Business Monday: Aspen mall merchants say video evidence exonerates them
Attorneys and the owner of two Aspen skin-care retailers civilly accused of bullying and drugging customers and using other sleazy sales tactics say they have video evidence that refutes the allegations.
At a hearing Friday in Pitkin County District Court, after hearing arguments supporting and contesting the admissibility of the video evidence, Judge Anne Norrdin set a hearing July 31 to address the matter, but only if the defense supplied the entire video by the end of the weekend.
“Under the circumstances, it seems to me the only fair way to deal with this is to continue the entire hearing,” the judge said. “The court is not impressed with the lack of candor with regard of this video to opposing counsel.”
In the meantime, both sides will undergo mediation to settle the disputes.
“I think for everyone’s sake, getting a final resolution of this is in everyone’s interest,” Norrdin said.
The defense said video surveillance will prove employees at Aspen Beauty Boutique, located in downtown Aspen, did not entice two customers to drink spiked Champagne, which left them vulnerable and on the hook for $21,860 worth of skin-care products. The video also contradicts the other allegations, argued attorney David P. Beitchman of Encino, California.
“In my 20 years of practicing law, I’ve never seen something so egregiously” off base, he said, contending the lawsuits “amount to a fraud on this court when you look at the video.”
Plaintiffs attorney Chris Bryan, of the Aspen firm Garfield & Hecht PC, called the proposal to introduce the video evidence an “ambush” that gave him and his clients no time to review it before the hearing. The hearing was supposed to concern the amount in damages awarded to the plaintiffs, who received default judgments after Aspen Retail, the parent company of the two boutiques, didn’t promptly to reply the lawsuits, which were filed in December.
“We’re not scared of the video,” Bryan said, “but it’s difficult for me to refute a video. They refused to show me the (entire) video even though they have had it in their custody for a better part of a year.”
Beitchman said June 10 — four days before the hearing — he offered Bryan to view the video, but only if they watched four 30-second snippets from the surveillance.
Bryan said he declined that offer, telling the court he was capable of watching it outside the presence of Beitchman. Bryan also said he wanted access to the entire video, which the defense refused do then and was unable to at Friday’s hearing, despite Norrdin’s instructions to do so, because of its “massive size,” according to Beitchman.
“There’s a lot of questions about why they videotape all of the proceedings in their store,” Bryan said, “if that’s what they do.”
Bryan also questioned the timing of the video’s introduction.
“If this is the smoking gun that the defense has had since the events, why wasn’t it given to me?” he said.
Gal Batzri, who owns the Aspen stores, said after the hearing that the allegations have damaged his business. Employees behave better than the allegations against them and the store, he insisted.
“When I sit in court and say I have the video and I have all of the supporting facts, I don’t joke around,” he said. “I don’t bluff.”
Plaintiffs Dean and Kim Reeves of Durango claim that on July 13, 2018, when they walked by what was then called Aspen Kristals Cosmetics, a sales attendant “lingering in the doorway” enticed them to enter the store. Soon after, a man gave them each a glass of what seemed to be Champagne, the suit contends. After consuming the beverages, the couple “felt very confused and out of sorts,” the suit alleges, and they wound up spending more than $21,000 on products when they thought they would only be charged $700, according to the suit.
The couple didn’t have a receipt for the lower charge because a store employee “ripped it up” and said the transaction had been voided, the suit alleges. They didn’t know about the higher amount until the next day, when they found a receipt in a small envelope in their shopping bag from Kristals, the suit says.
The other case involves Cheron Berastequ of New Mexico, who alleges that on Sept. 18, an employee at the Hyman Avenue location convinced her to enter the store, where she bought some eye cream. Ultimately she ended up paying more than $26,000 for two light machines used for light therapy, as well as face masks. Berastequ claims the products were charged against her credit card without her consent.
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The Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance got an order it didn’t want Friday — a judge’s denial of its motion for a temporary restraining order that would have halted the county’s Red phase that takes effect Sunday.