James Hogue nets prison sentences of 3 and 6 years for Aspen crimes

James Hogue in an Aspen Police Department booking photo from the late 1990s.
Courtesy photo |

Profile of a Con Man

James Hogue was born in October 1959 in Kansas City, Kansas, and made a mark as a talented runner in high school. He later attended the University of Wyoming on a cross-country scholarship in 1985 but dropped out, according to a 2006 Denver Post article.

In 1986, he enrolled at Palo Alto High School as a 16-year-old freshman named Jay Huntsman, who told officials he was an orphan who grew up on a commune in Nevada, according to the article. As a member of the track team there, he won the Stanford Invitational – the most prestigious high school race in the country, the Post article states.

However, a local newspaper reporter soon checked birth certificates and discovered Jay Huntsman died at two days old in 1969, and the fraud was exposed, according to the Post article. He was 26 years old at the time.

In 1988, he received a running scholarship from Princeton under the fake name of Alexi Indris Santana, another orphan who this time was from Utah. He competed for the team for two years before a senior from Yale who knew him as Jay Huntsman in Palo Alto recognized him at a track meet, according to the Time article.

The then-31-year-old was charged with forgery, wrongful impersonation and falsifying records, spent nine months in jail and had to pay back $22,000 in financial aid, the Time article states.

In 1992, he was hired as a security guard at one of Harvard’s museums, where he was arrested a few months after being hired for allegedly stealing jewels valued at $50,000, according to the Time article. Hogue popped up in Aspen in 1997, when he was arrested for resisting arrest in connection with a stolen bike, according to Aspen Police Detective Jeff Fain. A year later, he received community service for stealing food and Rogaine from an Aspen grocery store, he said. An Aspen Daily News employee filed a restraining order against him at one point, he said.

Then in 2006, Hogue fled the San Miguel County area after police found nearly 7,000 items in his home, a storage locker and a horse trailer valued at more than $100,000, according to the Denver Post article. He was later arrested on charges related to those thefts in Tucson, Arizona.

He served time in prison in Colorado for theft and was released in 2012, according to Fain.

— Compiled by Staff writer Jason Auslander

A con man who racked up felonies from California to New Jersey was sentenced to state prison terms of three and six years Monday for his actions tied to illegally building a shack on Aspen Mountain.

Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin noted James Hogue’s “extraordinary” criminal history featuring as many as five felony convictions and multiple misdemeanors — which don’t include his Aspen transgressions — for crimes ranging from theft to fraudulently gaining admittance to Princeton University on a track scholarship when he was in his 30s.

“This is a striking criminal history for its consistency,” Seldin said when delivering the sentence. “And what it tells the court is if Mr. Hogue isn’t in jail or prison or otherwise incarcerated, he’s committing a crime. That’s his way of life. I’ve heard nothing about any mental health issues or substance issues or other explanations for his pattern of behavior, other than this is a lifestyle of a career criminal, from what I can tell.”

Hogue, 57, pleaded guilty in February to felony theft between $2,000 and $5,000, felony possession of burglary tools and misdemeanor obstructing police officers.

Seldin sentenced Hogue to six years in prison for the theft conviction and three years for the possession of tools conviction. The sentences will run concurrently. The judge also sentenced Hogue to 138 days of jail for the misdemeanor conviction, which is credit for the time he has spent in Pitkin County Jail since he was arrested.

Hogue faced presumptive prison ranges of one to three years. Seldin, however, gave him aggravated sentences because the judge determined that Hogue is a chronic offender and a long shot for rehabilitation

“I see nothing in (the pre-sentence report for Hogue) that provides any indication that he believes the rules apply to him,” Seldin said, adding, “You are a very consistent thief, Mr. Hogue, but you’re a very bad thief because you get caught a lot. I don’t understand what’s going on with this pattern of behavior. … You are a bright and intelligent person, but you can’t treat other people this way. And the only conclusion I can reach from this record, which is so long, is that as long as Mr. Hogue is at liberty in the community, he’ll be continuing to take things from other people and continue to commit crimes.”

Aspen police arrested Hogue in November on suspicion of living in a rogue shack for a least one year on Shadow Mountain, the western-most peak of Aspen Mountain. In September, Hogue eluded authorities after they knocked on the door of his insulated shack. About a month later, Aspen Skiing Co. employees busted him trying to build another cabin about 100 yards west of the existing cabin.

Employees contacted police, who used a loudspeaker to contact Hogue on Aspen Mountain. Again, he fled into the woods.

Hogue ultimately was arrested Nov. 3 after an employee at the Pitkin County Library saw him using a computer there. Police were contacted and arrested him on a Boulder County warrant and a criminal impersonation charge because he gave them a fake name.

After Hogue’s arrest, subsequent searches by Aspen police yielded nearly $17,000 cash in his 2005 Nissan Xterra, burglary tools, ledgers of what he had sold, and athletic gear, among other items. Police said Hogue sold an estimated $70,000 worth of stolen items on eBay.

Hogue’s arrest in Aspen was the latest in a litany of transgressions that resulted in his being the subject of stories in The New Yorker, The New York Times, People Magazine and television news magazines.

His public defender, however, said he is a self-reliant, intelligent and nonviolent criminal who prefers to keep to himself and is “simply an adult man who finds himself impoverished and homeless.”

“The man who I read about in various articles and in the media is portrayed often as someone who is sneaky, as someone who is a folk hero of sorts,” said Molly Owens, who lobbied the judge to sentence Hogue to supervised probation. “But the man who I know is simple and humble and has lived recently in a life of isolation.”

Prosecutor Sarah Oszczakiewicz asked for prison time, arguing Hogue has not learned from the previous probation stints he served. She also added that though his crimes were not violent, they were “economic crimes” because he stole from individuals and businesses in Aspen in order to sustain his meager lifestyle.

Hogue sat quietly during the proceeding and did not speak.