June 22, 2018; Portland Press Herald
In Maine, where a nonprofit representing local residents, skiers, and businesspeople has been vying for some years to buy the Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort, a potential second chance for collective local ownership has emerged.
This second chance has surfaced through the arrest and incarceration of Sebastian Monsour, the CEO of the Majella Group, which had entered into a sales agreement for the tourist attraction. Monsour has been under a “long and protracted investigation” over the misuse of another $5 million investment.
Though a sales agreement exists with Majella, following the arrest, the nonprofit group is preparing to make another bid on the resort, which has been closed for three years after being unable to raise enough capital for a ski lift. The foundation had previously agreed to purchase the site for $6 million but had only raised $1 million when the Majella Group came in with a higher offer.
The ski area was to have reopened this past winter, but Monsour’s timing was off. In response to local concerns, he said in March, “We wouldn’t have spent this much money on planning it if we didn’t think it could work.…Our focus now is to get the deal done and get the mountain open.”
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Meanwhile, even though the local foundation returned the money it had raised after the sales agreement was reached with Majella, it did not drop its own planning work. Crystal Canney, executive director of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, said, “We’ve been working on a new business plan the past eight to 10 months. We wanted to be ready if the opportunity presented itself, and that’s why we continued to work on it. It’s no reflection on Majella. We continued to believe in this project.”
The Saddleback Mountain Foundation stayed together despite Saddleback being off the market. We never gave up. We care about the conservation and the economic development. And we still believe we have a place at the table.
Apparently, there were some signs that all was not well in the Majella deal.
Doubts about Monsour’s intentions for the ski area arose this year when he was quoted as saying that the reason he was buying the ski resort was for the US EB-5 visa program, in which entrepreneurs, their spouses and unmarried children under 21 are eligible to apply for green cards if they invest in certain US real estate projects that create jobs. The EB-5 program provides foreign investors with an expedited process to secure visas to live and work in the United States if they give at least $500,000 to a qualified project.
In an interesting confluence, Monsour has been arrested for fraud in connection with a lawsuit filed by a Chinese investor against Monsour late last year for misuse of an Australian visa program.—Ruth McCambridge