Lawsuits: Aspen stores bullied, possibly drugged customers
The operator of two downtown Aspen skin-care boutiques faces civil allegations that its employees used strong-armed sales tactics, overcharged customers and possibly drugged them with spiked Champagne.
Separate lawsuits filed Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court by a couple from Durango and an individual from Las Cruces, New Mexico, leveled those and other allegations against Aspen Retail Management, which runs Aspen Beauty Boutique on the 500 block of Cooper Avenue and Lux Skin Spa on the Hyman Avenue pedestrian mall.
The suits were filed by the Aspen law firm Garfield & Hecht PC.
“The (Colorado) Consumer Protection Act is at play, and you don’t see that very often,” said attorney Chris Bryan of Garfield & Hecht. “That statute is well-suited for these facts.”
Both suits refer to numerous consumer complaints about the stores’ business practices filed with the Aspen Police Department dating back to March 2017.
Among the suits’ allegations are that the stores employed bait-and-switch tactics and “engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices” by making “false or misleading statements to sell their products.” Other claims include fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Attempts to reach the boutiques’ upper management were not successful.
“I’m not eligible to respond, but I will speak to the owners,” said the manager of Aspen Beauty Boutique, who declined to provide his full name.
One suit, filed by married couple Dean and Kim Reeves, claims on July 13, when they walked by Aspen Kristals Cosmetics, which is now known as Aspen Beauty Boutique, a sales attendant “lingering in the doorway” enticed them to enter the store. Soon after, a man named “Julian” gave them each a glass of what seemed to be Champagne, even though the store didn’t have a liquor license, the suit contends. After consuming the beverages, the couple “felt very confused and out of sorts,” the suit alleges.
Store employees also mocked Kim Reeves when she appeared confused, and then they applied creams to the couple’s skin, the suit claims.
“(The Reeves) did not want anything on their skin, but they were unable to refuse the demonstrations because they were so out of it and the store attendants were so aggressive,” the suit says. “While in the store, (the Reeves) were not acting like themselves and they did not know what was going on.”
Meanwhile, Julian “verbally forced” the couple into providing their shipping information, the suit claims, before they left the store with “a very small bag containing a few products” that cost them $21,860, while it was their understanding the bill would be $700.
The total bill was the result of one charge of $2,372.50 on a personal credit card and another one of $19,127.50 on their business credit card, the suit says.
The couple’s suit claims they didn’t have a receipt for the lower charge because a store employee “ripped it up” and said the transaction had been voided. They didn’t know about the higher amount until the next day, when they found a receipt in a small envelope in their shopping bag from Kristals, the suit says.
Since then, the defendant on four occasions has FedExed shipments to their home, and the couple have refused delivery of the package, the suit says.
The other suit, filed by Cheron Berastequi, alleges that on Sept. 18, an employee at the Hyman Avenue location convinced her to enter the store, where she bought some eye cream. As a clerk rang up Berastequi for her purchase, she convinced the customer to undergo light therapy on her face. Soon after, a man named “Leo” entered the store, gave her a glass of purported Champagne and said he had experience with a cosmetic surgeon who preferred using light machines rather than having his female patients “undergo the knife,” the suit says.
Leo also showed Berastequi photos of women who had received the treatments, says the suit, which alleges the pictures were manipulated through Photoshop.
Berastequi said she couldn’t afford a $9,000 light machine, but Leo kept persisting, the suit says.
“(Berastequi) gave Leo her credit card because, feeling increasingly uncomfortable, she needed to get out of the store and she was confident that the credit card company would decline the charges due to her credit limit,” the suit says. However, a charge of $21,000 was accepted for two light machines (shipping included), while Leo charged another $5,250 for face masks that Berastequi said she did not want to buy. Berastequi also was unable to cancel the order through the shop or her credit card company, the suit says.
The lawsuits marked the fourth and fifth ones filed against the company this year in the Pitkin County court system. The three other suits all were settled on undisclosed terms, according to court documents.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.