Roger Marolt: It isn’t just about stolen skis

Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

I think most of us here consider one of the greatest attributes of the area to be its low crime rate.

Reported violent crime is rare. We don’t have much burglary. Few are murdered. I don’t ever remember a kidnapping. Gun violence is pretty much non-existent. It is a good place to raise kids and peaceful feelings.

The one kind of crime we do have, however, is white-collar theft. It happens more than we think. There is a lot of money here and that attracts embezzlers and scammers like powder days, stunning vistas and the relaxed mountain lifestyle attract their victims. The relaxed lifestyle encourages our complacency. I’ve worked on too many local cases of theft in my day job to have an unbiased view of this and don’t really have a good feel for what it is like in other parts of the world, but my gut feeling is that it is a bigger deal here than in most places.

The recent case of Derek Johnson and his methodical theft of ski inventory from Aspen Skiing Co., his longtime employer, has me thinking on this topic frequently as of late. Many are talking about it, most in disbelief, some in anger. It is what the theft of almost $6 million in goods, netting a profit of over $2 million in a 12-year period will do to small town small talk.

Some of the conversation is about the sentence Johnson received: six years in prison and restitution of $250,000. I’ve heard speculation that the sentence creates a favorable trade-off, as it’s light enough to entice others to engage in similar behavior for big profit. Fortunately, I have heard of no one actually admitting they would sign that deal with the devil. My faith in mankind leads me to believe few would commit a crime like this, even if it was certain they would never be caught. Being rich and never again having a good night’s sleep or making eye contact with yourself in the mirror are stiff enough penalties to deter most.

Another thing people are wondering about is Johnson’s commitment to community service over the years. He was highly visible and involved, giving tons of time to coach youth sports and serve on Aspen City Council. He threw his hat in the ring for a school board seat. Were his efforts authentic, or was it an orchestrated effort to gain our trust and raise himself above suspicion? We will never know.

Sadly, though, the material aspects of this crime are not what are most crushing. There’s no doubt that having something stolen from you hurts. But, I’m thinking it hurts less for the person who values it more. It’s a little counterintuitive, but follow me here. If you are a greedy and materialistic person, you are going to be furious if somebody steals from you. It may not matter too much whether it’s a few million gone or a few hundred. After all, it’s the principal more than the principle that matters. In time, you will get over it. You may have to exact some revenge in the process of getting there, but you will get there.

Now, consider a victim of theft who is less materialistic, but more out there on the interpersonal or emotional spectrum. This person may never get over the theft. They will see it less as a monetary loss and much more as a loss of faith of mankind, especially if we are talking about the white-collar, embezzlement kind of theft, which we are.

People put people they trust in charge of taking care of their valuables. Oftentimes they are eventually considered friends. Think about how a theft would affect forming this type of relationship in the future. It is betrayal. It is personal. Your own ability to read people correctly would forevermore be doubted. After a friend robs you, who can you trust again? This is hard stuff to get over.

As observers in this latest grand heist, it is easy to sympathize with Skico. The owners lost money and their employees did, too, in the form of lost bonuses and fringe benefits. Some employees were bullied, which crushes self-esteem. Others were betrayed and let down, which decimates faith.

As a community, it would be easy to say that we were not directly harmed. I’m not so sure. Innocent people we know got hurt. Others we trusted let us down. We’re left wondering where else in our town this kind of thing is going on right now, undetected. Who’s pulling it off? All we know for sure is that it is being done by somebody that somebody else trusts.

I wouldn’t argue with anyone who suggests our community is damaged by this. It may take some time to recover.

Roger Marolt knows the losses experienced in white-collar crimes are much greater than what is proved on paper. Email him at


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