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Sting operation catches nine accused child predators in Garfield County

A sting operation in Garfield County involving federal, state and local law enforcement resulted in nine arrests of accused child predators.

The arrests included a Glenwood Springs antiques dealer, Scott Fetzer, in a case previously reported by the Post Independent after his Thursday arrest.

Working undercover in cooperation with state prosecutors and local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security created posts online where potential predators visit to advertise sex with children, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario told the Post Independent.

From Thursday to Saturday morning, nine individuals communicated with the undercover agents and allegedly negotiated prices to purchase sex with children. When the individuals showed up to allegedly engage in sex with a child, they were arrested.

“It’s pretty graphic and disgusting,” Vallario said.

Vallario credited Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling with bringing the idea up to law enforcement partners.

“Solicitation for child prostitution is common and victimizes the most innocent and vulnerable of all, our children,” Schilling said in a press release. “We are glad we were able to arrest these people before they had the chance to further their criminal actions.”

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Vallario said. “We’re glad we can make these arrests, but we’re sad this exists in the community in the first place,” he added.

On the first night of the sting, only one person, Fetzer, showed up and was arrested.

Seven more suspects showed up allegedly seeking sex with children on Friday evening, and one arranged to meet Saturday morning, Vallario said.

Most of the nine people arrested are from Garfield County, and are being held in custody.

One person, Shekeyah Jackson, 26, of Aurora, is charged with prostitution and was released on a summons.

The sheriff’s office noted that all accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The following eight people will be charged with soliciting for child prostitution, and are being held in the Garfield County jail, according to the sheriff’s office.

  • Scott V. Fetzer, 60, of Glenwood Springs 
  • Brian Alvarez, 29, of Glenwood Springs
  • Luis M. Noj-Pich, 33, of Rifle
  • Jose G. Cardenas, 39, of Rifle
  • Guillermo Carreon-Salinas, 31, of Rifle
  • Manuel Nava-Mauro, 26, of Carbondale
  • Mingma O. Sherpa, 51, of Avon
  • Jan Blewett, 35, of Crested Butte

Vallario said Garfield County has done similar stings in years past, and arrested some accused of seeking sex with children. Similar stings could occur at any time, Vallario added.

“We could do another one next week, next year, or two years down the road,” Vallario said.

Vallario noted that while nine people were caught in this operation, an unknown number of crimes against children occur without being prosecuted.

“It’s eye opening, heartbreaking. The average person out there in the community doesn’t think this happens, but it does,” Vallario said.


Police arrest Glenwood antique dealer for soliciting child prostitution

Glenwood Springs Police arrested local antiques dealer Scott Fetzer, 60, for allegedly soliciting child prostitution Thursday, according to public court records.

Details of the arrest and charges were unavailable Friday because of an ongoing law enforcement matter, according to a court order.

Magistrate Susan Ryan read the order in Fetzer’s advisement hearing Friday before closing the courtroom to the media.

“The Districts Attorney’s Office did file a motion to seal the affidavit in support of warrantless arrest,” Ryan said. Ryan signed the order Friday morning.

In a letter to the Aspen Times in 2016, Fetzer said he has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley for 30 years.

Fetzer organized the Aspen Antique, Jewelry and Fine Arts Show for at least 15 years.

He runs a website called Fetzer’s Auction House, and posts about antique sales on his Facebook profile.

Fetzer is associated with Fetzer’s Fine Antiques, which lists an Aspen Glen residence as the business address. That home was formerly owned by Fetzer, but was sold at a foreclosure auction in October 2018.

Fetzer was formerly a real estate broker with Aspen Sotheby’s, but has not worked there for two years, a company employee said.

According to the Colorado Division of Real Estate, Fetzer received an associate level broker’s license in 2012. The license expired at the end of 2018.


Crime briefs: Drug sting and needles for ‘insulin’

TRIDENT stings snag suspected heroin dealer

Officers with the TRIDENT drug task force used a confidential informant and undercover officers to catch a 60-year-old man allegedly selling heroin in Rifle.

The first attempt at the sting occurred on Jan. 9, when a task force officer asked a confidential informant to contact the suspect and ask for heroin. The suspect agreed, and arranged to meet the informant.

Using $200 provided by TRIDENT, the informant went to the suspect’s Rifle home and purchased a 1.4-gram package that tested positive for heroin.

The undercover officer observing the sale could not positively identify the suspect, but the informant confirmed it was the man.

Just over a week later, on Jan. 17, the suspect contacted the informant offering to sell more heroin. This time, the suspect wanted to meet at City Market in Rifle.

The task force again gave the informant $200, and an undercover officer was stationed at the scene.

The suspect approached the informant’s car, and got in. The suspect received the cash and gave the informant a package that later tested positive for heroin, and told the informant to drive him to the other side of the store.

A judge signed the warrant Sept. 12, and the suspect was arrested the same day.

Man arrested for theft, claims needles were for insulin

A New Castle man was arrested for theft, possessing a weapon as a felon and having drug paraphernalia Sept. 7, after trying to elude police and toss his ID across the road.

A New Castle Police Officer spotted a car veering toward the shoulder, and back across the center line going down Main Street around 9 p.m.

The officer pulled the car over, and recognized the driver from previous interactions. The man appeared slow and responses were delayed, the officer wrote in an affidavit.

The officer observed prescription bottles, which the suspect said were for anti-withdrawal medication. The officer asked if the man had any needles in the car.

The man said yes, but the needles for a diabetic condition. He said he did not have any insulin or blood-sugar testers on him when the officer pressed.

A K9 unit arrived, but the dog didn’t show handlers a positive alert to the presence of drugs. One of the officers then noticed an uncapped syringe under the driver’s seat, and a piece of tin foil with brown residue.

The officer said he would conduct a probable cause search, and asked another officer to escort the suspect away.

“I turned my back on them briefly and heard a scuffle begin,” the officer wrote. The other officer grabbed the suspect and they tumbled. Once they got him in the back of a police car, they asked for his ID, but he attempted to throw the card across the road.

A search of the car did not turn up any more drugs besides the residue in the syringe, but officers did find a stolen Smith and Wesson handgun in a backpack.


Rifle resident skips sentencing after manslaughter conviction

Cody Christopher, convicted by jury of vehicular manslaughter in June, failed to appear for his sentencing hearing Friday and is now wanted on $50,000 cash-only bond.

Christopher, 41, was out on bond throughout his trial.

“I’m disappointed the defendant did not appear. I sincerely hope he is alright,” Ninth District Judge John Neiley said Friday.

At 9:15 a.m., Neiley entered the courtroom and noted Christopher’s absence.

“Obviously, we can’t proceed without him here,” Neiley said.

Ann Roan, an attorney representing Christopher at the hearing, said she thought Christopher was going to be there. Roan also said she didn’t know where her client was.

Neiley said he would give him some more time to arrive, in case Christopher was stuck in construction traffic.

“I don’t think that should be a valid excuse,” Ninth District deputy prosecutor Sarah Nordgaard said.

Christopher was likely coming from Rifle, Nordgaard said, and would not be affected by ongoing construction in south Glenwood Springs.

“There are plenty of people who made it here,” Nordgaard added, referring to more than 20 of Christopher’s friends and supporters, many of whom attended the trial.

Neiley reconvened the hearing at 9:40, and issued the bench warrant for Christopher’s arrest.

Christopher was convicted of vehicular homicide for crashing a Ford Excursion while intoxicated Dec. 29, 2017, killing Matt Smith, then 41, and Trent Johnson, then 36.

Johnson’s son, then 10 years old, was severely injured in the crash.

In his testimony at the trial, Christopher maintained that he was not drunk at the time of the crash, but drank heavily after hiking from the site of the crash, along Puma Paw Road north of Rifle, to a ranch house with the 10-year-old survivor.

Christopher also suffered a head injury in the crash.

Christopher’s sentencing hearing was initially scheduled on a docket day, Aug. 22, where there would be limited time for the hearing.

Christopher’s defense attorney requested an “off-docket” hearing, because they wanted to schedule more time to present evidence at sentencing.

Neiley noted that he was willing to listen to any and all friends or family of Christopher who wanted to speak regarding the sentencing.

Defense attorney Roan declined further comment, as did several friends of Christopher.


Autopsy report confirms Allan George shot in the back

An autopsy report confirms Allan George was fatally shot in the back by Rifle Police as they attempted to arrest him on Aug. 5 for alleged possession of child pornography.

The report also shows George had neither drugs nor alcohol in his system at the time of death.

In a 10-page autopsy report, dated Aug. 22 and released by the Garfield County Coroner’s Office on Thursday, Grand Junction pathologist Dean Havlick wrote the gunshots were fired from a distance.

“Both gunshot wounds had entrance wounds on the right aspect of the back and exit wounds on the right aspect of the chest,” Havlick wrote in the report.

According to the autopsy, which was conducted Aug. 7, George was pronounced dead minutes after arriving at the Grand River Hospital in Rifle on Aug. 5.

The autopsy notes that George had defibrillator pads on his chest, and breathing tube in his throat, indicating he received medical treatment.

The autopsy included a full panel of toxicology tests, and George’s blood and urine tested negative for all substances, including drugs, alcohol and cannabis.

George also had a small abrasion on his chin, and a small gunshot wound on his right hand that likely was made by one of the bullets through his chest, according to the autopsy.

The report also notes that while George’s hands were cuffed behind his back when his body arrived for the autopsy, “there (were) no injuries from the handcuffs around the wrists.”

A 5-minute video of the incident obtained by the Post Independent shows two Rifle Police officers attempting to calm George before the shooting.

Police were attempting to arrest George, then 57, on charges of sexual exploitation of a child, a felony, for possessing pornographic images of children on his phone.

It’s unclear from the video, shot by an eyewitness on the bridge, what happened when police first made contact with George.

But for several minutes in the video, George pointed a handgun at his own chest, then placed it in his pocket and appeared poised to jump off the bridge into the Colorado River. The two police officers had guns drawn on George, and are heard speaking to him, though it’s unclear due to traffic noise in the video what exactly was said.

In the video, George is seen crossing the guardrail into the road, and jogging north across the bridge. After several seconds officers are heard yelling stop, two gunshots are heard and George falls forward on the ground.

Denver attorney David Lane, who represents George’s estate, said he intends to file a civil rights lawsuit against Rifle police. After reviewing the five-minute video of the fatal shooting, Lane said he thought it was a clear example of excessive force by law enforcement.

The Ninth District Attorney’s Office will consider whether to bring criminal charges against the two officers involved, identified by Rifle Police chief Tommy Klein as  D. Ryan, hired in 2005, and S. McNeal, also a patrol officer, who was hired in 2018.

Both officers are on paid administrative leave pending the investigation.

There is no estimated time for the completion of the investigation.


Second child sex trafficker takes plea deal

Damara Hester, 26, one of two people accused of running a child prostitution ring in a Glenwood Springs hotel in 2017, accepted a plea deal Thursday.

Hester pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a class 4 felony, as part of the deal, according to court documents.

Hester’s former codefendant, Dasjuan Goode, 31, pleaded guilty to one charge in the case in August, and is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 2.

Most court documents are under a suppression order because both victims in the case are minors.

Hester was initially charged with 10 felonies, including multiple counts of trafficking a minor for sex, procurement of a child for prostitution, keeping a place of child prostitution, and soliciting child prostitution.

Under Colorado’s sentencing guidelines, Hester faces between 2 and 6 years prison sentence with three years parole, and a potential fine between $2,000 and $500,000.

Hester’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 21.

Hester was released earlier this year on bond. Her public defender, Elise Myer, said Hester was concerned about the care of the child she had with Goode. Goode is in the Department of Corrections charges on unrelated charges from Adams and Arapahoe counties.

An indictment handed down from a grand jury in October 2018 alleged that Goode and Hester operated a prostitution ring out of the Plaza Inn, now under new ownership, and sold two juveniles for sex there between July 12 and July 27, 2017.

The indictment also charged former Vail IT employee Ronald Braden, 54, with purchasing sex with at least one of the minors. Braden’s jury trial is scheduled for January 2020.

In previous court appearances, Myer indicated that Goode coerced and manipulated Hester into setting up the prostitution ring, and engaging in a relationship.


Cocaine charges dismissed against Lipseys due to lack of evidence

A charge of distribution of cocaine to a minor filed against a wealthy Aspen businessman and father was dismissed by a prosecutor late last week, according to court records.

Joseph Lipsey III, 56, and his wife, Shira Lipsey, were both charged earlier this summer with the offense, which carried a mandatory minimum prison term of eight years and a maximum of 32 years upon conviction. District Judge Chris Seldin granted the dismissal Monday, according to Pitkin County District Court records.

“We’re glad the District Attorney’s Office followed through on their in-court comments,” said Yale Galanter, Lipsey’s attorney. “They got to further investigate the charge and we’re happy they agreed there’s nothing to substantiate that count against Joe and Shira Lipsey.”

Shira Lipsey and and son Joseph Lipsey IV.
File photos

Aspen prosecutor Don Nottingham declined to comment Wednesday on the dismissal. However, during a July 15 court hearing, Nottingham said there wasn’t enough evidence to support the most serious charge filed against the couple.

The Lipseys still each face three felony counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and three misdemeanor counts of serving alcohol to minors. The charges stem from parties held at the Lipsey home near Aspen Highlands in which minors were allegedly allowed to consume alcohol.

The distribution of cocaine charge to a minor allegedly stemmed from Snapchat photos sent out by a 17-year-old that implied the parents might have given him cocaine, according to court documents. A teenage witness also told police he saw the 17-year-old ingest cocaine while at least one of the Lipseys was present, the documents state.

However, on July 15, Nottingham said that while probable cause initially existed to charge the couple with the cocaine distribution count, investigators were unable to run down details from witnesses that provided a good chance of conviction at trial.

The couple’s son, Joseph Lipsey IV, has been charged of two counts of felony distribution of drugs, felony contributing to the delinquency of a minor, four counts of possession of a controlled substance and other misdemeanor charges. He also is facing two counts of felony vehicular assault after crashing his parents’ Tesla with four other teenagers in the car in November.

Man arrested in West Glenwood Springs with 100 pounds of meth has no prior record

The man caught with nearly $1 million worth of methamphetamine during a traffic stop Monday has no criminal history, according to court records.

Colorado State Patrol pulled over Edgar Esquivel-Tecalco, 33, around 12:30 p.m. Monday near Glenwood Springs after a trooper observed him making unsafe lane changes, and using a cell phone mounted on the windshield while along Interstate 70 and following other vehicles too closely.

The trooper said the car was speeding 5-9 miles over the speed limit.

After pulling him over at the Kum & Go gas station in West Glenwood, the trooper returned Esquivel’s license, registration, and insurance documents, with “a verbal warning for the traffic violations,” according to court documents.

Esquivel said he was traveling from California to Denver to purchase a new car.

“I told (Esquivel) I had one other question for him,” the trooper wrote in the arrest affidavit.

The trooper gave Esquivel a written search consent form to sign, and asked if he understood it.

“After he signed the consent form I again asked him if he understood the form and agreed to it. He said yes,” the trooper wrote.

Investigators began searching the Honda minivan, and found bricks of methamphetamine in all four of the car’s interior door panels.

In total, law enforcement found 62 bricks that tested positive for methamphetamine, weighing 93 pounds in total, according to the affidavit.

Biggest meth bust in Garfield County?

The amount of methamphetamine seized “could be the largest in Garfield County,” Sheriff Lou Vallario said, but he doesn’t keep track of all the seizures.

Esquivel faces up to 32 years and a potential $1 million fine if convicted of unlawful distribution of a schedule 1 drug, a class 1 felony.

Ninth District prosecutor Tony Hershey said he is concerned the defendant will not appear in court if he can post bond, set Monday at $150,000 cash or surety.

Prosecutors asked for a $1 million bond, the estimated street value of the methamphetamine Esquivel was allegedly transporting. Despite not having a criminal record and having no failures to appear in court, Hershey urged a higher bond to ensure Esquivel would make it to court.

“If this defendant is able to post bond and leaves this state, we are never going to see him again,” Hershey said in a court hearing Tuesday.

Hershey said he is not certain of Esquivel’s immigration status, or what contacts he has in California, where he lives.

Ninth District Judge Denise Lynch said the amount of drugs found in the car represented a “huge risk to community and the country at large.”

The $150,000 cash or surety bond is commensurate with similar drug trafficking offenses, Lynch said.

As condition of the bond, Lynch ordered that Esquivel is not allowed to leave Colorado until his next court date Sept. 18.


Man in custody following police chase, fiery crash that prompted I-70 closure

FRISCO — Police arrested a man following a pursuit on Interstate 70 that ended in a crash near the Eisenhower Tunnel on Monday night.

Colorado State Patrol spokesman Colin Remillard said officers with the Silverthorne Police Department approached a vehicle Monday night that matched the description of a car in an ongoing Summit County Sheriff’s Office case. At about 9 p.m., the man attempted to escape on eastbound I-70 with police in pursuit.

Remillard said the suspect lost control of the vehicle and crashed near Exit 216 at Loveland Pass. The man jumped over the center median, ran across the westbound lanes and attempted to hide. He eventually surrendered when officers called and shined flashlights at him.

Remillard noted that the suspect’s car caught fire following the crash, and traffic through the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels was shut down while emergency crews worked to clear the scene.

Traffic stop turns into massive meth bust in Glenwood Springs

A traffic stop along Interstate 70 through Glenwood Springs turned into a massive drug bust when Colorado State Patrol troopers found 100 pounds of methamphetamine in a Honda minivan.

The arresting trooper observed the driver, identified as Edgar Esquivel-Tecalco, 33, of California, making multiple traffic violations headed eastbound on I-70 just after noon Monday, according to CSP spokesperson Josh Lewis.

The driver allegedly “exhibited signs of criminal activity, gave consent to search his vehicle,” Lewis said. The search revealed numerous packages of the illicit drug, weighing in at more than 100 pounds.

“The suspect has since been taken into custody,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he was not aware of any weapons found in the vehicle.

The methamphetamine haul is far larger than a recent TRIDENT law enforcement action where 12 suspects were arrested.

In that bust, law enforcement agencies seized approximately 471.8 grams of heroin, 131.7 grams of methamphetamine, 54 grams of cocaine, and one loaded handgun from 12 suspects in August.