Two local men say they were ‘complicit’ in Gorsuch vandalism
In a show of solidarity with the man who admitted to the crime earlier this month, two local men recently contacted Aspen police to confess to vandalizing a local business for political reasons.
Michael Behrendt and Ivan Cassar — owners of the St. Moritz Lodge — told Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn they were responsible for painting “Liars Go Back to Vail” March 5 on the windows of the Gorsuch Ski Café at the base of Aspen Mountain’s gondola.
Linn, however, was skeptical of the married couple’s involvement in the vandalism, which local affordable housing developer Peter Fornell confessed to and was cited for two days after the incident.
“In my discussions with Behrendt and Cassar, I believe they were making a statement of support for Fornell’s actions,” Linn wrote in a police report, “and trying to express support for the message that Fornell sent by painting the window.”
Fornell told The Aspen Times on March 7 that he spray-painted the windows with water-based red paint to make the point that Jeff Gorsuch lied to the community of Aspen when he lobbied local voters to approve the 81-room Gorsuch Haus hotel at the base of Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain’s west side.
Gorsuch and his development partners bought the land for the hotel from the Aspen Skiing Co. for $10 million in July and turned around and sold it to a Russian billionaire for $76.25 million in early March.
“They sent mailers to every address in town saying that this would be their legacy to the community,” Fornell said March 7. “It was all about how the community could take great pride that this was their legacy to the community.”
Gorsuch denied lying to the community — which approved the project by a mere 26 votes in 2019 — and told The Times he never said he had the money to build the hotel, though he wanted to make sure the project happened.
“There is, to me, a responsibility (to build the project), and I feel we made good on that,” he said. “We didn’t betray the public trust.”
On Monday, Fornell said he hadn’t heard about the “confessions” by Behrendt and Cassar and confirmed that he was the only one who vandalized the Gorsuch café earlier this month.
“They’re nice people,” he said of the couple. “I know them both. The whole thing has been a whirlwind. There’s been a massive outpouring of support for the message.”
Also on Monday, Cassar said he and his husband — who was out of the country — did not take part in the actual vandalism. However, he insisted they were “complicit” in the incident because they were upset about the Gorsuch sale and wanted to do something to protest it.
“I was guilty of group-think, and that group-think telepathically reached our friend Pete Fornell,” Cassar said. “That’s how we’re complicit in the event.”
That is similar to what Behrendt told Linn on March 10, when he said “that if intent to commit the crime was enough, then he was guilty,” according to Linn’s report.
Behrendt’s statements of guilt at the time were clearly gleaned from facts he’d learned in newspaper articles about the incident, and it was obvious to Linn that Behrendt had limited knowledge of the actual vandalism, according to the report. As the two men spoke, Cassar approached them and said, “I don’t know why he is covering for me” and that he wanted to confess as well, the report states.
A 30-year Aspen resident, Cassar said Monday he wanted to protest the growing influence of “dirty money” in town and the creeping anonymity he said was destroying the Aspen community.
“We don’t even know our neighbors,” he said. “We want to protect our community. Do we want to live in a thriving community or a resort town?”
Behrendt told Linn he also knew of others in town who wanted to confess to the vandalism, though Linn said no one else has contacted the police department to take responsibility.
Fornell was charged with damaging public or private property, a municipal offense, and is due in Aspen Municipal Court on April 6.
The Snowmass Village Recreation Center will offer free Nordic skis, boots and poles to rent this winter.