The founder of an Oregon yoga studio who posed as an FBI agent to assault and threaten to kill employees of a Boulder web-design firm over a business disagreement was sentenced to 35 years in prison Friday.
Daniel Shea, 46, pleaded guilty in March to burglary, kidnapping, extortion and three crime of violence sentence enhancers, with attorneys agreeing on a stipulated sentence range of 25 to 40 years.
While prosecutors asked for 40 years, defense attorneys asked for 25 and the probation department recommended 30, Boulder District Judge Andrew Macdonald went with 35 years followed by 5 years of parole for a case that he called “one of the strangest scenarios I’ve ever seen.”
“I don’t know what else to say other than, ‘Why? What?’” Macdonald said. “This is the type of thing that is in a scary mystery novel or bad horror movie.”
Shea, who was already in custody, gave a tear-filled apology to the court before his sentence.
“No words are sufficient to express the regret I feel for the reprehensible crime I committed,” Shea said. “Their experience was akin to a nightmare from which they could not wake.”
According to an arrest affidavit, two workers at the Goozmo web-design firm in Boulder were in their office at 1645 Canyon Blvd. on Feb. 9, 2018, when they took a meeting with a man who at the time only identified himself as “Davy.”
Shea then entered the building dressed in an “FBI uniform” — described as a raid vest with tactical gear, including a Taser, a knife and a gun in a holster — and along with “Davy” handcuffed the two men.
The two Goozmo employees said Shea had contracted them for a project involving his company, Yogible, which described itself as a yoga travel and teaching company.
According to the affidavit, Shea said the $30,000 he spent on the project had “ruined his life,” and demanded Goozmo repay him. The two employees told police Shea used a stun gun on them and threatened them with both a handgun and a knife — and said he’d hired people to kill their families.
Shea demanded $50,000 from the men — $30,000 to reimburse him for the project and $20,000 to pay for the hitmen he claimed he’d hired, though police do not believe any hitmen were actually hired.
“Imagine the kind of terror they felt,” Deputy District Attorney Ryan Day said. “Those scars, that trauma, will follow the victims the rest of their lives.”
Shea — who is from Oregon — was arrested in Lyons two days after the incident. “Davy” was later identified as a man named John Sweeney, and Sweeney was arrested in Oregon in April 2018 and extradited back to Colorado.
Police said Shea befriended Sweeney, who is autistic, at a mixed martial arts gym in Oregon and recruited him to assist with the attack under the guise of helping to pull off a “sick joke on Shea’s friends.”
Day said that Sweeney was also a victim of Shea in a way. Sweeney pleaded guilty and was sentenced to work release and probation for his role.
“Mr. Sweeney is autistic, and enjoyed working with kids teaching martial arts,” Day said. “Now he’s a felon, and may never be able to work with kids again.
“While he certainly bears responsibility for this, there is no doubt Mr. Shea targeted him because he was someone easy to manipulate and easy to bring into this scheme.”
Day also said that while Shea confessed and pleaded guilty, Day felt he was still not accepting full responsibility by blaming the incident on drug use, concussions and mental health issues. But Day noted Shea had a stable life, a good upbringing, and a supportive spouse and network of friends.
“This was a deliberate abandonment of a good life in order to inflict fear and torture,” Day said. “This wasn’t a mental health break, it wasn’t an action to get a fix for a drug addiction, it wasn’t something he accidentally stumbled into in a blurry fog. It was a crime he planned for two months.”
Even Macdonald kept expressing how shocking the thought-out nature of the crime was, despite the lack of any apparent endgame.
“This is the most inexplicable crime I’ve ever seen, but also one of the most well-thought out inexplicable crimes I’ve ever seen,” Macdonald said. “Again, for what? And why?”
Shea’s defense attorney Jennifer Kilpatrick said the drugs and mental health issues were not an excuse, just simply an effort to figure out why a man with no criminal history suddenly committed such a violent act.
“We worked together to try to figure out why this happened,” Kilpatrick said. “The honest truth is that Mr. Shea had been a hyper-masculine guy and he wanted to be successful and play the part. But that was somewhat of an illusion, and he didn’t know how to admit he was a failure.”
“The idea of being financially broke was embarrassing and was the trigger for this.”
Whatever the cause, Macdonald urged Shea to use his time in prison to address some of his issues.
“Yoga and massage therapy is not something I would associate with this crime,” Macdonald said. “I really hope you figure this out, and figure out what happened here.
“But whatever happened here, it has to be punished.”