Man jailed for alleged Aspen sexual assaults
A Basalt man is in the custody of Pitkin County Jail on pending charges that he sexually assaulted two girls in Aspen as recently as last year.
At hearing Monday in Pitkin County District Court, Judge Gail Nichols set a cash bond of $500,000 for Felix Santana-Penaloza, 50. Nichols told the suspect that he faces potential prison time ranging from 4-12 years, or possibly the rest of his life.
A Spanish interpreter who participated by phone aided Santana-Penaloza during the hearing.
It was Santana-Penaloza’s first court appearance since Aspen police investigator Walter Chi arrested him Friday at the Basalt Police Department. There, Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra collected a confession from the suspect, according to an affidavit written by Chi.
“Santana-Penaloza admitted to having a problem, and wanted to take responsibility for his actions,” Chi’s affidavit says.
Santana-Penaloza, represented by public defender Matt Morris, waived advisement of the potential charges he faces. A court filing indicates he faces two felony charges of sexual assault on a child under 15 by a person in a position of trust.
“It goes without saying, the nature of these charges are incredibly serious,” prosecutor Andrea Bryan said when arguing for a $500,000 bond.
She added that the “defendant in this case essentially confessed to the underlying aggravated conduct.”
Authorities believed Santana-Penaloza was a flight risk because he quit his job from a local supermarket and told his supervisor that he was going to California and then Mexico. Santana-Penaloza also had withdrawn all of his money from his bank account, Chi’s affidavit says.
“It is quite apparent … that the defendant poses a substantial flight risk,” Bryan said in court, adding that Santana-Penaloza “planned to return to Mexico, making it virtually impossible to secure him for trial.”
Morris did not argue for a lower bond because he said he was just familiarizing himself with the allegations. He said he’ll address bond at Santana-Penaloza’s next court hearing, set for Aug. 19.
The allegations initially were brought to the attention of the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, which forwarded the case on Wednesday to authorities in Aspen, where the crimes allegedly occurred.
One alleged victim told Chi that Santana-Penaloza had inappropriately touched her starting when she was 7 years old until the spring of 2012, when she was in seventh grade.
The accuser’s older sister also said that Santana-Penaloza almost “raped” her about three years ago, when she was 13 years old.
“She said that when she 13 years old, she began to know that what he [Santana-Penaloza] was doing was wrong, and would fight him off,” Chi’s affidavit says. “She said that if he came close, she would call out for someone, so that she would not be alone with him. [The alleged victim] said she didn’t tell anyone for fear and embarrassment …”
When the family members learned of the accusations, they confronted Santana-Penaloza, who initially denied the allegations but later admitted to them, saying they happened five or six years ago, Chi’s affidavit says.
“There’s some concrete evidence of guilt here,” Nichols said at Monday’s hearing.
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