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Skydiving in Winsted could continue, despite drug charges involving Westside Skydivers
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April 13, 2015

Dropzone manager Kristin Merritt hopes to run the business

By Starrla Cray
Associate Editor

WINSTED, MN – After Westside Skydivers owner Joe Johnson was indicted by a Colorado grand jury in March for his involvement in the state’s largest drug bust in 15 years, the City of Winsted has been faced with the question of what will happen to skydiving operations at the Winsted Municipal Airport.

Attorney Brian Toder of Chestnut Cambronne law firm in Minneapolis attended Tuesday’s council work session to present the possibility of dropzone manager Kristin Merritt taking over the skydiving business as a new entity.

“Kristin Merritt wants to form a new LLC altogether,” said Toder, who is Merritt’s attorney, and is also representing Joe Johnson in respect to the Colorado indictment.

Toder stated that Merritt had no knowledge of Johnson’s involvement with the marijuana ring.

“She may even go so far as to get a restraining order to keep Joe Johnson out,” Toder said, explaining that the company in California that leases planes to the skydiving operation does not want Johnson “anywhere near any of their airplanes.”

The skydiving operation was scheduled to have its first jumps of the season April 11, weather permitting.

According to city attorney Fran Eggert, the city can legally allow skydiving operations to take place; the contract is still valid, and Johnson is no longer a part of the business.

The council directed City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt to contact the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to request an investigation regarding Westside Skydivers’ involvement with the alleged drug trafficking organization.

The FAA can then decide if the actions Johnson took constitute wrongdoing within the confines of the contract with the city.

Toner said Merritt plans to attend the council’s next meeting, Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the potential for a new contract.

He described Merritt as a “wonderful person,” who has “the brains and ability” to keep the skydiving operation going.

“They employ 15 to 20 people every summer, some full time and some part time,” Toner said. “This all boils down to whether or not you want to keep skydiving at your airport. All it’s going to do is get better.”

An article about Westside Skydivers’ involvement in the Colorado marijuana ring was printed on page 1A of the March 30 edition of Herald Journal.Click here to see it online.

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