Legal battle between Aspen family facing eviction, housing authority ramps up
Aspen resident Lee Mulcahy, who is being forced to sell his deed-restricted home after a yearslong legal battle with the local housing authority, ramped up his veiled threats to elected officials last week, saying that an eviction could end with his and his mother’s deaths.
“If you end up with two dead people, two Mulcahys that are dead, then that’s going to be real unfortunate,” he told Aspen City Council members during public comment last week. Mulcahy made the same statement Thursday in front of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.
The comments are concerning, said local law enforcement officials who have been following the case since it started. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, whose agency would be in charge of an eviction, characterized Mulcahy’s statements as “unnerving.”
DiSalvo said Friday he talks regularly with Mulcahy, and has been assured by him that whatever happens will end peacefully.
The statement also had a chilling effect in council chambers, leaving some elected officials’ faces stone cold.
Mayor Torre said he didn’t take Mulcahy’s comments as a veiled threat but acknowledged that his statements about violence are ramping up.
Torre said he hopes the matter will be resolved peacefully.
“My heart goes out to Lee and no one wants to see this situation escalate to any harm or endangerment to anyone,” he said.
Mulcahy also asked elected officials last week to give him a hearing to prove that he meets the requirements to live in deed-restricted housing.
But the matter is far beyond the local level since the case has been decided in three different courts.
The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority in December 2015 sued Mulcahy, alleging he didn’t meet the authority’s ownership requirements of working 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County.
APCHA prevailed in court — including the state district and appellate court levels. Mulcahy also failed to persuade both the state and United States supreme courts to hear the case.
APCHA attorney Tom Smith filed a motion last week for the court to appoint a receiver to put the property up for sale. APCHA intends to buy the house and then sell it to a qualified buyer.
Mulcahy and his mother, Sandy, expect a standoff with police when they are told they have to leave their Burlingame Ranch home.
Both have said they have no intention of leaving and have alluded to impending violence in several statements to public officials.
“I am not leaving, ma’am,” Sandy Mulcahy told the Times on Thursday, adding that there have been numerous cases in the state and around the country in which violence has resulted from evictions.
She and her son claim that Aspen police have repeatedly told them that they will be forcefully removed, although they would not identify which officer has told them that “SWAT” operations would be employed for fear that they would be retaliated against.
“If the door is not open, do they break it down?” Sandy Mulcahy asked.
“We are moving towards being political prisoners,” Lee Mulcahy offered.
Assistant Aspen Police Chief Bill Linn said Friday the department will not be involved the Mulcahys’ eviction because that is the responsibility of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
Furthermore, even if the APD was responsible for evictions, it would not use force to carry them out, Linn noted.
“Anyone who knows the Aspen Police Department knows that is not how we do things,” he said, adding that Mulcahy’s comments are distressing.
Sheriff DiSalvo said he discusses the matter with APD Police Chief Richard Pryor regularly and they have no intention of escalating the situation.
“We are not going to risk public safety for property,” DiSalvo said regarding when, or if, a court order is issued that says the Mulcahys must leave the residence. “I really plan on doing it peacefully and we will be patient and we will not force anyone’s hands.”
A judge will have to make a ruling on the receiver, which has been proposed by APCHA to be Cordes & Co., a firm with an office in Denver.
After a receiver is approved, it has access to the property. The receiver also will facilitate the real estate transaction between Mulcahy and APCHA.
APCHA Deputy Director Cindy Christensen said she estimates the due diligence period will take about a month before closing.
She also noted that APCHA will have to go before City Council and ask for a supplement budget request to obtain the cash to purchase the home.
The home, which is located on Forge Road in the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing development across from Buttermilk Ski Area, can be sold for a maximum price of $995,000, according to APCHA.
DiSalvo said the Sheriff’s Office has a month or two after a court order is issued to take action.
So, depending on how it plays out, it could still be months before APCHA would take ownership of the home.
“It’s certainly not going to happen overnight,” said Smith, APCHA’s attorney, adding that Mulcahy is allowed to stay in the home until closing.
Mulcahy said he plans to continue appealing previous court rulings and make his case that he is an artist who works the required hours under the housing program’s guidelines.
He also claims APCHA didn’t follow its own rules when it issued him a notice of violation because the agency didn’t have the correct timeline of when he was to respond.
Regardless, the clock is starting to wind down on the protracted legal battle and tensions are becoming high between the Mulcahys and public officials.
“What makes this difficult is the attention that has been brought on by Lee,” DiSalvo said. “The court system is the final arbitrator and people at some point have to accept the umpire’s ruling.”
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Rule breakers of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority may have to face a hearing officer and fines if they don’t come into compliance with the deed restrictions on their units.