July 26, 2011 in Business

Western resort developers want to join suit against Credit Suisse

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Skiers ride a lift at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Idaho, in March 2009. The resort shut down because of financial problems. The former board chairman has asked to intervene in a lawsuit against Credit Suisse claiming it caused the failure of the operation.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Two Western resort developers have filed to intervene in a pending lawsuit against Credit Suisse, charging the Swiss bank with fraud, conspiracy and more in a scheme they charge directly contributed to the financial failure of their resorts.

Alfredo Miguel, founder and former board chairman of Tamarack Resort in Idaho, and Tim Blixseth, founder and former manager and developer of the Yellowstone Club in Montana, want to join the suit filed in January 2010 by a group of property owners from those two resorts and two other failed luxury resorts.

The suit charged the second-largest bank in Switzerland with engaging in a “predatory” lending scheme designed to force all four resorts into foreclosure, and acquire the pricey properties for pennies on the dollar while raking in “enormous” fees. In addition to Tamarack and the Yellowstone Club, the federal suit covers Lake Las Vegas in Nevada and Ginn Sur Mer resort in the Bahamas.

The filings from Miguel and Blixseth charge that their resorts suffered “defaults and foreclosures caused directly by shoddy, deceitful, misleading and fraudulent appraisals deliberately inflated by appraisers and lenders resulting in catastrophe for lending institutions, innocent borrowers and other parties collaterally affected by defaulting loans secured by property such as vendors, contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, title insurance companies and purchasers of real estate.”

The scheme, according to the legal filings, involved a “new and exotic real estate loan product” that Credit Suisse developed in 2004, targeting owners of high-end real estate resort developments with the pitch that they could enjoy all the future profits and equity from their developments, much like homeowners at the time were tapping into their fast-rising home equities through loans. There were differences, though: little to no risk to Credit Suisse, potential huge profits for the bank when the loans failed, and the bigger the loans, the higher fees the bank made.

Plus, appraisal values for the properties were vastly inflated using a new methodology. As a result, the Yellowstone Club was appraised at $420 million in September 2004, but in July 2005 it was appraised at $1.165 billion. Tamarack was appraised at $284 million in December 2005, but one month later Credit Suisse told Miguel it was worth $1.5 billion.

The Swiss bank ran the huge loans through its Cayman Islands branch, which the new filings charge “consisted of a lonely PO box and no office personnel whatsoever,” stating, “The Cayman Island Branch of CSFB was an outright sham and subterfuge.”

Steven Vames, vice president for corporate communications for the bank, said, “Credit Suisse rejects Mr. Blixseth’s and Mr. Miguel’s entirely meritless allegations and their attempt to latch onto an existing suit which has already seen many of the plaintiffs’ claims dismissed. For Mr. Blixseth in particular, this is simply the latest attempt to shift blame to others and away from his own conduct.”

The lawsuit’s racketeering claim under the federal RICO Act, or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, was dismissed in March as not applicable to the case. Other claims, however, including charges of fraud, conspiracy, tortious interference and breach of fiduciary duty, were allowed to proceed.

The original lawsuit seeks $8 billion in actual damages and $16 billion in punitive damages, including $150 million each for the four communities impacted by the failed resort projects.

The new filings include an allegation that Credit Suisse and Highland Capital called Miguel to a meeting in Dallas in March of 2010, told him not to bring his lawyers, and leaned on him for $1.2 million saying that Highland Capital had a party who was “close to the FBI and was prepared to use ‘unorthodox methods’ to collect on the guaranty.”


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