Aspen Times editorial: Sentencing in Lesh case should hit him where it counts … in the forest
David Lesh had the day in court that he so desperately wanted but it didn’t work out as he hoped. Lesh was found guilty by a federal judge Oct. 22 of two petty offenses, but there won’t be true justice unless his sentence is more than a slap on the wrist.
Lesh is owner of Virtika Outerwear who embraces a bad-boy image in his marketing and attention-grabbing antics. Lesh treats national forests in Colorado as his personal playground, where the only rules that matter are getting a provocative photograph. Lesh’s posts of himself snowmobiling on Independence Pass in July 2019 and at Keystone Resort in April 2020 helped get him busted for illegally snowmobiling in closed areas of the White River National Forest.
In the Independence Pass case, resolved in June 2020, Lesh paid a fine and was required to perform 50 hours of community service.
On Oct. 22, he was convicted of two petty offenses for an unrelated incident. He entered Keystone Resort and was photographed snowmobiling over jumps in a terrain park last year. The ski area was closed by order of Gov. Jared Polis at the time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lesh was also found guilty by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher last week for unauthorized use of national forestlands to promote his business. Lesh posted pictures of himself at Keystone, as well as doctored photos of himself defecating in Maroon Lake and walking on a log in Hanging Lake, to promote Virtika, the judge ruled.
In the Independence Pass case, Lesh was allowed to pick where he served his 50 hours of useful public service. He chose to work for Only One Inc., a Boulder-based nonprofit that supposedly works on Native American issues.
GuideStar, a clearinghouse for information on nonprofit organizations, had raised a red flag about Only One, which it classified as a multipurpose arts and cultural organization.
“This organization’s exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF for 3 consecutive years,” said a notice on GuideStar. “Further investigation and due diligence are warranted.”
Given that, we are doubtful any of the work Lesh might have performed would have meaningful impact for the community.
Lesh potentially faces up to six months of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine or both on each of the Keystone petty offense convictions. Realistically, he won’t be imprisoned for a petty offense, which is essentially a misdemeanor. Instead, he should face the maximum fine of $5,000 on each count for a total of $10,000 and a useful public service sentence of 100 hours.
We have some creative ideas on how Lesh could be productive. The U.S. Forest Service could put Lesh to work in the Dillon and Aspen-Sopris Ranger Districts, where his past transgressions have occurred. The Forest Service installed a toilet this summer at the Upper Lost Man Trailhead on Independence Pass. We would like to see Lesh cleaning that facility on weekends next July to work off some of that sentence. We’re certain the Dillon Ranger District, where Keystone is located, could find some chores for Lesh to perform as well.
In addition, we would like to see Lesh banned from entering the White River National Forest throughout 2022. It would be difficult to enforce, but the price of violating the ban and getting caught would be an adequate deterrence. If Lesh were found on the forest land during the prohibition, he would risk a longer ban.
Lesh has proven time and again through his actions that he has no regard for Colorado’s public lands or legal ramifications for his actions. A stiff sentence might not mend his ways but it sure would make the rest of us feel better.
The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.