Feds will need convictions to seize Aspen-area homes
ASPEN – By Pitkin County standards, they are hardly lavish properties.
One is an 878-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condominium unit at Hunter Creek in Aspen, built in 1980. Another is a 28-year-old, single-family home in Snowmass Village, with a total heated area of 2,818 square feet. The third is a duplex condo-unit built in 1983, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, covering 1,408 square feet.
Combined, the three properties have an actual value of just over $3.8 million, according to Pitkin County tax records. In contrast, the average price for a single-family home for the first quarter of this year was $4.6 million, according to data from Land Title Guarantee Co.
For the time being, the properties remain in the possession of their owners. Their fate, however, hangs in the balance of the federal court system.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in a grand-jury indictment unsealed Friday, listed the three local residences as properties facing government seizure as part of a cocaine trafficking case linking Aspen to Los Angeles.
The government could have taken either the criminal or civil route to claim the properties. It’s using criminal proceedings to seize the residences, but can only do so if the property owners are convicted, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.
The indictment says that the properties were acquired with “proceeds obtained directly and indirectly” from the alleged cocaine ring, and also were used “to commit or facilitate” the alleged crimes. A press release issued by the Department of Justice on Friday called them “drug related property in Aspen which was indicted as a result of this investigation.”
The Snowmass home, located at 1459 Juniper Hill Drive, is owned by Christopher James Sheehan, 65, who was arrested Thursday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after he disembarked from a flight from Costa Rica, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials said. It’s the most valuable Pitkin County property facing government seizure, with an actual value of $1.42 million – $950,000 for the 2 acres it sits on, $470,000 for the house – according to tax records from the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office.
The duplex unit, located at 230 Pitkin Mesa Drive, is listed under the name of Aspen Pitkin Mesa Limited Partnership. Federal officials would not identify the suspect behind the partnership that owns the unit, which is valued at $1.4 million. Pitkin County records tie the property to Grove, Okla., though the partnership was incorporated in Colorado in 2004, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The Hunter Creek condo is owned by Joan Anastasi, 67, who was arrested at her home Thursday and is free on $20,000 bond. She is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Denver on cocaine distribution charges.
On Monday, Anastasi was appointed a federal court public defender.
The other five local defendants – Joseph James Burke, 63; Jack Fellner, 61; Wayne Alan Reid, 65; Peggy Schlauger, 41; and Sheehan, 65 – have yet to retain counsel.
Dorschner noted that because Anastasi has obtained a public defender, the others can’t retain one because of conflict issues. They have the option of either hiring a free-market attorney or one from the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) pool. A CJA attorney is appointed by the court.
Like Anastasi, Burke, Fellner and Schlauger are free on $20,000 bonds and are due in court Wednesday for their arraignments following their arrests last Thursday. Sheehan is awaiting a detainment hearing, while Reid remains in custody with no bond. Authorities allege they are members of a cocaine ring that imported more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of the drug from Los Angeles to Aspen over the last 15 years.
The indictment says that from July 2010 through April, they conspired to own and sell more than 5 kilos of cocaine.
The grand jury also indicted Valentin Barrios, 42; Anthony Buchanan, 67; Alfonso Elvao-Allocati, 70; and Jesse Trujillo, 33, all of Los Angeles. Trujillo remained at large as of Monday, Dorschner said.
Rest areas and recreation facilities along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, including boat put-ins, trails and the paved bike path, have been routinely closed to nonpermit public use during flash flood watches.
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