Gypsum man gets prison time for felony fraud, vehicle theft across Western Slope

Jesse Flores sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for nonviolent crimes; judge says risk of re-offending is too high

Jesse Flores
Eagle County Sheriff’s Office

The sentencing of Jesse Flores — a 21-year-old Gypsum man convicted of defrauding people and businesses across seven counties out of vehicles ranging from snowmobiles to sports cars — ultimately came down to one question.

“Should a 21-year-old young man with essentially no criminal history go to prison for nonviolent crimes?”

Flores’ public defender Kevin Jensen posed this question to Chief Judge Paul R. Dunkelman of the 5th Judicial District Wednesday afternoon as his client sat before the bench with his head down.

The 5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum had just spent over two hours detailing what she called “a pattern of deceit” that is consistent across all his victims in Grand, Chaffee, Summit, Routt, Mesa, Lake and Eagle Counties.

In each instance, Flores was “polite,” “courteous” and “engaging” as he communicated with various businesses and people who had vehicles for sale, McCollum said.

In each instance, he would write a bad check and then a whole host of excuses would come pouring in as to why he could not rectify the situation, she said. He would act shocked and blame the bank or a business partner, apologize profusely, suggest other methods of payment, provide documentation to assure he had the funds to make good on the deal and, in some cases, even return the vehicle.

The prosecution

McCollum read through pages of text messages between Flores and his victims in which he promises to deliver payments and gives increasingly elaborate excuses as to why they did not go through, soothing the victim away from going to law enforcement.

“He is a smooth talker, and he is a con and he is very, very good,” she said. “He will tell anyone who is in front of him what they want to hear …”

“Words don’t matter. Actions matter,” she said.

McCollum gave an example of when Flores defrauded a woman out of a Chevy Camaro and then turned around and sold it to an 18-year-old kid, who had the vehicle confiscated from him shortly thereafter. He tricked Alpine Motor Sports in Kremmling out of an ATV and stole another from Boys Toys in Eagle.

This last vehicle, as was the case with a few others, was ultimately returned to Boys Toys but with a blown engine amounting to approximately $5,000 in repairs, McCollum said. This is a pittance compared to the lime-green Nissan sports car ultimately returned to its owner with damages to the tune of $25,000.

Since charges were first brought against Flores in Eagle County in December of 2020, it is alleged that he has written over $750,000 in fraudulent checks to steal a variety of cars, trucks, trailers, ATVs and snowmobiles, according to a press release from the District Attorney’s Office. He also convinced a victim to pay him over $20,000 to rebuild a garage that he demolished but never rebuilt, McCollum said Wednesday.

After being released on bond, Flores returned to the same pattern of check fraud and theft, this time defrauding a man out of an $800 hunting bow he was selling on the internet. In March 2021, Eagle County prosecutors slapped Flores with a new misdemeanor charge of cybercrime to scheme or defraud as well as six new felony charges for violation of bail bond conditions — one for each county where he faced charges.

This alone shows that Flores was never a suitable candidate for a probationary sentence, McCollum argued Wednesday. Flores and his public defender applied for multiple community corrections facilities, where he could have served time in an environment more focused on rehabilitation, but he was rejected by all of them due to his repeated offenses and risk of recidivism, among other reasons.

“Probation doesn’t have the ability to monitor on a day-to-day basis what Mr. Flores is doing,” McCollum said.

“If he is released into the community on a probationary sentence, we will have more victims,” she said. “There is nothing that shows that Mr. Flores is going to stop.”

Ultimately, McCollum combined all of the cases across the seven counties into one Eagle County case. She was able to tie each incident to Eagle County because Colorado state statute allows motor vehicle thefts to be charged in any jurisdiction where the vehicle was stolen, where the vehicle was sold, or any county the vehicle was driven through in between, according to the press release sent Wednesday evening.

“It made more sense to prosecute multiple crimes by one person in one court, as opposed to prosecuting one person in multiple courts across the state,” McCollum stated in the release.

There were only two cases where a connection to Eagle County could not be proven, which were similar cases brought forward in Garfield and Adams counties. Flores has pleaded guilty in those cases as well, and his sentencings there will occur on Feb. 15, and March 8, respectively.

“From law enforcement agencies to the numerous victims, countless hours and resources were spent just to recoup some of what was stolen from them by Flores,” McCollum said.

Master Deputy Heath Mosness of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said he spent “hundreds of hours on this case” reclaiming vehicles and tracking down victims.

In 35 years of working in law enforcement, “I’ve never dealt with a case with one individual that has so many victims,” Mosness said in Wednesday’s hearing.

“I have no doubt that he will continue to do the same thing,” one of the victims said Wednesday. “I don’t think the court is going to be able to stop him unless he is in jail.”

The defense

Flores has racked up a pretty lengthy rap sheet, sure, but prior to the charges brought in 2020, Flores had no criminal record, his public defender, Kevin Jensen, said during the sentencing hearing Wednesday.

The plea deal Flores accepted in December 2021 convicted him on 13 charges — 12 felonies, including multiple counts of aggravated motor vehicle theft, fraud by check, and one count of felony forgery as well as one misdemeanor cybercrime charge.

But not a single one of these is a violent crime, Jensen said. Flores never became violent or even threatening with his victims, and Jensen argued all of the crimes boil down to two things when it comes to victim impact: being untruthful and damaging property.

All the vehicles stolen by Flores were ultimately returned to their owners from the storage facility by the Gypsum airport where they were kept — either by police or by Flores himself, Jensen said. A few of the vehicles were returned with significant property damage, but Flores remains adamant that he wants to work to pay full restitution to his victims for those damages, he and Jensen said Wednesday.

He has already spent a few weeks in jail for his actions, Jensen said. What Flores needs now is rehabilitation and support in getting back on the right track, he said, adding that Flores has a bright future ahead of him if he can “make some changes and get his feet underneath him.”

“I’ve never really had much structure in my life,” Flores said to Chief Judge Dunkelman Wednesday. He reminded Dunkelman that he had served as Flores’ custody lawyer as he was bounced around from place to place as a child.

His father was never in his life and, as a young adult, his financial situation became extremely precarious, Flores said.

It was always the times when he “wouldn’t have a house or would be in a tight position with money” that Flores would scam someone to get fast cash to get himself out of a bind, he said.

“I committed these crimes and I victimized dozens and dozens of people…” he said. “I would say whatever I could to get what I wanted.”

But now, he has surrounded himself with a better support system, begun cognitive behavioral therapy and started a financial planning class, Flores said. He got himself a job and secured housing.

With two children on the way, he pleaded with Chief Judge Dunkelman to give him the chance to prove himself on probation with the understanding that it could always be revoked, and prison time reinstated, if he failed.

“He is about to become a father,” Jensen said. “His father was never there for him. He never had a relationship with his father and that really impacted Mr. Flores’ life.”

The Department of Corrections is not the right place for him to rehabilitate and be actively involved in one of the most vital times of his children’s lives, Jensen argued.

So, “should a 21-year-old young man with essentially no criminal history go to prison for nonviolent crimes?” Jensen asked.

The sentencing

Chief Judge Dunkelman repeated the question as he mulled over the facts of the case and the arguments made by both sides over the course of the three-hour hearing.

“Unfortunately, in this case, the answer is yes,” Dunkelman said.

He sentenced Flores to 7.5 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections due to “the number of counts” and the “undue risk” of Flores falling back into this pattern of criminal behavior if allowed to remain in the community.

Flores was also ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution to many of his victims.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a case like this … just time after time after time the same pattern, … a conscious decision to steal, a conscious decision to take advantage of people” and “a level of dishonesty that is hard to fathom,” Dunkelman said.

“Certainly not the sentence you were asking for, certainly not the sentence you were hoping for,” Dunkelman said at the end of the hearing. “You do have certain skills and talents that, used in a positive way, could be very productive, but used in this way you end up in prison.”

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