $500 fine and perform 50 hours of useful public service.

As that case was wrapping up, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed six new counts against Lesh in September — one for the Keystone snowmobile incident and five for the Hanging Lake incident. Lesh pleaded not guilty to all counts on Jan. 11. Now, five of the counts are withdrawn.

In the new information filed Thursday, the government alleged that Lesh operated a snowmobile off a designated route at Keystone on April 24. Lesh posted a photo of himself riding in the closed Keystone terrain park. He has not alleged that photo was doctored.

In a second count, Lesh is accused of using federal lands at Keystone and elsewhere in the White River National Forest for the sale or offer for sale of merchandise and conducted work activity or service without authorization.

In The New Yorker article and in court hearings, Lesh has said he uses the landscapes in the national forest for sales and marketing materials for his outdoor clothing company. Commercial use of the national forest requires a permit under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations.

Lesh, 35, of Denver, pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges on Thursday. U.S. Magistrate Gordon Gallagher said Lesh is entitled to a trial by the judge, but it cannot be set yet because of COVID-related restrictions. A status conference will be held March 3 to determine when a trial can be scheduled.

If convicted, Lesh faces a possible penalty of up to six months in jail, a $5,000 fine or both on each count. The information filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office said detention would not be sought.

As a condition of bond, Gallagher ruled in October that Lesh cannot enter national forestlands. In addition, Lesh cannot post any picture or video on any social media platform of himself or anyone else violating laws on any federal lands.