December 13, 1997 in Nation/World

Fugitive Leaves Mullan In Lurch Mom’s Cafe Owner Sought For Embezzlement Disappears From Seattle Home

Brian Coddington The Associated Press Contributed Staff writer
 

Federal agents are searching for the owner of a Mullan cafe who left a note at his Seattle real estate office apologizing for embezzling money from his clients.

The two-page, handwritten note reportedly outlines how much money Michael T. Martin took from whom before disappearing Monday from his Seattle home. The FBI has not released the exact amount of money it believes was taken, but published reports put the figure at more than $100,000.

FBI supervisor Jason Moulton said the final tally probably will exceed that amount.

It was not known whether any of the 41 investors in Mom’s of Mullan cafe are among Martin’s swindled clients. Mom’s closed suddenly this week and cafe employees have not been paid for their work.

“It’s closed, they weren’t paid and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Mike Renteria, whose wife, Joanie, managed the cafe.

Martin, who as a boy spent summers at his grandmother’s home in Mullan, bought the downtown cafe, an old drugstore and four empty lots three years ago.

He began restoring the old Harwood Drugstore’s upstairs apartment for a part-time home. In a 1995 interview with The Spokesman-Review, Martin said he planned to use his Mullan home as a getaway, flying from Seattle to Spokane every other weekend and driving over to the mountain community near the Montana border.

At the time, Martin said his company managed 8,000 rental units and 10 million square feet of commercial property.

The Mullan cafe got off to a rocky start when the state Securities Division issued a cease-and-desist order against Martin in January 1995. The agency accused Martin of selling unregistered securities and violating disclosure regulations, after collecting $117,000 from 41 investors in Mom’s.

Deborah Bortner, assistant state securities director, said Martin recently paid restitution to the investors.

Mom’s employees were given little explanation for the latest trouble.

“All I know is that my wife is out of a job, and so are three other ladies,” said Renteria, who refused to say how long it had been since employees were paid.

A federal judge in Seattle was asked Friday afternoon to issue an arrest warrant for Martin, 43, on charges of wire and mail fraud, Moulton said. Agents believe Martin embezzled money from more than 20 clients of Michael T. Martin Real Estate.

“The note contained admissions of embezzlements from various accounts that he had authority over,” Moulton said.

FBI agents are studying the note, which was addressed to Valerie Zifka, a bookkeeper for Martin’s real estate company. Zifka found it on a desk in the office Monday.

“(I) believe that it is no longer a question of if I will go to jail but when,” the note said. “I confess to you and my wife, Kathy Martin, that not only am I a total failure, but I am also a thief and an embezzler.”

Martin also wrote that he intended “to pay back all investors and clients. I just can’t do this from prison. I figure I will be away for about three years.

“At least this way I can pay back those who I owe and/or took money from. I have been such a fraud for both you and Kathy. I am so sorry I betrayed the trust that you both had placed in me. I am such a loser.”

Agents searched through records and questioned employees and clients Wednesday at Martin’s offices in Seattle. They also checked his home.

The FBI has advised other law enforcement agencies, including the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Department, that Martin may be driving a white Ford, 15-passenger van or a 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora, Moulton said. The van has Washington license plate 458 HUO.

Anyone with information about where Martin may be is asked to call the FBI’s Seattle office at (206) 622-0460, or to e-mail the FBI at sqd8.se@fbi.gov.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Brian Coddington Staff writer

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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