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Mountain News: Drugs and money: the politics of cocaine



ASPEN, Colo. — Montgomery Chitty, who is 61, palled around with the late writer Hunter S. Thompson and the late Ed Bradley, a correspondent for the television show "60 Minutes." Thompson lived near Aspen and Bradley was a frequent visitor.

Chitty was also involved in politics at a high level. The Aspen Daily News says that he was a consultant to the Democratic National Committee for a time. He also pitched in to get Gary Hart elected to the U.S. Senate and then make a run at being U.S. president.

But now Chitty is behind bars, as he has been for the last year, and he may remain there for the rest of his life. A jury in Denver convicted Chitty of peddling cocaine in Aspen. Witnesses told jurors at the trial in Denver District Court that Chitty bought and sold more than 200 kilos of cocaine from 2002 to 2012, with at least hundreds of thousands of dollars getting passed.

This and related cases have provided a fascinating peek into the lingering drug culture of Aspen. Five people from the Aspen area arrested in 2011 were all in their 60s. Chitty was arrested in early 2012. One of their cocaine suppliers in Los Angeles is in his 70s.

The drug bust also focused attention on whether local law enforcement, specifically the sheriff's department, turned a blind eye toward drug use or, even worse, was too chummy with some of the drug dealers. That was one of the suggestions implicit in the decision by federal drug agents in 2011 not to notify the local sheriff of the impending bust.

One of the defendants had had ties with the last three sheriffs of Pitkin County. The former sheriff for the last 30 to 35 years and the current sheriff both admitted they attended a birthday party for Wayne Reid, the ringleader of the coke-peddling business. Both sheriffs denied close ties.

But Reid, 66, last week was sentenced to 53 months in prison, while Chitty, who is younger, is widely expected to be given what one lawyer in Aspen says is commonly called the "pine-box life."

Why the difference? Rick Carroll, managing editor of The Aspen Times, says you may tell your kids not to be a tattletale. But federal drug laws give defendants strong incentive to snitch — and Chitty refused.

"By all accounts, Chitty refused to cooperate with prosecutors by giving names and outing dealers," he says.

Other defendants in the ring told names and are getting comparatively light sentences, at most 11.5 years among the five, says Carroll. Chitty will almost certainly be behind bars for two decades, as he has been for the last year.

"Chitty was the sacrificial lamb because he kept his mouth shut — and also because he was friends with the past three Pitkin County sheriffs, all of whom the feds have lusted over for years but haven't mustered an inkling of evidence to charge or prosecute — just enough innuendo to keep the rumor mill turning."