Tales of thefts, travel open up Rizzuto trial
One of the stolen cars involved in the charges against alleged crime spree participant Anthony Rizzuto was sitting at the curb of the Aspen Club Lodge, reportedly waiting to ferry The Eagles rock band to a benefit concert in September 1999.
The vehicle theft was a minor inconvenience for the rock band, but turned out to have major ramifications for the community in general and for Rizzuto in particular.
Rizzuto, 20, is on trial this week on charges of car theft, burglary, theft and conspiracy to commit all the above at a Twining Flats house on Sept. 20, 1999.
The alleged burglary was part of a crime spree by a group of local teens in August and September of 1999, including armed robberies, burglaries and car thefts. Rizzuto is accused of being one of four teens who broke into the house of part-time resident Arnold Simon on Sept. 20 and made off with a Range Rover and three shotguns worth more than $6,000.
The Eagles’ rental vehicle, a 1999 Jeep Cherokee, was stolen by Aspen native and convicted felon Nathan Morse on Sept. 13, 1999, and a week later it was used in the burglary at Twining Flats. That burglary indirectly led to what a prosecutor called the “unraveling of the conspiracy” that Rizzuto is accused of being a part of.
The rented Jeep was left at the curb of the Aspen Club Lodge at about 11 a.m. on Sept. 13 by Eagles tour manager Gerald Vaccarino.
He said in court on Wednesday that he was in Aspen working on Eagles appearances at two charity events, one for A Grassroots Aspen Experience and the other for the Flagship Foundation. The car was stolen on the same day he rented it, Vaccarino said, and the band was forced to take a cab to the concert that night.
According to testimony by Morse, 21, he was strolling by the Aspen Club Lodge on the way to lunch that day when he noticed the Jeep sitting at the curb with its radio blaring.
When he returned a short time later, it was still there, he said, adding, “I thought it’d be fun to take it for a ride.” He reiterated his resentment of what he termed the “ostentatious” lifestyles of Aspen’s wealthy visitors, which he believes contribute to the economic hardships endured by working locals.
He drove the stolen Jeep up Smuggler Mountain Road and hid it under a covering of cut saplings near the Benedict backcountry ski huts. A week later, he said, he retrieved the Jeep and drove it into Aspen at the request of friends who wanted him to drive them to Denver and Boulder.
According to prosecutor Lawson Wills, it was that group of friends – Morse, Rizzuto, Moses Greengrass and Jacob Richards – who rode in the Jeep to Simon’s house in Twining Flats and broke in to steal the guns and the second car. They planned to drive to Boulder and sell the cars to a “chop shop” and get some spending money, Wills said.
But a routine traffic stop led to Morse turning himself in to the Boulder police and spilling the story of the burglary, which in turn led to a cascading series of interviews with various participants and the arrests of 12 suspects.
Greengrass, Morse and Richards accepted plea bargains from the district attorney’s office earlier this year and are serving out their sentences: Greengrass and Richards in the state prison system and Morse on four years of probation. All three have been listed as witnesses against Rizzuto.
But defense attorney Joseph St. Veltri maintains that his client did not commit burglary because he never entered the house.
As for the car theft charges, St. Veltri has noted that his client was not the one who got into either the Jeep or the Range Rover to steal them. According to testimony, the Jeep was stolen by Morse, and the Range Rover was driven out of the garage by Morse as well, after Greengrass and Richards banged up both the vehicle and the garage trying to ease it out past another vehicle.
Morse, who is attending Fort Lewis College in Durango and admitted he was “angry” at having to return to testify, was treated as a hostile witness by Wills.
He was ordered to stick around the Pitkin County Courthouse after his initial testimony, because he remains under subpoena and may be recalled to the stand. But Wills reported that Morse had left the courthouse before the trial recessed for the day.
Although the judge and attorneys briefly discussed Morse’s disappearance, the judge did not issue an order that he be located and brought back to court. The rented Jeep was left at the curb of the Aspen Club Lodge by Eagles tour manager Gerald Vaccarino.
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