Sheriff’s letter surprises feds
ASPEN ” Even though federal authorities say Bert Fingerhut cheated bank investors out of millions of dollars, many in the Aspen community have shown support for him.
Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis is among them.
Braudis, who had never met Fingerhut until recently, wrote a letter to the federal judge who sentenced Fingerhut to two years in federal prison Friday. Braudis’ letter spoke highly of Fingerhut. It also surprised federal authorities.
“That struck us that a sheriff would write a letter supporting a criminal,” said Assistant U. S. Attorney Karl Buch. “And he wrote it on his professional letterhead.”
Fingerhut, 63, also must pay a $75,000 fine and serve four months in home confinement after his prison sentence, attorneys on both sides said. Court documents show he also agreed to forfeit $11 million in illegal profits, in conjunction to a civil case by the federal government.
Braudis said Friday that he wrote the letter because of Fingerhut’s long-standing involvement with Mountain Rescue Aspen, with which the sheriff’s office works closely.
“I was asked by several members of the Mountain Rescue team for support, and I said, ‘I don’t even know Bert,'” Braudis recalled. “I then spent a half an hour with him, and he confessed his guilt and explained his crime. So I wrote a letter to counterbalance his criminal activities with his volunteer activities, which are quite impressive.
“He was out there saving lives in our community.”
After Fingerhut’s scam was made public, letters to local newspapers lent support to him, and members of the board of directors of Mountain Rescue Aspen praised Fingerhut for his service. Fingerhut, who resigned from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance earlier this year (and before his guilty plea), also offered to step down from Mountain Rescue.
“While we do not condone Bert’s actions, because he accepted responsibility and due to Bert’s many years of valuable service to MRA, we unanimously agreed not to accept his resignation and to keep him on our roster as a current member of our organization,” members of MRA wrote in a letter to Aspen newspapers.
Rick Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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