Johnsons not rolling over in civil case by Aspen Skiing Co. insurer

Derek Johnson writing from halfway house wants more time to research defense in multimillion-dollar civil fraud complaint

Writing that he can’t afford an attorney to defend him and his wife in a multimillion-dollar civil fraud complaint, former Aspen Skiing Co. employee Derek Johnson is asking a federal magistrate judge to allow the couple more time to “address this lawsuit properly.”

In a letter to the court postmarked Dec. 27 from Lakewood, which is where Johnson is residing in the ICCS-Kendall halfway house, Johnson wrote that he will have more time to invest in his defense strategy when he is released on parole, possibly as early as this spring.

For the time being, however, Johnson wrote he also lacks the necessary means to fight the suit because he is restricted by his current living conditions.

“Example, I am allowed one 4 hour pass to the library a week to work on legal issues,” wrote Johnson, who also served on Aspen City Council last decade. “Additionally the Jefferson Co. library has restricted computer access to 1 hour per their Covid rules. This is not enough time to do the research needed to fully and properly respond to this action.”

Johnson currently is serving a six-year sentence for his November 2019 guilty plea to Class 3 felony theft. Pitkin County Judge Chris Seldin delivered the sentence in January 2020 after approving both Johnsons’ plea agreements with prosecutors.

Johnson’s wife, Kerri Johnson, who was not a Skico employee, pleaded guilty to Class 4 felony theft in December 2019 and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation.

Aspen Skiing Co. caught onto the ski-selling scheme in November 2018 and fired Johnson the next month, leading to criminal allegations against the well-reputed Johnsons.

Derek Johnson’s latest Colorado Department of Corrections photo.

Johnson was a volunteer football coach and helped found D&E Snowboard Shop, which he sold to Skico in 2001, becoming the company’s retail-rental division managing director and making close friends with employees and executives.

All told, the Johnsons’ guilty pleas were related to their selling on eBay more than 13,000 pairs of salvaged skis owned by Skico. The scheme ran between 2006 and November 2018, which included the four years Johnson sat on City Council, from 2009 to 2013. He also ran for mayor in 2013.

Skico recouped its reported losses of $5.2 million from insurer National Union Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh.

That’s according to allegations in National Union’s lawsuit against the Johnson couple. Filed in federal court in early November, the suit said the Johnsons’ actions triggered Skico’s employee-dishonesty coverage, and the couple should be held responsible for reimbursing the insurance carrier.

“Mr. Johnson, in his capacity as Managing Director for Aspen (Skico), was able to carry out the theft by purposefully purchasing more inventory than actually was needed by Aspen, so that any inventory misappropriated by the Defendants was more likely to go unnoticed by Aspen,” said the lawsuit. “Given his position as Managing Director and his control of Aspen’s ski and snowboard inventory, Mr. Johnson was able to conceal the theft from Aspen during the course of the scheme.”

Johnson’s letter, which was entered into the case file Wednesday, suggested the lawsuit lacks credibility. The letter, while coming from Derek Johnson, said it was written on behalf of the entire couple.

“We are concerned that answering the specific allegations in the Suit with our inexperience and lack of legal training could damage our ability to properly defend ourselves when this goes to trial,” said the letter. “We are comfortable in stating at this time that the number of inaccurate and false statements in this claim far outweigh the truth and reality of this situation. While we are looking forward to putting this behind us and our family we do see the importance of defending ourselves.”

Derek Johnson waits for his sentencing hearing in the Pitkin County Courtroom in Aspen, Colorado on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Johnson was given 6 years in prison for stealing and selling equipment from Aspen Skiing Company. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Johnson, 54, served about 13 months in prison, with most of that time at the Sterling Correctional Facility, before being transferred to the halfway house.

He has a parole hearing set for February, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections website. He is eligible for parole May 16, according to the DOC.

“I am currently in the process of navigating through the CO. parole process and could be given the opportunity to Parole in the next several weeks or months,” Johnson’s letter to the court said. “At that time I will have more time and ability to focus on this issue. In no scenario do we foresee having the ability to hire a lawyer. Hopefully we will have opportunity to get assistance from one of the Pro Se options.”

The letter concluded: “We would like to preserve the right and ability to countersue.”

National Union’s lawsuit levied counts of conversion, civil conspiracy and unjust enrichment against the Johnsons, and separate counts of fraud and breach of fiduciary duty fraud against Derek Johnson.

The lawsuit was originally filed in the U.S. District Court of Denver; on Dec. 10 it was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in Grand Junction for pretrial proceedings, according to court documents.


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