GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) — A federal court judge on Friday convicted a Colorado business owner who claimed he was “not getting noticed being super ‘eco this’ and ‘eco that’” with using U.S. Forest Service lands without permission in his social media campaigns.
U.S. District Court Judge Gordon P. Gallagher used Lesh’s publicity to make his decision.READ MORE: David Lesh, Pictured On Hanging Lake Log, Appears In Court For Snowmobiling Off-Limits On Independence Pass
“The advertisement and marketing campaign with which Defendant embarked, beginning with the Keystone Resort photographs, was one that relied upon social media trolling as a way to stir up controversy and free press while using NFS lands as the location or backdrop,” Judge Gallagher wrote in a decision obtained by CBS4.
Gallagher determined Lesh’s intent to publicize his company, Virtika, while on U.S. Forest Service land violated federal statutes.
David Lesh, 36, posted alleged pictures of himself on three separate occasions in 2020 in three different locations.
The first depicted a helmeted snowmobile rider taking jumps at ski resort. It was posted on Lesh’s Instagram account on April 25 with the caption, “Solid park sesh, no lift ticket needed.”
Christopher Ingham, the Director of Mountain Operations for Keystone Resort, was alerted to the Instagram post that same day, according to the judge’s order. Ingham visited the resort’s terrain park that morning and found snowmobile tracks.
“Ingham noted that the tracks indicated that more than one jump had taken place and that, in addition to using the ski jump, the tracks indicated that snowmobiling had occurred around the resort, terrain park, through an area called Erickson Bowl, and down a trail on the NFS lands,” as stated in the judge’s order.
The Keystone ski area had been shut down the previous month due to concerns about the coronavirus. Employees had used snowcats to construct a berm around the terrain park and conducted weekly patrols to prevent unauthorized use of the facility. Signage was also placed around the feature.
Ingham also found that a utility shed above the ski jump was broken into and a shovel was taken. It was used to carve a channel through the snow berm wide enough to permit a snowmobile to enter.
In August, the caption to Lesh’s Instagram post was edited to include an obscenity directed at the resort’s ownership.
More images were posted to Lesh’s Instagram profile on June 10, 2020, and October 21, 2020. They showed Lesh standing on a log in Hanging Lake and apparently defecating in Maroon Lake. Both are protected bodies of water on forest service lands, the judge noted.
Lesh claimed the photos were edited. Federal prosecutors in fact did not try to prove they were authentic.READ MORE: Colorado Business Owner David Lesh At Center Of Controversy Again
But Judge Gallagher determined Lesh’s intent by using the images was to promote Virtika. He cited several times an interview with Lesh in a January 2021 New Yorker article titled “Trolling The Great Outdoors.”
“I wanted them to charge me with something,” Lesh is quoted in the New Yorker story. “The only evidence they have is the photos I posted on Instagram, which I know are fake, because I faked them. I realized they are quick to respond to public outcry. I wanted to bait them into charging me.”
“I want to be able to post fake things to the Internet,” Lesh added in the interview. “That’s my f***ing right as an American.”
Lesh told the New Yorker that his company’s sales increased 30% after the Hanging Lake photo went public.
“The more hate I got, the more people got behind me, from all over the world,” Lesh said. “It was an opportunity to reach a whole new group of people — while really solidifying the customer base we already had.”
In his decision, Judge Gallagher wrote, “The Hanging Lake and Maroon Lake photographs can be considered evidence of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”
He also ruled that Lesh’s trespassing at Keystone Resort was commercial in nature.
Lesh was convicted on two petty offenses. The judge gave the two sides until mid-December to decide on an amount of restitution, or repayment of damages. Lesh’s sentencing date will not be set until the issue of restitution is agreed upon.
Lesh’s attorneys could also choose to appeal Friday’s decision.
Lesh first found notoriety in July of 2019 when he rode a snowmobile in an off-limits area of Independence Pass. According to the Aspen Times, Lesh did not admit guilt in the case but was sentenced to 50 hours community service and a $500 fine. Lesh’s own social media posts assisted Forest Service investigators in the case.
A month later, Lesh crashed a plane off the California coast. He recorded that, too, and posted it on social media.
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Lesh is currently banned from entering national forest lands.