Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 24, 2013

Sugar Loaf ownership remains a mystery


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County officials may take the owners of a deteriorating ski resort to court over safety and building code violations -- if they can determine who owns the long-shuttered property.

Kate Wickstrom, the titular owner of Sugar Loaf ski resort near Cedar since 2005, said she let the property revert to former owner Remo Polselli about a year ago. Polselli, bought the property in 1997 and closed the 478-acre resort in 2000.

Eneliko "Liko" Sean Smith of Lake Tahoe, who has had a business relationship with Polselli, now claims to own the property. Wickstrom, of Empire, said she knows nothing about a sale and is offended every time her name appears in the same sentence with Smith, who tried to buy the property from her in 2010.

"I don't know what Remo and Liko have planned. I don't know what they are doing," Wickstrom said.

Polselli, who has a felony conviction for failing to pay federal taxes, now runs the New California Hotel Corp. in Laguna Beach, Calif. with projects pending in Orlando, Fla., Hilton Head, S.C., and in downstate Troy.

Polselli said he hasn't had an ownership interest in Sugar Loaf since 2003, and neither he nor his wife held Wickstrom's mortgage on the property.

"Liko Smith is in control of the property," Polselli said. "Kate lost a fortune on it, I lost a fortune on it, and now it's Liko's turn.

"Just kidding; he's got great ideas," Polselli added, before ending the interview.

Neighbors have complained about the safety of the unused resort's structures, and county officials want to inspect the buildings but need the owner's permission to enter the property. Wickstrom remains the owner of record on documents filed with the county register of deeds, but property tax payments over the last several years have come from bank accounts controlled by Polselli, said Chet Janik, Leelanau County administrator.

The county posted signs on the property that order the owner to respond to inspection demands by Nov 30. If no one steps forward with proof of ownership, county officials will seek a court order to inspect the property and eventually force compliance with building codes.

"This may force some of the issues," Janik said. "We might finally get a better understanding of who the owner is."

Smith contacted county building official Steve Haugen by phone after Haugen posted the notices Nov. 19, and offered to let Haugen inspect Sugar Loaf. But the offer was rescinded after Haugen told Smith he would need documentation that showed he controlled the property.

Law enforcement officials in the Lake Tahoe area also would like to meet with Smith, since a California judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest Sept. 12 on a probation violation.

Smith pleaded guilty in April 2010 to felony grand theft charges tied to his failure to pay about $92,000 in taxes on a California hotel he once owned. The court sentenced Smith to pay restitution and complete 320 hours of community service.

A judge revoked Smith's probation following an arrest for a second-offense driving under the influence of alcohol charge in the Las Vegas area, authorities in California said. Smith also still owes $146,000 in restitution, never completed his community service, and is not supposed to leave California.

"If you know where he is, we'd like to know," said Bill Clark, an assistant district attorney in El Dorado County, Calif. "Because there's ... still a warrant out for his arrest.

"How do you spell Leelanau?" Clark asked.

Smith could not be reached for comment.