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Would-be Tamarack buyer’s trial opens in federal court

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jury selection is complete in a case where a retirement fund trustee is fighting federal prosecutors' claims he stole money from clients to help finance his failed bid to buy an Idaho ski resort. Matthew Hutcheson's trial in U.S. District Court in Boise began Wednesday and may last until April 19. He is accused of stealing $5 million to help buy Tamarack Resort, where President George W. Bush vacationed and where tennis great Andre Agassi tried building a luxury hotel. Hutcheson was indicted in 2012, on 31 federal counts. Prosecutors aim to convince a jury Hutcheson took retirees' money, to enrich himself and to buy financially-crippled Tamarack in Donnelly. Hutcheson, an independent fiduciary from Eagle, argues he acted in a “legal manner” in discharging duties as a retirement account trustee.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
  


Wire fraud trial begins for Idaho resort suitor
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A retirement trustee accused of stealing $5.3 million to enrich himself and buy an Idaho ski resort may have made unsuccessful investments, but he broke no laws, his government-appointed lawyer told jurors.

Matthew Hutcheson, whose U.S. District Court trial in Boise started Wednesday and may last until April 19, is charged with 17 counts of wire fraud, each carrying up to 20 years in prison.

He's charged with stealing from two retirement accounts starting in 2010, to buy luxury cars, including a Range Rover and BMW convertible, remodel his home and win control of Tamarack Resort, where President George W. Bush vacationed and where tennis great Andre Agassi once tried building a luxury hotel, but which has since fallen into hard times.

Hutcheson's lawyer, Samuel Richard Rubin, told jurors his client bought automobiles and fixed up his house — adding a horse barn and pool, among other things — to help prove he was a man of sufficient substance to buy Tamarack to potential outside investors, including those he was picking up at the airport.

“Put them in nice vehicles, take them to a nice home, you entertain them at the home, and then you take them to this incredible resort,” Rubin said, during Wednesday's opening arguments. “The house and the vehicle were only the first step to impress investors,” to get them to invest in Tamarack.

Prosecutors insist Hutcheson took retirees' money to bolster his personal wealth and buy financially-crippled Tamarack, including its Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, for himself.

“He took from these people's future, just so he could enjoy his present,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Patricco said. “During this trial, we will prove to you the defendant's promises were not true.”

When it opened in 2004, Tamarack Resort billed itself as the first new U.S. ski resort in a quarter-century. Vacation homebuyers spent hundreds of thousands or millions at resort auctions, for property on Idaho's Lake Cascade, 90 miles north of Boise.

President Bush vacationed at the resort in August 2005; that fall, Agassi announced a boutique hotel project.

But the resort's French-born majority owner, Jean-Pierre Boespflug, in 2008 defaulted on loans and penalties now exceeding $300 million with a syndicate led by investment bank Credit Suisse. With that, Tamarack became another slice of the Zurich-based investment bank's disastrous mid-2000s foray into luxury-resort lending that included Utah's Promontory, Montana's Yellowstone Club, and Nevada's Lake Las Vegas.

At Tamarack, Agassi abandoned the hotel; meanwhile, Boespflug disappeared, likely somewhere in Europe, to avoid his debts.

Hutcheson, an independent fiduciary from Eagle, emerged in public view in November 2010, scheduling a press conference to announce his $40 million bid to the Credit Suisse-led syndicate for Tamarack. He characterized himself as its savior, somebody to not only revive the resort's flagging fortunes — it's still in foreclosure — but also resuscitate the region's economy.

Now, prosecutors plan to spend the next two weeks telling jurors his bid was meant to pad his own wallet, financed on the backs of unwitting retirees and predicated on lies.

Hutcheson “did not have $40 million to buy Tamarack,” Patricco told jurors. “So the defendant decided to make a fateful choice: He decided to forge some of those documents.”

Patricco may call 33 witnesses, the first of whom, Judy Thompson of Yakima, Wash., said Wednesday she once trusted Hutcheson to oversee the retirement accounts of her family's small audiology business.

Instead, she no longer has access to more than $900,000, she said.

“He told us our funds were not liquid,” Thompson remembered from an August 2011 phone call with Hutcheson. “I asked him why the funds weren't liquid… and he said, 'Because of the ups and downs in the economy.' ”

Thompson, who by that September figured her money was “gone,” was among retirees who reported Hutcheson to the federal U.S. Department of Labor, starting the investigation that led to this criminal case.

Hutcheson also plans to call a handful of witnesses, according to his attorneys' plans, including his father-in-law, Brad Mason, under whose supervision he's been since his release from federal custody after his April 2012 indictment.

In his opening argument, Rubin told jurors they weren't tasked with deciding if Hutcheson made poor investment decisions or was “crazy,” only to decide if he intentionally sought to defraud retirees.

He didn't, Rubin said, so they should deliver a “not guilty” verdict.

“Every intention he had (was) for this to succeed, so he could bring a wonderful return to the participants… for their future years,” Rubin said.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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