Year in Review: Marijuana milestones, murder and embezzlement made news in 2014
January 3, 2015
2014 will be remembered as the year the nation watched the Great Colorado Cannabis Experiment unfold without any major missteps. In Summit County, long lines formed early on Jan. 1, 2014, as the state's retail marijuana shops opened for business for the first time. And over the last 12 months, new sales tax revenue poured into government coffers, entrepreneurs looked to capitalize on the new industry with pot-friendly B&Bs, limousine tours, cannabis cooking classes and new shops; ski resorts went medieval on "smoke shacks," Breckenridge's Main Street became a battleground for the identity of a community, and one pot shop's owners became the stars of a CNN reality series.
Summit Daily readers are no doubt a little fatigued by the constant stream of marijuana reporting (honestly, so are we). However, the level of public interest is undeniable. Our most popular story of the year, titled "What you need to know about retail marijuana in Colorado," racked up more than 123,000 page views. For context, No. 2 on the list got about 34,000 page views.
The pot story is just beginning. And though it grabbed much of our attention in 2014, there were many other stories that were as important to our community.
The other stories on this year's list recognize major governmental developments both good and bad (such as voters approving nearly $30 million in new public safety spending for Summit County and Dillon losing both its police chief and town manager within a week), ongoing trends (embezzlement was all the rage this year) and economic milestones (Whole Foods Market brought organic goods and around 200 new jobs to Frisco).
It's marijuana morning in America
The lines rivaled any Black Friday, but this was no day-after-Thanksgiving discount deal. Rather, "Green Wednesday," the first day of recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, brought out visitors and residents alike to legally purchase pot.
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Breckenridge Cannabis Club, located on Main Street, opened at 8 a.m. to an exuberant line. Customers high-fived each other as purchases were made, and those still waiting for their turn cheered as others made their way back down the stairs, brown paper bags in hand.
Co-owners Caitlin McGuire and Brian Rogers were up all night — not celebrating New Year's Eve, but rather, pre-packaging marijuana with their staff to get ready for the anticipated crowd. A bleary-eyed McGuire said it was her first all-nighter, something she didn't even pull off in college. But she also said it was well worth the effort, finishing a mere half-hour before doors opened.
"We're one of the few shops in the state doing a straight conversion," she said. "So there's no medical product anymore — we wouldn't have room to do both, it's pretty tight quarters."
While McGuire spent a portion of her morning checking IDs at the door, Rogers was trying to coordinate a flurry of media, computer problems and the giant crowd.
"It's been crazy, but the good kind of crazy," he said.
The anticipation for the day marijuana went legal was high.
"I've been waiting in line about 20 minutes, but that's nothing compared to waiting like 30 years for this to happen," one woman from California said.
Even tourists and locals not in line stopped to take pictures of the group filling up the Main Street sidewalk, some posing for pictures in front of the crowd or the BCC sign.
"This is something to tell your grandchildren about," one man said. "The wait, the weather, it's whatever. This is a historic day."
Day one was a scene of excitement. However, fast forward to December and Breckenridge voters overwhelmingly said they wanted marijuana off Main Street. The town council followed suit. The prevailing argument was that Breckenridge had been successfully marketed as a family ski destination and that marijuana shops in the downtown area would undermined that message.
Breckenridge Cannabis Club, the only marijuana shop in the downtown area, will be forced to pack up in February. Not to worry. The owners, the subject of a CNN documentary called "High Profits," have bigger plans for expanded their business beyond Breckenridge and Summit County.
Embezzlement is the new black
If just one Summit County resident was charged with embezzling money from his or her employer — say, Dawna Foxx, who stole more than $250,000 from the Breckenridge Festival of Film — it might not have been a top 10 story, much less No. 2 on the list. But three people? That's crazy.
Foxx kicked off the trend this year.
The former executive director of the Breckenridge Festival of Film, Foxx was sentenced Aug. 11 to five years in prison.
The 67-year-old pleaded guilty in June in Summit County District Court to one count each of theft of $1,000 to $20,000 and second-degree forgery. The pleas were entered following a lengthy investigation that yielded evidence Foxx embezzled upwards of $210,000 from what is now known as the Breckenridge Film Festival during the years she served as executive director. The investigation also yielded evidence that Dawna Foxx stole several thousand dollars from her husband, Ron Foxx, and his business partner.
"The theft took place over a period of years and resulted in the loss of a substantial amount of money," district judge Mark Thompson told Foxx during the sentencing. "It was systemic, calculated, unprovoked and unjustified, but more importantly it was perpetrated by a person who was placed in a position of trust by a charity that is important to the community and a charity that depends on the trust of the community."
During the summer Foxx was being convicted of her crimes, Dillon police say Sue Ann Frank was forging checks.
Frank, the longtime chief executive officer of the Summit Association of Realtors, was arrested Dec. 2, and charged with felony theft and forgery by the Dillon Police Department. According to the arrest affidavit, Frank stole more than $415,000 from the association, a not-for-profit she has led for nearly 20 years, by forging checks and making unauthorized fund transfers.
Frank was hired to lead the association in 1996. At the time, she was touted as a reformer who would clean up an organization that had recently fired a CEO caught embezzling funds. Frank was lauded for her efforts to clean up messy financial records and fix a dysfunctional billing system.
The same day Frank was arrested, Robert Dwight Polich, 62, was booked into the Summit County jail.
Polich, the longtime financial administrator for a Keystone homeowners association, was arrested and charged with embezzling about $160,000 from the HOA.
Polich served as the Enclave Homeowners Association's financial manager since 1986, when the neighborhood was founded.
According to the arrest affidavit, the trust Polich built up over decades was destroyed when an external audit last month revealed that $160,000 in Treasury bills was missing from the HOA's surplus funds.
Voters rescue Summit County 911
Summit County voters sent a message this Nov. 4: We'll vote to raise our taxes if it's for a good cause. A solvent ambulance service, an up-to-date 911 system and clean water hit all the right notes.
The initiative will infuse a cash-strapped ambulance service with $1.65 million annually over eight years. Voters also authorized $1.4 million annually for 911 system upgrades and $600,000 each year for water quality improvements such as toxic mine reclamation and hazardous household waste disposal.
More than 60 percent of voters got behind the tax proposal, which will result in an annual increase of $19.25 per $100,000 of residential property value. The tax hike sunsets in 2022.
In total, 1A will give the county a nearly $30 million shot in the arm, bringing property tax revenue a bit closer to pre-recession levels.
"We're extremely grateful to the people of Summit County for recognizing how important this public safety issue is for all of us," said commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier.
murder in the safest of places
Summit County's crime rate is as low as it gets. Frisco, in fact, was named one of the 30 safest towns in Colorado by a national safety and home security website. That's why it was a shock to the community when news broke that a well-liked Summit County resident, Blake Bostic, was pronounced dead after a violent confrontation at Frisco's Snowshoe Motel on April 14.
In June, Judge Karen Romeo ruled that there is enough evidence to move forward with second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges pending against Charles Lee Sattler, a 42-year-old construction worker and former amateur boxer from Michigan accused of beating Frisco resident Bostic to death.
Bostic and Stevens met Sattler and his friend Charles Upchurch during the early morning hours of April 14 at Ollie's Pub in Frisco. After closing, the four decided to go to Sattler and Upchurch's room at the Snowshoe Motel to have a drink and smoke marijuana, according to court testimony.
Shortly after arriving at the Snowshoe Motel an argument broke out, allegedly over homemade hot sauce Bostic, a chef at Incline Bar & Grill located at the base of Copper Mountain Resort, was trying to sell to Sattler and Upchurch. The argument escalated into a fight.
First responders performed CPR for about 40 minutes at the scene of the alleged crime, according to court testimony, before Bostic was rushed to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. Bostic was pronounced dead at 3:20 a.m.
Bostic died of closed head and neck injuries due to blunt force trauma consistent with a fight, according to a preliminary autopsy report. He was 38.
The trial is scheduled for 2015.
Drama in Dillon spurred by parking ticket
When Joe Wray resigned Feb. 24 from his post as Dillon town manager, he became the second high-ranking public official to leave office in the town in less than a week.
On Feb. 19, interim police chief Brian Brady resigned from the Dillon Police Department during a 5th Judicial District Attorney's Office investigation into whether he committed perjury during a September 2013 hearing over a parking ticket dispute in Dillon/Silverthorne Municipal Court.
Brady, who had been serving since June 2013 as the town's interim police chief, was placed on paid administrative leave sometime in January during a closed meeting of the Dillon Town Council.
His resignation came two days after the Summit Daily News filed a Colorado Open Records Act request with the district attorney's office for a copy of its perjury investigation and one day after filing an additional open records request with the town of Dillon in hopes of learning the circumstances of Brady's paid administrative leave.
District attorney Bruce Brown opted not to pursue criminal charges against Brady, citing prosecutorial discretion.
"We don't have the resources to pursue every single criminal act," Brown said. "In light of a myriad of considerations we have to look at with every case, I decided to use discretion to determine the most appropriate outcome."
Brady's resignation came at a particularly shaky time in the history of the Dillon Police Department. In June of last year, then-police chief Steve Neumeyer resigned after serving just a year in that capacity. He cited his wife's health as the primary reason for his resignation, but also received a six-figure severance package before his official June 3, 2013, departure.
Brady was appointed interim police chief shortly after. Mark Heminghous is now the Dillon police chief. Tom Breslin serves as town manager.
The Whole story
More than 200 jobs were added to the local economy when Whole Foods Market opened its doors in Summit County back in April.
The store didn't plan for 25 degrees and snow on opening day.
But that didn't stop the crowds in Frisco as excited Whole Foods Market customers filled their carts and sampled juice, cheese, meat, soup, chocolate and other foods on April 29.
"If this is any indicator of how busy we're going to be," said Justin Jeffries, 29, while he stretched pizza dough, "this store's going to be a wild success."
Since that opening day the Basecamp shopping center has also opened a Vail Resorts-owned gear shop, a liquor store and the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.
Health insurance in the High Country
Under controversial health insurance coverage regions proposed in Colorado, health insurance premiums for the so-called "resort region," which includes Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties, would be the highest in the country. In 2014, local and state leaders, like U.S. Congressman Jared Polis and Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, waged war to overcome that disparity.
In large part, they were successful.
In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved a Colorado Division of Insurance request to redraw the 11 current geographic rating regions as nine regions in 2015. The approval came after months of controversy in Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Summit counties — the four that make up the current resort region that, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Study, boasts the highest health insurance premiums in the nation.
While the newly drawn regions should provide some savings for the region on 2015 health insurance premiums, it's just one small piece of the very complex puzzle that is health care in the United States.
The Colorado Division of Insurance set the current rates last year based on 2011 health care claims data, said Commissioner Marguerite Salazar. The division didn't have new enough data to make a different analysis, she said.
The feedback from the resort region counties flooded her office, with residents, county commissioners, state and federal legislators all weighing in.
"I felt like I needed to respond and do this and try to lower those excessively higher premiums we saw in the rural resort region," Salazar said. "I do feel like it's the right solution for now."
The town of Montezuma went through a lot in 2014 — its only access road was washed away in a flood and a fractious municipal election led to a district attorney investigation, as well as to an inexplicable lawsuit in which the town sued itself. Yet, the residents in the backcountry community were resilient.
Montezuma Road opened to two-way traffic across a new bridge over the Snake River in September, restoring vehicle access where high water washed out the road June 3.
Even with no access road, the town of Montezuma in August managed to file a lawsuit in Summit County District Court against itself.
Mayor Lesley Davis said the lawsuit was filed in hopes of bringing a resolution to its controversial municipal election last April.
The respondents listed in the suit include all of the town's 61 registered voters.
"The town is definitely not suing its residents," Davis said. "We're just seeking the court's assistance to help us with a controversial election and to let us know what we should be doing."
According to the complaint, the town alleges that ballots from April's election contained inaccurate verbiage and did not feature numbered stubs and duplicate stubs to be recorded in the poll books and that the final tally for at least one board of trustees candidate was inaccurate, among other claims.
The complaint also references a 5th Judicial District Attorney's Office investigation into alleged voter fraud. After the April election, several Montezuma residents filed petitions challenging the residency of 14 registered voters. Thirteen of those voters participated in the election. The DA found enough evidence that five of those 13 voters were not Montezuma or Summit County residents at the time of the election.
Sochi Olympics and Dancing with the Stars
The Winter Olympics always have a special significance for the Colorado High Country communities, which get to watch locals compete at the highest level of their sport. Sochi welcomed a few Summit County athletes, among them: Keri Herman, Bobby Brown, Justin Reiter and Amy Purdy, who medaled in the Paralympics and also was runner-up on "Dancing with the Stars."
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