GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (CBS4) — Colorado entrepreneur David Lesh gained notoriety by showing himself behaving badly in beautiful outdoor settings. Those actions led him to appear in a much different environment – the inside of a courtroom.
A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday sentenced Lesh to a $10,000 fine, 160 hours of community service, and a year of probation.
Judge Gordon Gallagher refused to order a jail term despite pleas he received from the public to put Lesh behind bars.
“I am loath to incarcerate somebody for a petty offense of this nature,” Gallagher said during Wednesday’s hearing, according to a report from the Aspen Times. “That just would not appear to be a just sentence to me. I do believe that there needs to be a deterrent.”
At the end of a one-day trial last October, Lesh was convicted of taking a snowmobile off-route on federal land and using federal land to the benefit of his outdoor clothing company, Virtika. Lesh, 36, of Denver, was found guilty of ignoring barriers and signs, and driving his snowmobile onto Keystone Resort’s terrain park in April 2020. The resort was closed at the time due to the pandemic.
“Solid park sesh, no lift ticket needed,” Lesh wrote in an Instagram post, using a colloquialism for “session.” The post included an obscenity directed at the resort.
Because the resort is located on federal land, and because the judge concluded Lesh’s incident at the resort was part of an ongoing social media campaign to promote his business, a permit from the U.S. Forest Service was required to perform the terrain park stunts legally. Lesh had not acquired a permit.
Lesh posted other controversial photos, one of himself on a log in an off-limit section of Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs and another defecating in Maroon Lake with fall foliage of the Maroon Bells in the background. Both locations are iconic Colorado settings, and the photos drew the ire from many Colorado residents.
However, in a New Yorker interview a year ago, Lesh claimed to have happily gained an increase in support for his business from people living outside the state.
“The more hate I got, the more people got behind me, from all over the world,” Lesh said. “These people couldn’t give two f—s about me walking on a log in Hanging Lake. It was an opportunity to reach a whole new group of people – while really solidifying the customer base we already had.”
Federal prosecutors eventually dropped five charges pertaining to the Hanging Lake and Maroon Lake photos. Lesh claimed he had doctored the photos, largely in an effort to thumb his nose at the federal government, and prosecutors could not verify that the photos were authentic.
“I wanted them to charge me with something,” Lesh told the New Yorker. “The only evidence they have is the photos I posted on Instagram, which I know are fake, because I faked them. I was pissed off about them charging me for the snowmobiling on Independence Pass with zero evidence. I realized they are quick to respond to public outcry. I wanted to bait them into charging me.”
The Forest Service first took notice of Lesh in July 2019 when he rode a snowmobile in an off-limits area of Independence Pass. He was fined $500 and sentenced to 50 hours of community service in that case.
Lesh also told the New Yorker that his company’s sales increased 30 percent after the Hanging Lake photo went public.
“I want to be able to post fake things to the Internet,” Lesh said the New Yorker interview. “That’s my f***ing right as an American.”
Hanging Lake, Maroon Lake and Independence Pass are all inside the boundaries of the White River National Forest. Lesh had been banned from national forest land during the most recent prosecution. Judge Gallagher did not extend that ban. But the fines – $5,000 per count – are the maximum for the two petty offenses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hautzinger, the prosecutor in the case, also received letters from the public demanding that Lesh be “locked up as long as possible,” per the Aspen Times. But, to he as well the judge, jail time was beyond reasonable.
“I do think there has been a pattern of, contempt may be too strong of word, but certainly disregard for authority, for the government, for the Forest Service and for the court’s orders,” Hautzinger said. “I think there needs to be some punitive sanctions for that.”
“I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think he’s made some bad decisions.”
“This is not the crime of the century. These are petty offenses,” Lesh’s attorney, Barrett Weisz, told the Aspen Times. “Mr. Lesh has endured a lot of hate from the public because of this case.”
The judge suspended the sentence for two weeks while Lesh and his attorney decide whether to appeal the conviction.
CBS4’s messages left with Lesh and Weisz on Monday were not returned.