Aspen connections unearthed in offshore money investigations

Part-time resident, Pitkin County properties pop up in probe looking at ways to hide wealth in shell companies

Rick Carroll
Aspen Times

Though absent from the Pandora Papers investigation are some of wealthiest Americans in the world, the investigation linked part-time Aspen resident and homeowner Robert Brockman to offshore accounts he used as part of an alleged $2 billion tax scheme.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on Sunday began publishing findings from its Pandora Papers probe into the names connected to offshore concerns used to hide wealth. The report, according to the nonprofit organization, is considered to be the largest investigation in journalism history.

The net result was a cache of nearly 12 million documents connecting the names of foreign leaders, billionaires and celebrities to shell companies they used to conceal their money, positioning them to pay lower taxes and potentially launder money.

Brockman is being prosecuted by the federal government for tax fraud and evasion, and in September the IRS placed tax liens combining for $1.4 billion on three properties he owns in Aspen.

Also a resident of Houston, Brockman, 80, has pleaded not guilty to 39 federal charges that include wire fraud and money laundering as part of a tax scheme the federal government has said is the largest amount in U.S. history.

Brockman is the founder and former CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds Co., which sells business software to auto dealerships. He is accused of hiding income he made on his investments in private equity funds from the IRS.

While Brockman is identified in the Pandora Papers, they didn’t include household names of such billionaires Jeff Bezos, who owns a home in the Aspen area. Other household names who have frequented or owned property in the Aspen area — Brits Elton John and Ringo Starr, for example — surfaced in the Pandora Papers.

Yet “the United States’ wealthiest citizens — including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post; Tesla founder Elon Musk; and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates — do not appear in the documents. Financial experts said billionaires in the United States tend to pay such low tax rates that they have less incentive to seek offshore havens,” The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The ICIJ, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, shared the documents with 150 media partners including the Post.

The investigation was based upon “the most expansive leak of tax haven files in history,” the ICIJ reported, and “reveal secret offshore holdings of more than 130 billionaires from 45 countries including 46 Russian oligarchs. In 2021, according to Forbes, 100 of the billionaires had a collective fortune of more than $600 billion. Other clients include bankers, big political donors, arms dealers, international criminals, pop stars, spy chiefs and sporting giants.”

While the ICIJ’s Pandora Papers database is not available to the public at this time, other investigations of similar nature the nonprofit conducted are, with one connecting three local addresses to the officers of offshore accounts. Merely being named, however, does not reflect the commission of a crime, the ICIJ said.

“There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts,” the ICIJ noted in a disclaimer to its database of prior investigations called the Panama Papers, the Offshore Leaks, the Bahamas Leaks and the Paradise Papers. “We do not intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

The Paradise Papers investigations, the results of which came out in November 2017, unearthed three Pitkin County addresses — one is located in Snowmass Village and two in Aspen. All three addresses are listed as the residences of officers of separate corporate entities established in Bermuda.

The Snowmass Village home was listed as the residence of the officer of a Bermuda foundation that existed from September 2007 to February 2008, according data from the Paradise Papers.

One of the Aspen properties was listed as a residential address for director and president of a hedge fund that incorporated in Bermuda in October 2004 and dissolved in March 2006.

The second Aspen property was listed as the residential address for a shareholder and the director and chairman of a corporation set up in Bermuda in September 2009. That corporation still exists.

Elsewhere in Carbondale, an office serves as the headquarters for the registered agent of a shareholder tied to a Bermuda account, a detail also revealed in the Paradise Papers.

The “Aspen” moniker is used by 87 offshore entities identified in the Panama and Paradise papers, and the Bahamas and Offshore leaks investigations, yet just one those entities’ officers who are named individually could be linked to an Aspen address.

That entity, Aspen Mountain Valley Inc., was established in January 2004 in the Bahamas by two individuals who rented property together in Aspen for one year, based on local property records.

Other entities — the Almonds of Aspen Ltd., Aspen Cat Fund Ltd., Aspen High Value Inc., for example — showed no affiliation, however loose, with the Colorado ski town.

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