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Eye On Boise

Prospective Tamarack buyer is first-hand familiar with bankruptcy

The head of a Salt Lake City-based real estate investment group that's now trying to buy bankrupt Tamarack Resort in Idaho lost his own $5 million private jet and $450,000 Mercedes sports car to bankruptcy, the AP reports; JT Bramlette told reporter John Miller, "If you want to refer to me as the comeback kid, you can." Click below to read Miller's full report.

Bankrupt Utah investor seeks comeback in ID resort
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A high-rolling Utah real-estate investor who lost his $5 million private jet and $450,000 Mercedes sports car to bankruptcy says that's no reason why he can't put together a deal to revive a bankrupt Idaho ski resort.

James Thomas Bramlette, 32, is leading investors with Salt Lake City-based Pelorus Group who have offered an undisclosed sum to buy the Tamarack Resort, 90 miles north of Boise.

Bramlette, who once claimed assets in the millions but financed his lavish pre-bankruptcy lifestyle by borrowing heavily to buy cars, planes and property, thinks he's the guy to resurrect the Idaho resort that's languished for two years under $300 million in debt.

"If you want to refer to me as the comeback kid, you can," Bramlette told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I'm just part of the team that's going to pull this off. We have to go in and prove to very smart people, some of whom are fiduciaries, who have to say, 'Yeah, they can do that.' We pass that scrutiny."

Bramlette, who goes by JT, has declined to name his Tamarack investors this week, but said Thursday that their purchase of the Arling Center, Tamarack's conference center, in late July is a sign of his group's serious intentions.

"There's been a lot of cheap talk out there," he said. "We stepped up."

His speedy rise in real-estate circles of the Rocky Mountain West seemed to parallel the industry's mercurial growth over the last decade, fueled by low interest rates, easy money and optimism that home prices would rise forever. The married father of three arrived in Salt Lake City in 2002 from Montana with no job, no formal college education — but high hopes.

"I knew a couple of guys here," Bramlette told lawyers in 2008. "I was working just any deal that I could."

Court records show lenders gave Bramlette millions to prop up his lifestyle, which came crashing down in 2008 as creditors came calling.

According to U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents obtained this week by the AP, the Montana-born Bramlette abandoned his $5.3 million Gulfstream III to creditors after October 2008. He says he also lost millions worth of Idaho property, his Mercedes MacLaren, and a $450,000 membership in the Utah Jazz 100 club, the pro basketball team's exclusive fan club.

The bankruptcy, from which he emerged in February 2009, is just part of Bramlette's financial woes that includes a federal lawsuit where plaintiffs say they were misled about another Idaho development. A trial is set for October.

Twenty-seven people contend they were duped by inflated real estate appraisals in Teton Springs, among other allegations. Susan Norton, a plaintiff from northern California, told the AP on Thursday she bought into Teton Springs and loaned Bramlette $250,000 for another investment she says was supposed to pay 20 percent interest.

She said she later went on a Caribbean cruise that was paid for by Bramlette's company to seek her money.

"I said, 'Why are you paying for this cruise? I'm not even getting payments. I want my money,'" Norton said.

Bramlette said he suffered the most in the deal, adding that his own Idaho holdings were sacrificed in his bankruptcy.

"I got caught in that horrific downturn," he said.

But Bramlette insists his bankruptcy won't play a role in Pelorus's ability to succeed in resuscitating Tamarack's fortunes.

"I'll admit freely right now that I'm not the financial strength behind the (Tamarack) project," he said. "I have investors that have been with me for many, many years."

Doug Dvorak, a Tamarack Municipal Association board member, said Bramlette's past financial turmoil is "disconcerting."

"Hopefully, they are going to be a buyer that has expertise, good management, integrity and is well-financed," he added.

Tamarack was the first new U.S. resort in decades when it opened in 2004. Its ski lifts have been shuttered since March 2009 after lenders led by Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group refused to pump in more cash as they try to recover hundreds of millions in unpaid loans.

Amid this fracas, tennis star Andre Agassi bailed from a proposed luxury hotel project on the site, and Tamarack's centerpiece village remains an unfinished hulk, battened down against the harsh Idaho mountain elements. A ski area consultant has said millions are necessary to lift "the smell of death" from the resort.

Jean-Pierre Boesplug, the resort's French-born majority owner, didn't return phone calls Thursday.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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