The law came down hard Tuesday on Marc Sessions Jenson, a key figure in a failed attempt to transform little Elk Meadows ski area into a $3.5 billion resort.
In the morning, the 51-year-old former Holladay resident was handcuffed in 3rd District Court and taken to Salt Lake County Jail after Judge Robin Reese determined he had failed to pay $4.1 million in restitution to two victims of an earlier unrelated fraud case, violating terms of a plea-in-abeyance agreement reached in May 2008. The judge set an October hearing to sentence him on three third-degree felony counts of selling unregistered securities.
Then, in the afternoon, the Utah Attorney General's Office filed eight second-degree felony counts in 3rd District Court against Jenson and 11 more against his brother Stephen Roger Jenson, 46, of Sandy, alleging communications fraud, money laundering and a pattern of unlawful activity in courting investors for the Mount Holly Club.
That was the name the Jensons attached to sleepy Elk Meadows, in the Tushar Mountains east of Beaver, which they envisioned turning into an exclusive, gated community with multimillion-dollar homes, a private ski area and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
An attempt late Tuesday to contact Marc Jenson's attorney, Rebecca Hyde, about the new charges was unsuccessful. Stephen Jenson also could not be reached for comment.
The new allegations contend that in 2007 and '08, the Jenson brothers enticed Jeffrey Donner, Tracy Fox and Shaun Rothwell to invest about $2.3 million into the Mount Holly Club with false information about the proposed luxury development.
The brothers then diverted the money to other accounts they controlled, the Attorney General's Office alleged, and used it to rent or lease expensive homes, buy "exotic" automobiles, take expensive vacations, make payments toward prior defaulted loans and pay legal fees associated with Marc Jenson's defense against fraud charges filed against him in 2005.
In that earlier case, the Attorney General's Office charged Marc Jenson with five counts of securities fraud and one count of racketeering involving funds he solicited in a scheme to buy a bicycle company in 2000. Eventually, Reese approved a plea-in-abeyance agreement in May 2008 that, in exchange for clearing his record of three felony counts, gave Marc Jenson three years to pay $4.1 million in restitution to two of his victims.
The agreement allowed Marc Jenson to remain a salesman for the Mount Holly Club, a job that conceivably would allow him to repay $2.5 million to Morris Ebeling and another $1.6 million to Michael Bodell, Salt Lake County men who had invested in the bicycle deal.
But the economy collapsed, the Jensons' Mount Holly Partners LLC declared bankruptcy in September 2009 and Marc Jenson had not repaid any money to Ebeling or Bodell by Tuesday. Although Jenson and his attorneys recently offered an interest in a Sun Valley luxury home that is on an online auction block, the proposal was rejected by Bodell, Ebeling and Assistant Attorney General Scott Reed, who argued "a promise to pay is not paying … [Jenson's] time is up. "
The judge concurred.
Reese said Marc Jenson's failure to pay restitution violated his agreementand set his sentencing for Oct. 24. In response to a request by Reed, and over the objections of defense attorney Hyde, Reese ordered Marc Jenson to be held in the Salt Lake County Jail until sentencing, with bail set at $500,000. If Marc Jenson posts bail, the judge added, he must surrender his passport.
Hyde had maintained Marc Jenson was not a risk to flee the country, citing his wife's battle against cancer in California, where they now live. She also contended his demeanor throughout lengthy legal proceedings was "congenial and professional."
But Reed said Utah law mandates that Marc Jenson be detained until sentencing. It is appropriate in this case, he added, because a "string of [civil] lawsuits" against Jenson across the West is evidence that the defendant is a "constant threat" to be involved in financial fraud.
Bodell, a general contractor who originally met Marc Jenson at church, said he was satisfied by Reese's decision. "I call Marc Jenson the 'Houdini of financial predators.' He uses smoke and mirrors to cover his trail," he said. "But it didn't work this time. … Thank God for a great judge."
Ebeling said he was "disappointed." Although he felt Marc Jenson got the punishment he deserved, Ebeling said "that doesn't give me any of my money back." And Ebeling is convinced Jenson has money stashed away, citing the lavish lifestyle the defendant maintained while his fraud case was pending.
"He could've made monthly payments and everything would have been OK," Ebeling said. "But I've not gotten one penny back in 11 years."
Hyde said the state made a mistake in not accepting Jenson's offer of a stake in the 9,200-square-foot home in Sun Valley, noting that it was once listed by Coldwell Banker as worth $6.9 million. She had tried to persuade the judge to defer action on Marc Jenson's case until seeing the outcome of an online auction that will end Wednesday evening.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, the top bid for the four-bedroom, five-bathroom house was $2.5 million.
"It will be interesting to see if the state, in 30 days [after the sale closes], has walked away from a substantial sum of money," Hyde said after the hearing, "and if it served the interests of its clients in this case."
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Marc and Stephen Jenson had big plans to turn Elk Meadows ski area, which had been idled in 2002, into the exclusive Mount Holly Club, with a projected value of $3.5 billion. It never materialized. After the Jensons' company lost the property in foreclosure, Elk Meadows reopened last winter as a public ski area called Eagle Point.