CEDAR -- A Las Vegas entrepreneur who said he wants to buy Sugar Loaf Resort has business ties to Remo Polselli, a convicted felon and the shuttered Leelanau County resort's former owner.
But Eneliko "Sean" Smith said he's "not a front man" for Polselli, whose wife still maintains a financial stake in Sugar Loaf.
Smith on Thursday said he's in talks with various parties who own portions of Sugar Loaf and he hopes to finalize all deals by month's end. His goal: open 100 rooms in the resort's hotel by July 4 and have ski lifts operating by December.
Sugar Loaf closed its doors in 2000 amid back-to-back poor snow seasons, and multiple attempts to reopen it failed.
Smith said he met Polselli in 2008 when Polselli attempted to buy a Las Vegas hotel Smith managed. The property ultimately went to another buyer.
Polselli, who owned the resort until 2003, said Smith's discovery of Sugar Loaf in February was "without a doubt" a coincidence, and Smith said his prior contact with Polselli was "serendipitous" when it came to ironing out purchase details.
Despite their relationship, Smith said he and Polselli won't be partners if he finalizes the Sugar Loaf deal.
"He's not a party in any way, shape or form. Nor does he want to be," Smith said.
Polselli's wife, Hanna Karcho Polselli, is a personal guarantor of the resort's mortgage with present owner Kate Wickstrom.
Remo Polselli turned over the property to a company operated by his wife after he pleaded guilty in 2003 to a federal tax evasion charge that earned him more than a year in prison. The company, known as SL 2002, sold the resort to Wickstrom in 2005 for $5.7 million.
Leonard Zedeck, an attorney and principal for Florida-based TransCapital Bank, which controls the mortgage on Sugar Loaf, did not return repeated calls for comment. Smith said TransCapital will finance his Sugar Loaf purchase.
Smith said Polselli gave him plenty of advice as he examined the resort.
"He understands that he made mistakes in the past, and he's counseled me through this ... he's been gracious enough to call me and say, 'Look, here's the things you want to avoid,'" Smith said. "He wants to see me succeed in this place."
Smith faces felony grand theft and embezzlement charges in California's El Dorado County after he allegedly failed to pay thousands of dollars in taxes on a hotel he owned there. His attorney said he worked out a deal with prosecutors and will plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
Some area residents are concerned with Smith's potential purchase of the resort, but he said he's committed to turning it into a viable, successful operation in short order.
"I want to tell them just to be patient and watch," he said.