Suit accuses Maine developer of stealing as properties go to auction
A developer behind projects in the Maine cities of Portland and Saco has been sued by a business partner who alleges he "squandered, embezzled and stole" money from their company to pay personal debts and maintain a lifestyle he could not afford.
Meanwhile, development properties on Saco Island and in Portland's Bayside neighborhood are due to be sold at foreclosure auctions next week.
In the lawsuit against Bernard Saulnier, real estate broker John Veneziano says Saulnier took money from J&B Partners LLC, the business they created to develop projects in Portland and Saco, to pay for other business dealings and Saulnier's personal debt. The lawsuit was filed on June 17 in York County Superior Court.
"Mr. Saulnier has used J&B's assets to support a lifestyle that he could not otherwise afford, pay off personal debts, debts of Saulnier Development LLC, and, upon information and belief, debts of other entities he controls," Veneziano's attorney, William Gallitto of Bergen & Parkinson, wrote in the lawsuit.
Saulnier said during a brief phone call that he expects the lawsuit will be dismissed, and would not discuss it further. "There's nothing to comment on right now," he said.
Saulnier has completed developments in Saco and Old Orchard Beach and has approvals for two projects in Portland that include more than 70 units of housing that have yet to be built.
He won approval in 2017 to build 19 condos on Sheridan Street on Munjoy Hill, although that project was delayed to address concerns about blocking views from Fort Sumner Park. Saulnier also purchased a project on Chestnut Street that would allow for 53 apartments in a seven-story building next to an existing parking garage.
The properties were listed for sale in January, but Saulnier said at the time he was securing financing and taking them off the market.
The Chestnut Street property is now scheduled for public auction on June 9. The Sheridan Street property does not appear to be affected by the auction. Also headed to the auction block that day is land on Saco Island where Saulnier has proposed a large development project.
Saulnier announced plans in 2017 for a $40 million mixed-use development on the east side of Saco Island, but has not formally submitted plans for the project to the city. The project, called The Waters, would include residential units, a 50-room boutique hotel, a restaurant and retail space, a 69-slip marina and a walking path along the river. The housing would be split among three buildings with a combined 87 apartment units and five townhouses, according to plans Saulnier released last year.
Saulnier and J&B Partners LLC defaulted on the mortgage for the Saco Island site in January and a public auction of that 6-acre parcel of land was postponed twice since then to allow more time to pay back the lender.
Clifford Ruprecht, listed in the lawsuit as Saulnier's attorney, did not respond to an interview request.
The lawsuit says Veneziano, of Medford, Mass., met Saulnier in 2017 and visited Maine, where Saulnier showed him projects he was developing in Old Orchard Beach and Saco. Saulnier told Veneziano he could develop multiple projects in southern Maine if he had additional funding and Veneziano could have the real estate listings when the projects were complete, according to the lawsuit.
"Mr. Veneziano believed Mr. Saulnier was a capable business man, was impressed by the range of projects he had worked on, and understood, based on Mr. Saulnier's own representations, that he was a knowledgeable developer in southern Maine. Therefore, Mr. Veneziano afforded Mr. Saulnier a high level of trust in their business arrangements," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that after Veneziano raised $6 million for J&B Partners, Saulnier had done little to develop J&B's projects and "squandered, embezzled and stole" its liquid capital by paying off his personal debts and those of Saulnier Development LLC. Gallitto says in the lawsuit that ledgers produced by bookkeepers "clearly demonstrate that Mr. Saulnier has been embezzling and stealing money from the J&B since its inception." The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount in damages or say how much money was allegedly stolen.
After Veneziano and Saulnier formed J&B Partners, Saulnier would request money "under the guise that it was for development of the properties" and Veneziano would secure the funds via loans to J&B from various private lenders, according to the lawsuit. The money lent to the partnership included a loan of more than $1 million from Veneziano and $500,000 from his mother, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit alleges that Saulnier became evasive about selling J&B properties, slowed down sales by not providing information and took money from the corporation for his own personal use and for other business entities.
The lawsuit outlines a number of ways Saulnier allegedly misused J&B Partners' money, including making withdrawals of $91,500 in 2017 and $169,202 in 2018. It also alleges Saulnier twice paid property taxes in Old Orchard Beach even though J&B Partners doesn't own property there; twice made payments of $10,000 to the person who holds mortgages on properties owned by Saulnier's other business entities; and paid $60,000 to the company that owns the property that is Saulnier's primary residence.
Gallitto said that he and his client could not talk about the lawsuit.
"Unfortunately, I cannot substantively comment on a case currently in litigation, but the allegations in the complaint speak for themselves," Gallitto said.
According to the lawsuit, Veneziano has personally paid debts for J&B Partners to prevent foreclosures and legal actions on money owed by the LLC.
The lawsuit asks the court to award Veneziano compensatory and punitive damages, and order Saulnier to buy Veneziano's shares of the corporation at fair market value. It also asks the court to prevent Saulnier and Saulnier Development LLC from taking any action on behalf of J&B Partners, order the dissolution of the corporation, enter a decree dissolving the corporation and allow the parties to sell the corporation at fair market value.
Saulnier has not filed a response to the lawsuit with the court.