Former Aspen city councilor, Skico executive Derek Johnson pleads guilty to stealing, faces 4-12 years in prison
Johnson, wife accused of stealing more than $2.4 million worth of Skico-owned skis
A former Aspen city councilman, mayoral candidate and Aspen Skiing Co. executive pleaded guilty Monday to systematically stealing from his bosses for years.
Derek Johnson, 52, now faces between four and 12 years in prison after admitting in Pitkin County District Court to stealing between $100,000 and $1 million from Skico between June 2013 and January 2019.
And while police and prosecutors previously have alleged that Johnson and his wife, Kerri, stole more than $2.4 million worth of Skico-owned skis, snowboards and other goods during his 17-year history with the company, Derek Johnson will only have to pay back $250,000, Pam Mackey, his Denver-based lawyer, said in court Monday.
Before his plea to felony theft was official Monday, District Judge Chris Seldin asked Johnson what he did that made him guilty.
“I acquired some items without permission,” he said. “However, during sentencing I’m looking forward to explaining some of the circumstances surrounding that.”
Asked if he knew what he did constituted the crime of theft, Johnson hedged a bit.
“Certainly not initially,” he said. “But I made some poor choices and that is the case.”
Besides the cap on restitution, the District Attorney’s Office did not make any other concessions on the sentencing parameters, Mackey said. Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 21. Prosecutor Don Nottingham declined to comment on why Johnson’s restitution was 10% of the amount he and his wife are alleged to have stolen from Skico.
In a statement released Monday after Johnson entered his plea, a Skico spokesman said the company continues “to be deeply saddened by this whole situation.”
“While Derek Johnson’s public admission of responsibility for these serious crimes is an important first step in finding closure for Aspen Skiing Co., that process will take significant time,” according to the statement from Tucker Vest Burton. “These crimes impacted a number of people, caused them emotional trauma that continues to this day, damaged trust and had financial impacts on individuals and on the company.”
In a statement late Monday, Burton said Skico has been “kept in the loop” about the Johnsons’ plea negotiations and “has sought to respect the DA’s efforts to resolve this matter in a way that enables justice without wasting government resources.”
“A plea deal is about compromise,” she said. “Restitution is part of that compromise. The $250,000 is an amount the Johnsons can actually pay ASC over time and has no other relevance to the substantially higher amount stolen by the Johnsons.”
“Ensuring that Derek Johnson is appropriately held accountable through sentencing is important to us,” according to Skico’s statement. “Recognizing that the Johnsons have a family, we hope that the court nonetheless considers the broad human impacts of these crimes, and what an appropriate sentence will say to the community as a whole as it determines Derek Johnson’s sentence.”
Kerri Johnson also appeared in court Monday, though her case was continued until Dec. 16. She currently faces a raft of felony charges including two counts of theft of $1 million or more, two other counts of theft and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft.
Nottingham has offered her a plea deal, and the two sides had a two-hour meeting about it last week, said Beth Krulewitch, Kerri Johnson’s attorney. However, the two sides need more time to communicate, she said.
“This is a huge decision for my client,” Krulewitch said, noting the couple has three children.
Kerri Johnson’s case was continued until Dec. 16.
Derek Johnson, who was fired by Skico in December, helped found D&E Snowboard Shop and sold it to Skico in 2001, when he became the company’s retail-rental division managing director. He served one term on Aspen City Council from 2009 to 2013 and ran for mayor in 2013.
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Legislation aimed at addressing treatment of elected officials would beef up penalties for those who threaten or harass officeholders or relatives.