It’s jail, then probation for check-stealing dog-sitter |

It’s jail, then probation for check-stealing dog-sitter

Vanessa Simon

A fired dog-sitter who stole her Aspen employer’s checkbook and wrote nearly $160,000 worth of checks to herself was taken to jail in handcuffs Monday after her sentencing hearing.

Vanessa Simon, 21, pleaded guilty to felony theft in the case and will spend the next 10 years on probation attempting to repay the debt, which was augmented Monday by more than $4,000 in interest. District Judge Chris Seldin also ordered her to spend the next 90 days in jail as part of her sentence, which began Monday.

“Cases like this involve opportunism and the recklessly naïve belief that you can take from people again and again and not get caught,” Seldin said. “It was only a matter of time before somebody figured out what you were up to.”

Simon said she was ashamed and sorry for her actions and told the court she was not a dishonest person.

Simon was fired in May 2017 from the dog-sitting job, though the first check she wrote to herself occurred April 20, 2017, according to court documents. The most recent check was dated Jan. 8. The 45 checks Simon wrote to herself ranged between $500 and $9,500, the documents state.

Simon admitted she stole the money when a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy called her in Denver to ask about the checks. She said she’d been in school and needed the money to live.

Simon must pay back a total of $164,458 as part of her plea agreement. She also must undergo a mental-health evaluation and write an apology letter to the victim in the case.

In other court news Monday:

• A local man who received two DUIs in a month last fall will spend the next five years on probation and must stay away from alcohol during that time.

District Judge Chris Seldin also sentenced Thomas Sanders, 36, to serve an additional 120 days in jail as part of his sentence. Sanders previously pleaded guilty to two counts of felony DUI.

Seldin told Sanders that receiving the two DUI charges in such a short period of time “is troubling in and of itself.”

“That suggests the gravity of being arrested for DUI didn’t sink in,” the judge said. “That’s worrisome … because the lesson isn’t sinking in.”

The judge also took issue with Sanders’ statements to a probation officer that he didn’t have a problem with alcohol. Seldin pointed out that Sanders has a “significant criminal history that explicitly involves alcohol.”

Sanders was first arrested for DUI Sept. 19. Then on Oct. 21, a sheriff’s deputy attempted to pull him over again after encountering his vehicle driving extremely slow on Highway 133. When Sanders finally stopped, the deputy also noticed Sanders was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts despite the fact that it was 33 degrees outside at the time.

Sanders asked the deputy’s permission to put some clothes on, then pulled a sweatshirt and pants from the back seat and put them on. At the same time, he also grabbed a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor and began chugging it before the deputy grabbed it and threw the bottle across the road.

Sanders has at least three prior DUI convictions. Under Colorado law, a fourth DUI and above is considered a felony.

“Felony DUIs really indicate a danger to society,” Seldin said, noting that he was close to sentencing Sanders to prison.

During his five years on probation, Sanders’ sobriety will be monitored and he must abstain from alcohol and drugs. He also must undergo a substance abuse evaluation, a mental-health evaluation and perform 96 hours of community service.

• A 27-year-old Grand County woman pleaded guilty Monday to possession of LSD with intent to distribute and was sentenced to two years of probation.

If Morgan Abrams successfully completes the probation period, the felony guilty plea will be wiped from her record under the terms of a plea deal reached with the District Attorney’s Office.

Despite the charge, Abrams, whose only criminal history was a prior marijuana possession charge in Illinois, does not appear to be a drug dealer, prosecutor Don Nottingham said.

“It didn’t look like the transaction at Belly Up was for money,” Nottingham said Monday.

In February, an employee at Belly Up, a downtown bar, allegedly witnessed Abrams hand something to a man that reportedly looked like a drug deal. The man later dropped a small piece of paper that an Aspen police officer suspected was blotter acid or LSD.

Officers later found a sheet of blotter acid in Abrams’ possession, according to court documents. Nottingham said she had a total of 37 hits of LSD on her.

Abrams will serve her probation in Grand County and must remain free of drugs and alcohol during the two-year sentence. She will be monitored for sobriety, must undergo a substance-abuse evaluation and must perform 50 hours of community service.

• A California man who pleaded guilty to receiving nearly $18,000 in unemployment benefits while working at a Snowmass Village hotel was sentenced Monday to 60 days in jail and three years of probation.

Herman Benn, 40, also must pay back $17,649 he received from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment between June 2012 and December 2013, when he worked at the Viceroy Snowmass.

Benn began serving his 60-day sentence Monday at the Pitkin County Jail, though his probation will be transferred to California.

Benn apologized for his actions and said he wants to take responsibility.

“I’d like to right my wrong,” he said.