Lesh fails to convince judge to dismiss charges over alleged Keystone sled ride

Trial of rogue snowmobiler scheduled for July

Denver resident David Lesh posted photos on social media that he says show him snowmobiling at Keystone Resort in April. The photos could play a major role in his trial, set for July.

A federal judge has denied David Lesh’s last-ditch attempt to get two criminal charges dismissed for alleged illegal activity on national forest lands before the issue heads to trial.

The ruling earlier this month by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher sets the stage for a July 22 and 23 trial on petty offenses, charging that Lesh operated a snowmobile on a closed section of Keystone ski area and that he sold or offered to sell merchandise without authorization while at Keystone.

Lesh is known in Aspen after he was convicted on a petty offense of operating a snowmobile in a closed area of Independence Pass in July 2019. Unrelated charges that Lesh illegally entered Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon were dropped after it appeared photos posted by Lesh of him in the lake were contrived.

In the Keystone case, Lesh’s attorney argued in motions that the charges were not supported by probably cause.

“The primary evidentiary basis for Count 1 is a photo depicting an unidentified person operating a snowmobile in an area alleged to be the Keystone Ski Area,” attorney Eric Faddis wrote. “No portion of the rider’s face or body is visible in the photo. A visual inspection of the photo yields no information about the rider’s race, sex, gender or age. The Government is unable to identify, with any reasonable degree of certainty, the individual depicted in that photo.”

Faddis also argued that there was no evidence that Lesh engaged in any effort to sell merchandise while physically present at Keystone.

Therefore, the motion said, a central requirement of probable cause is absent and the count should be dismissed.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office countered in its response that significant evidence exists to support the petty offense charges.

“On April 24, 2020, the defendant uploaded several photos to his Facebook and Instagram accounts,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Hautzinger. “These photos showed the defendant driving a snowmobile over a jump in the closed, restricted area of Keystone Ski Area. All of the postings were under an avatar, face photo clearly identifying the defendant. The defendant captioned his postings: ‘davidlesh — solid park sesh, no lift ticket needed.'”

Hautzinger noted that Lesh “essentially admitted to the Keystone incident in the January 11, 2021 New Yorker article, ‘Trolling the Great Outdoors.'” Hautzinger also said that in that same article, Lesh contended he doctored photos of himself in Hanging Lake and one he posted of himself allegedly defecating in Maroon Lake southwest of Aspen. He made no claim that he doctored the Keystone photo, the motion said.

Gallagher dismissed Lesh’s attempt to get the charges dismissed, but his ruling did not delve into whether the government has good evidence. Instead, federal court rules say a defendant in a petty offense case is not entitled to a preliminary hearing, which determines whether there is probable cause.

“Defendant cites no legal authority which would allow the Court to engage in a probable cause analysis in this circumstance,” the judge wrote.

If the case proceeds to trial as scheduled, the authenticity of the photos will likely once again be a big part of the proceedings.