Pfister’s claims survive against Hechts, others in legal feud over Aspen real estate
A downtown law firm must respond to allegations of self-dealing and racketeering committed at the expense of a prominent Aspen family’s real estate assets, a judge ruled earlier this summer.
The latest order in Aspen native Juliana Pfister’s civil complaint against the Garfield & Hecht PC law firm and other defendants sets up the plaintiff to proceed on her Colorado Organized Crime Control Act claims against the defendants, said attorney Ronald Rossi of the New York firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.
“We realize we have a lot of work to do to prove this in a court of law,” Rossi said last week. “We have our shovels out, and we’re ready to do the work.”
Defendants in Pfister’s complaint, now in its third amended version, include the law firm, its name partners Ron Garfield and Andy Hecht, as well as Hecht’s son — developer and hedge-funder Nikos Hecht — and local real estate investor Steve Hansen. In his June 21 order, Seldin dismissed the allegations against Aspen businessman and property investor Mark Friedland; he is no longer a defendant.
“This is just a preliminary step that they have finally gotten over, in their third amended complaint, and now we’re going to move to the actual proof part of the case and we’ll exchange documents and testimony and that will take us into next summer,” said attorney Daniel Reilly of the Denver Reilly Pozner LLP. “Then we’ll see whether these claims on paper stand up to the examinations under oath and in trial.”
Reilly represents Garfield & Hecht, as well as the two attorneys individually.
Pfister, the daughter of the late Nancy Pfister and granddaughter of Art and Betty Pfister, filed her original lawsuit against the defendants in November 2016, before amending it multiple times with updated allegations. Art and Betty Pfister helped develop Buttermilk Ski Area and the Maroon Creek Club. Art Pfister died in March 2007; Betty Pfister in November 2011.
The Pfister complaint has been folded into a probate case pending in Pitkin County District Court, according to Reilly and Rossi.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants, led by Andy Hecht, of running an enterprise from 1999 to 2014 with the objective to cheat the Pfister family out of millions of dollars in cash and real estate holdings through a series of property deals. Andy Hecht’s position as the family’s trustee and attorney enabled to him to orchestrate the scheme while conducting transactions with other enterprise members by selling them some of the Pfister family’s properties for below-market prices and without the family’s consent, the lawsuit alleges.
“They were clearly insider deals, in our view, as alleged,” Rossi said, “and this is really quite a set of serious allegations, in our view, against Mr. Hecht and the other parties.”
The suit alleges multiple property deals under Andy Hecht’s watch, resulting in financial losses to Art and Betty Pfister, while the two Hechts, Garfield and Hansen reaped profits from the transactions. Some of the deals were hatched while Art Pfister’s mental faculties were in decline, the suit alleges.
And two of those of transactions — Andy Hecht’s dealing of both Buttermilk mountain lots to Friedland in February 2014, one for $2.5 million and the other for $2 million — closed two days after the murder of Nancy Pfister, daughter or Art and Betty, the complaint alleges. The lots were sold for $1.2 million and $1 million below market value, the suit contents.
The suit also alleges that Andy Hecht, again acting as the Pfister family’s trustee, sold their private retreat above Ruedi Reservoir — known as the Woods Lakes property — in 2005 below market value to Nikos Hecht for $800,000, “an exceedingly low purchase price,” the lawsuit says.
Andy Hecht, “in a later attempt to explain the below-market sale of the Woods Lake interest to his son … later produced a letter which purports to tie that transaction to the sale of the Katie Reed Building, but is a forgery,” Seldin wrote in summarizing the plaintiff’s accusations on the deal.
The Katie Reed Building, currently home to the Meat & Cheese restaurant and other businesses, had been owned by the Hechts, additional investors and the Pfister family, before the older Hecht sold the Pfisters’ interest to Nikos Hecht and the Hecht Children’s Trust without seeking its highest value, the lawsuit alleges. That same building is under different ownership today.
Andy Hecht not only had a conflict of interest in the Reed Building deal by being involved on all sides of the transaction, but he also is alleged to have committed forgery to justify the Wood Lake and Katie Reed deals.
“Plaintiff alleges that the letter purporting to tie this transaction to the Woods Lake Transaction is a forgery, and that the combination of the two sales either did not result in a net benefit to the Pfisters, or did not do so in a legitimate manner,” Seldin wrote in the 40-page order.
Other insider-dealing is alleged to have occurred with the transfer of Pfister-owned lots at the Maroon Creek Club, and the sale of their Lazy Chair lots in the exclusive Starwood neighborhood outside of Aspen.
That Juliana Pfister is the sole Pfister plaintiff in the suit is telling, Reilly said.
“There’s never been any claims made by anybody else,” Reilly said. “And that includes Art and Betty Pfister, and that includes Nancy Pfister and all of Pfister’s family members.
“Now years later we have Art and Betty’s granddaughter complaining about real estate sales and purchases that were undertaken years ago, which involved sophisticated Aspen folks with sophisticated Aspen lawyers and sophisticated Aspen real estate brokers that were arm’s length transactions.”
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Written pleadings filed Monday in district court by the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance seek a court decision requiring the defendants — the county, the board of health and interim director — to answer their complaint by Thursday and hold a court hearing on the matter as early as Friday.