Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

April 6, 2010

Sugar Loaf buyer faces charges in Calif.

TRAVERSE CITY -- A Las Vegas entrepreneur who plans to buy Leelanau County's long-shuttered Sugar Loaf Resort faces multiple criminal charges in California, though he contends he's "not a crook."

Eneliko "Sean" Smith said he plans to spend about $10 million to buy the resort and open at least a portion of it by July 4. But he faces felony grand theft and embezzlement charges in California's El Dorado County, and is the subject of numerous derisive Internet postings about past business endeavors.

On Monday, Smith said "everybody makes mistakes," and said he remains committed to the Sugar Loaf purchase.

"If the citizens of Leelanau County and Traverse City want that place open; I'm the guy to do it," he said.

The once-popular Sugar Loaf resort covers several hundred acres in Cleveland and Centerville townships. It closed in 2000 amid a sea of financial troubles and back-to-back poor snow seasons. Attempts to reopen it never materialized.

Smith, who owns and operates several hotels, was charged in California in 2008 after he allegedly failed to pay about $92,000 in taxes on a hotel he owns in South Lake Tahoe, police there said.

A spokesman for El Dorado's district attorney didn't return repeated calls for comment, but Smith's attorney, William Cole, said a plea is scheduled in the case. Smith will pay the back taxes and plead to a misdemeanor, Cole said.

Leelanau County Commissioner Melinda Lautner wonders how plenty of red flags went unnoticed as Sugar Loaf's owners and some county officials touted Smith as an ideal buyer.

"I'm greatly concerned that there are people in our county that were this far along in agreements and plans, etcetera, and hadn't even Googled the guy," she said. "I'm kind of stunned."

Still, Lautner said, concerned county officials won't have much say in the matter if Smith doesn't opt to use brownfield dollars or other public incentives.

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