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Published on Aspen Daily News Online (http://www.aspendailynews.com)
Family members allege inmate mistreatment
Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
The mother and sister of a man accused of passing counterfeit bills picketed outside the Pitkin County Courthouse on Sunday and Monday with signs reading: “Inhumane treatment. Shame on the Pitkin County Jail.”
After getting to know Sheriff Bob Braudis, the women put down their signs. But their crusade isn’t over yet.
Susan White and Helena Williams are the mother and sister, respectively, of Francesco Anthony Saputo, 29, of Escondido, Calif., who is being extradited to Aspen from San Diego. The women claim Court Services Inc., the California-based prisoner transportation company extraditing Saputo, is mistreating him. He has been en route to Aspen since Oct. 5 in a prisoner transport van and has told his mom the Court Services Inc. driver has been falling asleep at the wheel, and depriving him of food and the restroom for long periods of time. Even though the drive from California to Colorado only takes a day or two, prisoner transport companies take far longer because they are constantly picking up and dropping off inmates. Saputo’s van apparently is in the Southwest and should arrive in a day or two.
“They were screaming to wake him up because he was running off the road, ” White claimed, based on a conversation she had with her son. On the other side of the signs disparaging the Pitkin County Jail, White and Williams’ signs read: “CSI Services — Where is My Son/Brother?” White said Saputo told her that the driver drove for 36 consecutive hours at one point, and dozed behind the wheel.
“There’s a lot of hanky panky going on, ” she said.
White and Williams traveled here from New York.
Sheriff Braudis approached the women on his way into work Monday morning at the corner of Galena and Main streets.
“I run the nicest, most humane jail on the planet, ” he told them.
A little while later, they paid a visit to his office. After talking it over with the sheriff, they agreed to stop picketing the Pitkin County Jail.
“Cruel and unusual punishment is something we’ve never been accused of and we’re not into it, ” Braudis said. “We are going to investigate this and if there is any cruel and unusual punishment component that is sustainable we won’t use them again. We’re doing everything we can. I’m going to assign an investigator.”
Pitkin County sheriff’s investigator Bruce Benjamin will be assigned to interview the driver and all the inmates on the van when it arrives this week. This is the first time Pitkin County has hired Court Services Inc. for extradition. Jails began turning to private transport companies in the 1990s as a more cost-effective alternative to flying cops and criminals on commercial and charter airlines.
A message left for Court Services Inc. was not immediately returned.
The Internet is littered with complaints against the company and its operator Eric Kindley. The FBI arrested Kindley last year on conspiracy and gun charges for allegedly providing an employee an unregistered handgun on a commercial flight. He was later acquitted because, Kindley’s attorney said, he was just doing his job. Former employees of Court Services Inc. complain they haven’t been paid; others accuse the company of shoddy business practices; and a CSI extradition agent was reportedly arrested earlier this year, accused of having sex with a female prisoner.
Inyo County sheriff’s deputy Lyle Oyster, who is listed as a reference on a Court Services Inc. brochure, said his experience with the prisoner transport service has been positive but that his jail no longer uses its services.
“We’ve had no negative experience at all. Honestly, we don’t use many transport companies anymore mainly because they don’t come up here, so we use other agencies to do our transporting now, ” Oyster said.
Don Bird, administrator for the Pitkin County Jail, said out-of-state extraditions only happen here a couple of times per year. Having it take over a week for an inmate to arrive from California is not all that unusual either, he said.
“It can vary. We’ve had it take longer than that, depending on where they’re coming from. They don’t just pick up this guy. They picked up this guy in San Diego, then some other guys. It takes a while, ” he said.
Saputo is the third man to be arrested in connection to a minor-league counterfeiting scam that plagued Aspen over the summer. Between $1, 500 to $1, 700 counterfeit $100 bills were passed to 10 or more businesses in town. Andrew Allan McCollom and Christian Adam Gaxiola, 30, are facing forgery, conspiracy and theft charges. All three men drove to Aspen together from Escondido, Calif., to go on “a shopping trip, ” according to Saputo’s mother.
White claims her son is innocent and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She also said she believes Aspen police mishandled evidence, and that the only case they have against him is a photo of him making a purchase at a store.
“How do they know there’s a counterfeit bill in his hand?” she asked. “It’s a very weak case. You can’t base a case on a picture from a store. ... And they mixed all the bills together. The money was passed around. That’s not how you handle evidence.”
Aspen police officer Ian MacAyeal declined to discuss evidence in the case. He noted that a judge found enough cause to issue a warrant for Saputo’s arrest. Saputo was collared for drunken driving in California about a month ago, when the warrant for his arrest in Aspen showed up and the extradition process began.