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Michael Conniff

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Con Games: Aspen Cocaine Bust a Black Eye for Sheriffs

Posted: 05/23/11 01:54 PM ET

The longstanding romance between the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office and known local drug dealers in Aspen took a decided turn for the worse this week when the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) busted a major cocaine ring based in Aspen with ties to Los Angeles.

The DEA was so concerned about longstanding "relationships" between the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office and known drug dealers in Aspen that it froze Aspen law enforcement officials out of their investigation -- and went so far as to post personnel at the Aspen 911 emergency call center to make sure news of their raids in the valley would not leak out. Aspen police were also cut out of the DEA probe.

In a front-page story, the Denver Post reported: "The town of 6,000 is so tightknit that when federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents began investigating a drug ring a year ago, they purposely didn't contact then-Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis or his successor, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo."

That sentence only hints at the real story here -- a story that local newspapers and radio stations, complicit in the Aspen drug culture, will continue to ignore. For the first time, we now have hard evidence that former Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis gave his blessing for over two decades to rampant and unrestrained cocaine trafficking, a policy that continues without apology under his successor, Joe DiSalvo. Both Braudis and DiSalvo proudly refused (and refuse) to either go undercover or to enforce existing drug laws in Pitkin County.

Worth remembering: a few years ago, at the height of the high season, Braudis disappeared for weeks without explanation -- only to turn up at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. He was also famously the friend of the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Jr., a Woody Creek resident who enjoyed a national reputation as the patron saint of substance abuse. Thompson committed suicide with a rifle in his Woody Creek home. No autopsy was ever performed.

In his last re-election campaign, Braudis denied ever taking drugs while a sworn officer of the law: the audience at the televised debate laughed out loud.

The friendliness with drug dealers continues in Pitkin County under the cover of a vague philosophical beef with drug enforcement, but in the real world over 200 kilograms of cocaine -- retailing for as much as $28,000 per kilo -- made its way to and through Aspen without any fear of intercession by local law enforcement officials. That's more than $5 million of cocaine moving through Aspen over the last fifteen years. Six of the accused in Aspen were indicted and arrested, with another three arrested in Los Angeles; one of the accused is still at large. Heretofore, the Aspen dealers had been operating unscathed in Pitkin County for decades.

DiSalvo, for his part, has denied any relationship with the drug dealers, likening his knowledge to the television sheriff Andy of Mayberry and Otis, the fictional town drunk. But in the real world both Braudis and DiSalvo have to be concerned that some or one of those under indictment -- facing 10 years to life imprisonment -- might want to trade some jail time for information that establishes what the two Pitkin County Sheriffs knew and when they knew it. Then they might have some real explaining to do.


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