Koch Brother William Koch: Kidnapping Suit Against Aspen Billionaire Tossed

William Koch. Additional images and more below.
William Koch. Additional images and more below.

Back in 2012, we told you about a bizarre lawsuit filed against Aspen billionaire William Koch — kin to Charles and David, the conservative powerhouses known collectively as the Koch Brothers — by Kirby Martensen, a disgruntled former employee that accused William of kidnapping.

Three years later, a federal judge has dismissed the complaint. But given the strange claims detailed in documents and more below, it's impressive that the suit stayed alive so long.

William is certainly not as well known as Charles and David, with whom he's reportedly had a strained relationship as a result of what the Aspen Times describes as "business-related fallouts and feuds." But he's certainly no piker. The Times estimates his worth at $3.2 billion.

How does he spend his money? In part on Old West goodies, of which he's an avid collector. In June 2011, for instance, William made a splash in the memorabilia market when he purchased the only known photo of Billy the Kid at a Denver auction for an astonishing $2 million. 

William Koch paid $2 million for the only known photo of Billy the Kid.
William Koch paid $2 million for the only known photo of Billy the Kid.
File photo

In a post about the buy, our Alan Prendergast provided this info about its background, and that of its purchaser:

Billy paid about two bits to have his picture taken outside a saloon in Fort Sumner around 1879, when he was twenty and already calling himself a "Regulator" in the bloody Lincoln County War. Researchers say there were four tintypes originally, but only one survives, handed down from generation to generation by descendants of the friend Billy gave it to.

How fitting, then, that one of the most famous photos to emerge from the West's wildest days should end up (after a billion percent markup in value) in the well-manicured hands of Koch, one of the heirs to a vast financial empire based on oil refining and extraction industries, the kind of activities that tamed (and, yes, tainted) the West at last. Koch describes himself as "retired" — he sold out his interest in Koch Industries years ago, and it's his siblings, Charles and David, who get all the press for funding conservative causes and drawing protesters. But he still has his hobbies.

Indeed he does. A couple of months after his Billy the Kid investment, he picked up all of Bucksin Joe , a town outside Canon City.

A Buckskin Joe keepsake.EXPAND
A Buckskin Joe keepsake.

Here's some history on the property shared by Patricia Calhoun in a separate post:

Back in 1957, boosters — including Karol Smith, who later founded the Colorado Film Commission, the first state film commission in the country — bought the remains of the original Buckskin Joe, an early gold camp two miles outside of Alma, and reassembled them, along with two dozen other buildings from old ghost towns, at the edge of the Royal Gorge as a set for Western movies. The movies filmed there ranged from the first True Grit, starring John Wayne, to the truly dreadful The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, starring Goldie Hawn and George Segal.

Almost a century before, the original Buckskin Joe had seen its own share of stars. Horace and Augusta Tabor had run a store and the post office there before moving on to Leadville, where Horace amassed a huge fortune and dumped Augusta. Silver Heels, the prostitute with the heart of gold, had reportedly nursed minors through an outbreak of smallpox there in 1862, then disappeared into legend. And although some of the town's more civilized residents had tried to name the place Laurette, it could never shake the Buckskin Joe moniker inspired by Joseph Higgenbottom, the buckskin-wearing prospector who found gold in the area in 1859.

What's the Buckskin Joe connection to the lawsuit?

In his lawsuit, Kirby Martensen, a onetime employee of the Koch-owned firm Oxbow Carbon, maintained that he was held for hours against his will at Bear Ranch, a spread not far from Paonia that features many of the buildings from Buckskin Joe.

Bear Ranch Properties.
Bear Ranch Properties.

The allegations are sketched out in the two court documents on view below. Here's a summary from the one issued in 2014:

Defendant Koch received an anonymous letter in early 2011 that implicated Mr. Martensen and another employee in theft, breaches of fiduciary duty, fraud, and self-dealing against Oxbow. Based on this letter, Mr. Koch engaged the consulting firm Grant Thornton to conduct a comprehensive forensic review of thousands of documents, including letters, memoranda, and electronic corporate communications involving Plaintiff and several other employees. Mr. Martensen contends that through this review, Mr. Koch learned that Plaintiff and others had expressed concern over the legality of the company's tax strategy following the reorganization, and distrusted Oxbow upper management. Plaintiff further alleges that as a result of this forensic review, he was falsely imprisoned at Bear Ranch by Mr. Koch with the intention to intimidate him and chill his speech. Bear Ranch is located in a remote corner of Gunnison County, Colorado, approximately seventy miles from Aspen, Colorado, and is accessible only by a guarded, private road owned and maintained by Defendant. On the morning of March 21, 2012, Mr. Martensen flew from San Francisco to Aspen where Defendant Koch met and drove him, along with others, to Bear Ranch.

Upon arriving, the guests learned that cellular service and internet access were not available at the Ranch. After lunch on March 22, 2012, Mr. Koch informed Plaintiff and others that a compensation specialist would conduct interviews as part of a "360 degree peer review." Thereafter, Defendant's agents interviewed Mr. Martensen in an office building for several hours, during which they accused Plaintiff of endeavoring to defraud Defendant and Oxbow, accepting bribes, and aiding Oxbow's competitors. Mr. Martensen learned that Mr. Koch knew of his aborted plan to leave Oxbow and form a competitor company, and that Defendant believed Plaintiff had colluded with a competitor.After the interview concluded at approximately 5:00 p.m., Defendant's agents escorted Mr. Martensen to his cabin so that he could pack his belongings. On the way, Plaintiff was served with termination papers and a lawsuit, Oxbow Carbon, LLC et al. v. Martensen et al., (hereinafter "the Florida Action"), which had been filed in Circuit Court, Palm Beach County, Florida that same morning. Mr. Koch's agents searched Plaintiff's belongings while he packed, and then drove him to a cabin elsewhere on the Ranch where he was told to wait. Mr. Martensen was told, "A sheriff is here to make sure you don't wander off," and Plaintiff could see a uniformed police officer in a parked patrol car from the cabin room in which he waited. Plaintiff spent three hours in the cabin before Defendant's agents escorted him to a vehicle. Mr. Martensen was instructed to sit in the back of the vehicle along with a former co-worker, Wenming "Charlie" Zhan. Plaintiff asked the driver to take him to the airport in Aspen where he was scheduled to board a flight the following morning. The driver refused and drove Plaintiff and Zhan to a private airport outside of Denver. The drive from Bear Ranch lasted five hours, and the vehicle arrived at the airport at approximately 2:00 a.m. on the morning of March 23. Martensen and Zhan were told to board a private plane that was owned by Defendant and Oxbow. A pilot, co-pilot, and escort were waiting on the plane for Plaintiff and Zhan. The escort was a retired Florida police officer whom Mr. Martensen believed was armed with a weapon. The private plane arrived at an airport in Oakland, California at approximately 4:00 a.m. on the morning of March 23. One of the agents instructed Mr. Martensen to ride in a vehicle that would take him to a nearby hotel, but Plaintiff refused the directive and hailed a taxi to drive him to his home in Berkeley, California.

In the suit, Martensen sought economic recompense, as well as non-economic monies for "fear, anxiety, humiliation and emotion distress" and "exemplary damages" for alleged actions and/or omissions by William that "were willful, wanton, reckless, malicious, oppressive and/or done with a conscious or reckless disregard" for his rights.

William counter-charged that Martensen was guilty of "fraud, self-dealing and participation in a fraudulent scheme against the Oxbow Companies."

In the end, however, these assorted accusations came to nothing. As noted by the Times, U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn gave the case the heave-ho after both William and Martensen asked that it be put out of its misery. Both sides will cover their own court costs and the like "except as otherwise agreed among the parties."

Blackburn dismissed the case with prejudice — a designation that prevents Martensen from refiling it in the future and leaves William to indulge his interest in Wild West criminals without a ruling that implies he belongs in their company.

Here's a 2012 CBS4 report about the case, followed by court documents from 2013 and 2014.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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