Snowmass Village man accused of fleecing Aspen eatery, bookkeeper
ASPEN – A Snowmass Village man faces four felonies on suspicion of cheating a downtown Aspen restaurant and bookkeeper out of thousands of dollars as part of an accounting scheme.
Michael Anthony Phillips, 27, who was charged with a felony earlier this year on accusations that he stalked his ex-girlfriend, appeared in Pitkin County District Court on Wednesday to learn about the new counts he faces.
Aspen police arrested Phillips on Tuesday and booked him into the Pitkin County Jail. Judge Gail Nichols initially set his bond at $15,000 but reduced it Wednesday to $7,500. She did not provide a reason for cutting the bond in half.
Prosecutor Arnold Mordkin had lobbied for the bond to remain at $15,000, given Phillips’ history with the local court system.
“Mr. Phillips is known in this court and this community,” Mordkin said. “First of all, he’s out on bond on another case of aggravated Class 4 felony stalking. And the last time he was in court he said he was moving to, or living in, Boulder. But he still lives in Snowmass and still works for Ralph Lauren in Aspen. Fifteen-thousand-dollar bond is appropriate in this case.”
Phillips asked to be released on a personal-recognizance bond, explaining to the judge that his plans to move to Boulder so he could attend school did not pan out.
“I am here, and I’m staying here,” he said, his statements drowned out in part by roars from the crowd lining Main Street for the finish of Wednesday’s leg of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. “I was just making my way out of here.”
Phillips’ string of transgressions in Pitkin County dates back to December 2008, when he was charged with misdemeanor assault and burglary of a building. Prosecutors dropped the assault count, and Phillips received a deferred judgment for his guilty plea to burglary, according to court records.
More recently, in March, he was hit with a felony stalking count, the charge to which Mordkin referred in Wednesday’s hearing. And in June, Phillips was charged with five misdemeanor counts in Pitkin County Court: disorderly conduct and two charges each of harassment and assault.
Phillips again caught the attention of local authorities Aug. 13, when the co-owners of startup restaurant Creperie Du Village met with Aspen Police Officer Ryan Turner about questionable bookkeeping practices.
The owners, Karin Schwendtner and Raphael Derney, told Turner they hired Phillips in January to keep the books for the restaurant, paying him $3,000 for the months of December, January and February.
In July, the two paid $4,396 to Phillips, making the check out to ZG1 Ski LLC. That LLC, Phillips allegedly told the restaurant owners, was for his uncle’s company that ran the bookkeeping service. Phillips also told the two that he wasn’t licensed to keep books, which is why he ran all of the restaurant’s invoices through his uncle’s business.
But, according to an affidavit written by Turner, the man handling the books – Thomas Ferguson – was not Phillips’ uncle. And, the affidavit says, Ferguson did keep books for the eatery, but Phillips did not pay him for his services.
Instead, Phillips endorsed the check made out to ZG1 Ski LLC, cashed it and deposited the funds into his personal account at Wells Fargo Bank, the affidavit says.
Ferguson, meanwhile, began having difficulties with Phillips, who wouldn’t answer his emails with accounting questions regarding the Creperie, the affidavit says. Ferguson told Ryan that he eventually received four emails from Phillips, who said the hospital had taken money from his account because of his dying son, the affidavit says.
Later, Ferguson met with the owners to clear up the situation.
“Ferguson’s first clue that he had been duped was when he met with Schwendtner and Derney at the library, where he told them he hadn’t been paid for the invoice that he submitted,” the affidavit says.
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