The Mystery of Pai

He came. He saw. He bought a mountain. But can Lou Pai make peace with his neighbors?

A month earlier, rancher Andrés Montoya had a tense encounter with another Pai employee, the culmination of a series of disputes over fences and grazing areas. Montoya approached the man's pickup truck after the employee chased Montoya's pregnant cows from a neighbor's field in the Aspen Highlands subdivision.

"I told him, 'You're pushing my cows too hard. What's your problem? You don't own the property,'" Montoya says. "He started calling me names -- you know, 'f-you' this and that, 'f-ing Mexican.' I told him he had no right to talk to me like that. That's when he pulled a big revolver and told me he was going to blow my head away.

"He was trying to provoke me. I used my better judgment. A guy pulls a hogleg on you, what do you do? I told him, 'You're pretty bad with a gun, ain't you?' About that time, my son pulled up. He put the gun back down. He didn't know what my son had.

Jay Bevenour
This land is my land: The Taylor property includes 
Culebra Peak, one of Colorado's prized fourteeners.
photo courtesy of La Sierra
This land is my land: The Taylor property includes Culebra Peak, one of Colorado's prized fourteeners.

"I called the sheriff. They didn't show up. I filed a report. They went and arrested this man."

But the charges against the employee were dropped, and Montoya was subsequently charged with harassment and menacing. Montoya represented himself in court, and a jury found him not guilty on all charges. The sheriff and undersheriff involved in the investigation are no longer in office, following a recall campaign last year triggered by citizen complaints about overzealous enforcement actions ("The Siege," June 21, 2001). But Montoya is still seething over the letters written by Pai's attorneys to the district attorney, urging his prosecution.

"They tried to portray me as this violent, aggressive person," he says. "That's nothing but a lie. But they did influence the prosecutor. I think they're trying to intimidate people any way they can."

Montoya says he's had to reduce his herd by two-thirds over the years because of his lack of access to mountain pastures. He's seen neighbors in the same downward spiral who ended up selling their land to Pai. Others have signed waivers, relinquishing their claims as herederos to historic use rights, in exchange for being allowed to obtain grazing leases on the ranch.

Montoya refuses to sign. He says he'll find out this spring if he's going to have renewed struggles over grazing in the subdivision. "I haven't had any further discussion with them, other than dirty looks and hard feelings," he says.

Barron acknowledges that it's ranch policy to require neighbors to sign away their land-grant claims in order to obtain grazing leases. "We don't do business with people who are suing us," he says.

Two years ago, Pai requested a meeting with Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar to discuss the future of the ranch. Pai assured Salazar that his primary interest was in preserving the ranch and using it for his family. He wanted to know if the attorney general "had some ideas for him on how he might be able to bring about a peaceful co-existence with the community," Salazar recalls.

"I told him if there was a way he could provide access to the community, the opportunity for the community to exercise the historic use rights, that would be the right direction," he says. "He said at the time that he would explore those ideas."

Pai's ranch manager says his boss has a "soft spot" for young people and seniors and wants to help the community with donations to worthwhile programs. But any discussion of some kind of easement for herederos isn't on the table -- if it ever was.

"It's private property," Barron declares. "Mr. Pai paid for it. Mr. Taylor paid for it. We expect a decision from the Colorado Supreme Court [on the appeal] any day now. If they lose, we expect them to appeal it further...but there's no way to settle it. There's no one with the authority to settle it, so we expect it to go on."

On February 25, 2000, Lou Pai sold 10,000 shares of Enron stock at $65.04 a share, yielding proceeds of $650,400.

On March 7, 2000, Lou Pai sold 100,000 shares of Enron stock at $72.02 a share, for a total of $7,202,000.

On March 22, 2000, Lou Pai sold 1,760,500 shares of Enron stock at $74.57 a share. Total return: $131,280,480.

Over the next two months, Lou Pai sold nearly two million additional shares of stock, worth more than $130 million.

During a single week in May 2001, shortly before he retired from his position at Enron, Pai cashed in additional shares worth more than $70 million.

Virtually all of the transactions involved restricted shares -- that is, shares of stock that had been issued to Pai as part of a compensation package or offered to him at a fraction of their selling price under the company's stock-option deals for top insiders.

In the midst of these bouts of high finance, a man who worked for one of Pai's subcontractors on the ranch asked his boss for a raise. The employee was being asked to spend long hours on the road, driving between Pai's Colorado property and a ranch the executive owned in New Mexico, and he figured it was only fair that his wages be increased from eight to ten dollars an hour, to help cover gas and mileage.

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