Aspen in the firing range of the War on Drugs

War veterans from War II to Afghanistan marched in Aspen's fourth of July parade last year. It was middle America. But in its attitude toward drugs, Aspen may not be middle America.Photo/Allen Best 2012

War veterans from War II to Afghanistan marched in Aspen’s fourth of July parade last year. It was middle America. But in its attitude toward drugs, Aspen may not be middle America.
Photo/Allen Best 2012

Montgomery Chitty and the broader story of drugs, money & Aspen

by Allen Best

Long-time Aspen resident Montgomery Chitty, who is 61, was pals with the late writer Hunter Thompson and did research for the late Ed Bradley, a correspondent for the television show “60 Minutes.” Thompson lived near Aspen and Bradley was a frequent visitor.

Chitty was also involved in high-level politics, according to the Aspen Daily News. He served as a consultant to the Democratic National Committee and pitched in on the campaigns to get Gary Hart elected to the U.S. Senate and then to the presidency.

But  Chitty has been behind bars since early 2012, and he may remain there for the rest of his life. In February, a jury in U.S. District Court in Denver convicted Chitty of peddling cocaine in Aspen. Witnesses told jurors that Chitty bought and sold well more than 200 kilos of cocaine from 2002 to 2012, with at least hundreds of thousands of dollars getting passed.

This and related cases have provided a fascinating peek into the lingering drug culture of Aspen. Five people from the Aspen area arrested in 2011 were all in their 60s. Chitty was arrested in early 2012. One of their cocaine suppliers in Los Angeles is in his 70s.

THE DRUG BUSTS  also focused attention on whether local law enforcement, specifically the sheriff’s department, turned a blind eye toward drug use and was  chummy with some of the drug dealers. That was one of the suggestions implicit in the decision by federal drug agents in 2011 not to notify the local sheriff of impending busts.

One of the defendants had had ties with the last three sheriffs of Pitkin County. The former sheriff for the last 30 to 35 years and the current sheriff both admitted they attended a birthday party for Wayne Reid, the ringleader of the coke-peddling business. Both sheriffs denied close ties.

But Reid, 66, was sentenced to 53 months in prison, while Chitty, who is younger,was  given what one lawyer in Aspen says is commonly called the “pine-box life.” He was sentenced to to a minimum 20 years in prison, in part because of a previous conviction for peddling marijuana.

Why the difference? Rick Carroll, managing editor of The Aspen Times, says you may tell your kids not to be a tattletale. But federal drug laws give defendants strong incentive to snitch—and Chitty refused.

“By all accounts, Chitty refused to cooperate with prosecutors by giving names and outing dealers,” he said in a column published earlier this spring.

OTHER DEFENDANTS in the ring revealed names and are getting comparatively light sentences, at most 11.5 years among the five, said Carroll.

“Chitty was the sacrificial lamb because he kept his mouth shut – and also because he was friends with the past three Pitkin County sheriffs, all of whom the feds have lusted over for years but haven’t mustered an inkling of evidence to charge or prosecute – just enough innuendo to keep the rumor mill turning.”

In this, Carroll says he has only so much sympathy for Chitty. “This was the business Chitty chose,” he wrote. “But so did the other ones, all in their 60s and 70s, who sold out Chitty in exchange for sweetheart deals or immunity. Justice got turned upside down in this case, one tainted by coke-peddling snitches, dealers who stayed in the game too long, confidential informants, backroom deals and a DEA hell-bent on making Aspen its prize catch, albeit 20 years late with a small fish like Chitty.”

In Aspen, Chitty has been seen a colorful character, sot of a second-shelf Hunter Thompson. “He was a bad boy, but not an evil boy,” says Su Lum, a resident of Aspen since 1964. She says she did not know him personally.

The Denver Post more recently studied the situation, more cautiously coming to this same conclusion as The Aspen Times: “In a town that prides itself on having no cops devoted to busting drug dealers and that views drunken driving as a bigger threat to public safety than cocaine, Chitty has become emblematic of a long-standing quandary,” says the newspapers in a May 5 story titled “Bust of ‘over-the-hill’ Aspen drug gang pits local cops against feds.”

Seen in the courtroom

As a correspondent for The Aspen Times, I covered the first day of Chitty’s trial in Denver during February. It was primarily a process of jury selection, and I was struck by how few among the jury pool were likely to have much sympathy for a drug dealer in Aspen.

More vivid was the scene after the opening arguments and after the jurors had been let out. At that point, Chitty—who is my age—was required to submit his hands to be cuffed, and the was then led, his hands behind his hips, out of the courtroom, briefly acknowledging a young man who later identified himself to me as Chitty’s son. The son’s companion, a blonde-haired female, cried as Chitty left the room.

Judge says economics no justification for selling cocaine in Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Cocaine has also been in the news in Telluride. There, Prudencio Lopez-Montoya was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence for his involvement in a Telluride cocaine distribution ring that police say he led.

Of that, 8 years is mandatory, reports the Telluride Daily Planet. He and five others were arrested in a raid last August. All of those arrested are Mexican nationals and face deportation after their sentences are served.

Through an interpreter, Lopez-Montoya said he was dealing cocaine to raise money for his family in Mexico, where he has two children and other family members.

The prosecuting attorney asked for a maximum penalty, citing a “public safety issue.” But the public defender asked for a lighter sentence, as there was no evidence that he was inflicting violence. “It was purely economic,” said Nicolas Campbell. “There is clearly a demand here [for cocaine].”

The judge, Mary Deganhart, sternly warned that no circumstances justify selling illegal drugs, and that punishments are intended to be a deterrent.

 

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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