Ognacevic admits he stole Aspen Highlands safes in April 2018
The same man who went to jail last year for robbing the concession stand at Theatre Aspen in July 2019 admitted Monday he also stole three safes from Aspen Highlands more than a year before the robbery.
Yuri Ognacevic, 40, was serving his 270-day sentence in the Pitkin County Jail when an Aspen police detective and a prosecutor visited and asked about the safes, which were found by a pair of intrepid leaf-peepers. At the time, Ognacevic denied any knowledge of the safes stolen in April 2018 from the Aspen Highlands ticket office.
On Monday in Pitkin County District Court, he pleaded guilty to one second-degree burglary count, and faces up to six years in prison when he’s sentenced in January, though his plea deal does not call for mandatory prison. The sentence will be up to Judge Chris Seldin, who also sentenced Ognacevic to jail and six years probation for the concession stand robbery.
“Guilty as charged,” Ognacevic said by phone in a virtual court hearing Monday when asked how he pleaded to the burglary charge.
Seldin asked him if he intended to commit theft when he entered the ticket office and whether that theft involved “a safe at Aspen Highlands.”
“Correct, sir,” Ognacevic said.
In both the concession stand and the theft of the safes, Ognacevic made off with a little under $8,000 — about $7,700 from Highlands and $250 from Theatre Aspen. He threatened a 19-year-old woman working the concession stand with a screwdriver before demanding money.
If Seldin sentences Ognacevic to prison Jan. 3, it will mark his second stint in state prison. He was convicted of robbery and given a four-year sentence in the early 2000s after he was identified as part of a crew of Aspen teens who committed several robberies and burglaries in the area.
Ognacevic, who grew up in Aspen, worked as a ski patroller at Aspen Highlands until January 2018, according to court documents. After the three safes were stolen in April 2018, police reviewed video surveillance that showed a disguised man wearing a purple disposable glove as he repeatedly entered and exited a side ticket office door. A tip of the glove was found at the scene, though it was not tested by the state crime lab because of a backlog of DNA testing needed for violent crimes.
Detectives didn’t make much headway in the case until October 2020, when a brother and sister searching for the last colors of the fall at the top of McClure Pass stumbled on to two of the three safes that had been dumped. That location is 2½ miles from Ognacevic’s father’s house, which immediately made him a suspect, Aspen Police Det. Ritchie Zah has said.
Zah was later able to convince the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to test the purple glove tip, and it came back matching Ognacevic’s DNA.
In other court news Monday:
• A man arrested twice for drunken driving in three days earlier this year in Aspen’s downtown core pleaded guilty Monday to one count of felony DUI.
Frank Safferwich, 53, would have faced between two and six years in prison, though prosecutor Don Nottingham agreed that Safferwich won’t have to face prison time when he’s sentenced in January.
Safferwich was arrested for DUI on May 15 after an Aspen police officer pulled him over for driving the wrong direction down East Cooper Avenue, then again on May 17 after a drunken driving hotline caller alerted police to an apparently drunk man in his truck on Main Street.
Safferwich was convicted of drunken driving three previous times. Under Colorado law, a person’s fourth DUI is charged as a felony.
• The daughter of a woman said to be the ringleader behind a scam to steal thousands of dollars from a Snowmass Village condominium complex admitted Monday to playing a role in the enterprise.
Erika Murillo, 29, of Silt pleaded guilty to felony theft and must pay about $5,600 in restitution to The Crestwood condominiums. In return for the plea, the DA’s Office offered her a “deferred sentence,” meaning that if she successfully completes 18 months of probation the felony conviction will be wiped from her record.
“I should have known better,” said Murillo, who appeared virtually at the hearing Monday. “I had no reason not to trust my mother, but I should have known better.”
Selene Avitia — Murillo’s mother and the condo complex housekeeping manager — allegedly issued “ghost checks” to former employees or family members, then endorsed them over to herself. It’s unclear how long the scheme lasted — Avitia was fired in October 2019 — though investigators documented more than $27,000 in stolen money.
Murillo will only have to pay back the money that went through her bank account.
Avitia is in Mexico, said Mark Rubinstein, Murillo’s lawyer, putting her out of reach of Aspen area law enforcement.
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He’s a former Aspen resident, a California surfer, and allegedly connected to high-powered foreign actors.