Aspen's Embezzlement Epidemic

Susan Benner | May 24, 2019 | Lifestyle

Aspen is known for its wealth, and a handful of high-profile embezzlement cases feature people trying to cash in on it—illegally.

iStock522477922.jpg

Embezzlement is a violation of trust. It’s a crime usually committed by someone who has gained that trust over time. And cases of embezzlement have been prevalent in the Aspen news cycle.

The violation can feel personal, as if someone in the family is the thief. Sometimes, the thief is someone in the family, as in the case of Shannon Nagle, who took more than $570,000 while managing the office of her sister’s medical practice. People cross paths and weave lives through their children, their politics, the mountains,
their dreams.

The children of Boogie’s longtime bookkeeper, Linda Mae Fratis, who pled guilty to stealing more than $1.7 million over five years, played with his children. From 2007 to 2009 Marlana Howell, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center controller transferred nearly $700,000 from the nonprofit’s bank and investment accounts to her own and bought a motorcycle, an Airstream and a pickup truck before anyone caught on. She gave extravagant gifts to co-workers she barely knew.

When Derek Johnson and a partner started D&E (for Derek and Eric) in 1993, it was one of the valley’s first and hippest snowboarding shops. They sold the shop to the Aspen Skiing Company in 2001, and Johnson stayed on to run it, eventually becoming head of SkiCo’s retail and rental operations. He worked there for 17 years, served on Aspen’s city council, and coached local youth hockey and football. His arrest affidavit alleges that, during his tenure, ski and snowboard equipment went missing from SkiCo’s retired demo inventory and was sold on eBay through an account that generated sales of more than $2.1 million, none of which went back
to SkiCo.

Angela Callen earned an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, moved to Aspen to snowboard and came to the Red Brick Council for the Arts “highly recommended,” says John Redmond, who was the treasurer of the Red Brick Council in 2013, when Callen was hired to be the executive director. She was widely viewed as charismatic and ambitious, an effective administrator, someone who listened and got things done.

So the news four years later that Callen had been fired for diverting funds from Red Brick accounts for personal use—in early May, Callen pled guilty to a class 4 felony and agreed to pay $125,000 in restitution—was shocking. She had funneled out almost all of the organization’s working capital and most of its savings.

Some of it supported an online snowboard retail operation that Callen and her husband bought in 2015. She’d borrowed $10,000 from one of the Red Brick studio artists. “It was my life savings,” said Nancy Kullgren.

Are there more embezzlement cases in the Roaring Fork Valley than elsewhere? “I honestly don’t know. I would say that every case in Aspen gets more publicity than elsewhere because it’s a small town with two daily newspapers,” says Deputy District Attorney Don Nottingham. “Much of what is reported on here would never draw media attention elsewhere. ... And, of course, any charges filed against anyone are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Nonprofits in this valley are “so thinly run,” says Redmond, that segregation of duties is more difficult. Board members are in and out of town. It’s not about wealth disparities, he says. “It’s the criminal nature of humanity. ... Trust no one.”



Tags:

Photography by: ratpack223/istockphoto.com