Police say they found a semi-infamous con man living in an Aspen shack

By Sadie Gurman

A longtime con man most famous for entering Princeton University in the late 1980s by posing as a self-taught ranch hand was arrested Thursday in Aspen, where he had been squatting in an illegally built shack on the side of a ski mountain in the tony resort town.

His arrest at the Pitkin County Library marked the latest chapter in a long history of fraudulent behavior by James A. Hogue, 57, who gave arresting officers a fake name before confessing his identity, Aspen police Detective Jeff Fain said.

The nationally known impostor was being held in the Pitkin County Jail on an outstanding Boulder County theft warrant, and police said he faces additional charges.

Hogue passed himself off as a high school student at age 26, said he was on the faculty at Stanford University to get a job as a running-class instructor in Vail, Colo., and lied his way into Princeton, among many other cons that landed him in prison more than once, The New York Times wrote in a 1991 story detailing his exploits.

Fain and other officers did not know they were dealing with Hogue when he first came to the attention of police in September, after Aspen Skiing Co. employees reported an illegally built shack on Aspen Mountain. Officers went to speak to the man inside, but he grabbed a go-bag, jumped out a window and disappeared into the woods.

He left behind an elaborate dwelling, complete with shelves, a cook stove and satellite radio and other creature comforts that suggested he had lived there for years. But when officers returned to dismantle it, “he had swept it clean,” Fain said. “There was nothing left.”

Skiing company employees this week again reported a man trying to build a new shack not far from the dismantled one. Officers tried to confront him, but he hid in the scrub oak.

Fain said he finally identified the man as Hogue through a check of his license plates.

“I Googled him and was like, wow, this guy is really interesting,” Fain said. “I want to meet him.”

Fain got his chance during a rambling 45-minute interview with Hogue after his Thursday arrest. “It was a bizarre conversation,” but Hogue revealed little about his deceptive past.

Fain said, “He really just kind of smirked a little and said, ‘It’s gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years.”