PAONIA, Colo. (CBS4) – A billionaire is accused in a lawsuit of kidnapping and holding a man against his will. A Gunnison County Sheriff’s deputy is also said to be involved.
The alleged incident happened on an unusual ranch named the Bear Ranch near Paonia. The ranch belongs to billionaire Bill Koch, whose famous brothers are well known for funding conservative causes.
Koch has an avid interest in the Old West and is building an entire cowboy town for himself and his family. Many of the buildings come from the famed Colorado tourist attraction Buckskin Joe that used to be near Canon City and featured fake Old West shootouts.
The kidnapping claim was made by Kirby Martensen, a former executive in Koch’s Oxbow Corporation. In a lawsuit, he claims he was brought to Koch’s ranch in March where he was fired from his position of senior vice president. Martensen said there was a deputy present to make sure he didn’t run away.
“What was your reaction when you heard about this?” CBS investigator Rick Sallinger asked Gunnison County Sheriff Rick Besecker.
Besecker responded, “Confounded. Doesn’t make any sense.”
Besecker says he asked the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate the claim that one of his uniformed deputies and his patrol car were involved in the alleged kidnapping.
“I am curious on why this was not reported to a law enforcement agency. It definitely wasn’t reported to us and to the best of my knowledge it wasn’t reported to any other agency,” said Besecker.
Martensen said he was given a tour of the Old West town and then on Koch’s ranch against his will before “being kidnapped and driven to Denver” where he was sent home on a plane.
A Koch spokesman said the kidnapping claim is a “cheap shot” in retaliation for a corporate theft lawsuit Koch filed against Martensen.
“He participated in dinner and wine and could have left at any time. He was not restrained in any form or fashion,” said Koch spokesman Brad Goldstein.
Koch has a larger-than-life presence in the area. His mining operation employs more than 500 people in the area. He took the seat of honor on a stagecoach in Paonia’s 4th of July parade last year. He carried a shotgun as he sat next to the driver.
A Koch-owned tank was featured in another parade through town. A lone protester confronted the vehicle. (Full Story)
While Koch has donated $500,000 to area organizations over the past two years, his spokesman feels he has been picked on because of his wealth.
“I believe it is a form of class warfare,” said Goldstein.
Goldstein cited a home video showing former newspaper editor Ed Marston taking journalists on a tour near Koch’s Old West town.
“There’s a private village. It’s not for people like us. It is for his friends from Palm Beach, Cape Cod and other places where he has homes,” Marston states on the video.
Marston said he now regrets those comments but has been leading a hard charge against the billionaire in a battle over land.
“It has nothing to do with who Bill Koch is, it has to do with not being just and fair,” said Marston.
Besecker said an outside investigation by the CBI concluded there was indeed a sheriff’s deputy at Koch’s ranch when Martensen claims he was kidnapped. The sheriff said the deputy was there without his knowledge or approval. He may have violated the sheriff’s office policy but said he did not break the law.