Plea deal is in the works for defendant in Aspen DEA case |

Plea deal is in the works for defendant in Aspen DEA case

A plea agreement is in the works for one of six Aspen-area individuals indicted last spring in a cocaine-trafficking case.

A notice of disposition was introduced Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Denver for Joseph James Burke, 63, of Aspen Village.

Burke’s court-appointed attorney, Philip A. Cherner, declined comment from his Denver office Thursday. Burke was not available by telephone. His notice of disposition, which Cherner filed, says “the defendant and the government have reached a disposition in this case.”

The nature of the disposition won’t become public until Burke appears at a change-of-plea hearing in Denver, said Jeffrey Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver. Dorschner noted, however, that “a notice of disposition is a notification that the defendant is going to plead guilty to something.”

A hearing date has not yet been set.

A Denver grand jury indicted Burke, who is out of jail on $20,000 bond, on two felony charges: conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, and aiding and abetting in the distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. The conspiracy count carries up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10 million; the aiding-and-abetting charge carries up to 20 years behind bars and a fine as high as $1 million.

Federal agents arrested Burke at his workplace, on the grounds of Aspen-Pitkin County airport, on May 19. Six days later, on May 25, he pleaded not guilty to both charges.

If the judge signs off on the plea deal, Burke will avoid going to trial, which is set for February in Denver. It would also mark the first disposition made in the case.

Federal officials say the May arrests helped dismantle a major drug ring responsible for the transport of 200 kilograms of cocaine from Los Angeles to Aspen over the past 15 years.

The Aspen residents arrested were Joan Anastasi, 67, Burke, Jack Fellner, 61, Wayne Alan Reid, 65, Peggy Schlauger, 41, and Christopher James Sheehan, 65. The grand jury also indicted four men from the Los Angeles area. Three were arrested; the other is considered a fugitive.

Authorities say that from July 2010 through April 2011, all 10 defendants were involved in the distribution of at least 5 kilograms, or the equivalent of 5,000 grams, of cocaine. A kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User