Candidate for Belknap County commissioner on record owing nearly $3 million to creditors in 2011
By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
ALTON — Controversy surrounding the multiple bankruptcy filings – including one in 2011 for almost $3 million – of Jonathan Smolin, candidate for the Republican nomination for Belknap County Commissioner for District 3, continues to mount.
Smolin has said that the bankruptcy filings are the result of "severe medical problems affecting my father and my wife," but that account is being questioned by, among others, Norman Silber of Gilford, a candidate for a legislative seat and a member of the Gilford Planning Board.
A 2011 bankruptcy filing listed $2,869,578.77 in creditors holding secured claims, with $2,642,878.77 of that listed as the unsecured portion.
Among the unsecured claims was $740,000 for a 2005 Prevost Legendary Motor Coach, which was valued at $1.5 million by the Arkansas National Bank of Bentonville, Arkansas. Other auto loan deficiencies included $78,270 for an auto purchased on May 2, 2004, $56,409 for an auto purchased on April 2, 2004, $87,416 for an auto purchased on May 2, 2006, and $125,907 for an auto purchased on May 2, 2006, all which were repossessed. Also repossessed was a 2000 Volvo 770 tractor valued at $32,456 and vehicles purchased on Fed. 2, 2005 valued at $14,462 and May 2, 2005, valued at $27,107.
Other repossessed vehicle included three purchased June 2, 2006 valued at $69,866, $40,696 and $50,199 and one purchased on July 2, 2006, valued at $38,199.
In 2008, his bankruptcy filing was objected to in Maine Bankruptcy Court by the John Deere company. The company's filing said that Smolin had represented to the company on Sept. 22, 2004, that his annual income was $725,000 when he purchased a tractor loader backhoe, flail mower and sweeper. The payoff due on Feb. 20 of 2008 was $54,330. The filing also said that Smolin had confirmed under oath that the tractor had been sold for $20,000 but wouldn't provide information on who he had sold it to or where it was located.
Silber attended a meeting in Gilford in early July along with other Republican candidates for legislative seats from Gilford and Meredith which Smolin also attended, at which a joint advertising venture of the candidates and Smolin was discussed. But, in a letter published in Friday's Laconia Daily Sun, Silber said he now feels betrayed by Smolin, who led him to believe that the only reason Smolin had filed for bankruptcy was that he had become overwhelmed by medical bills for treatment of his father and wife.
Silber, an attorney who is a member of the New Hampshire and Florida bars, said that a close reading of the court records shows that Smolin breached his fiduciary duties to his wife's elderly grandfather and exercised undue influence over him to obtain valuable property, resulting in a $210,000 judgment against him in a Maine probate court. The probate court judgment has now grown to $295,000 with interest costs, and Silber noted that a federal bankruptcy court rejected a plan proposed by Smolin to pay the debt for having been filed in bad faith.
Smolin has not replied to phone calls seeking his comment on the situation, but his wife, Dianna, in a letter published in Tuesday's Laconia Daily Sun, defended her husband and said that the court documents are "missing a lot of details" and do not explain how her grandfather came to be living with them when he had six adult children who could have taken him in and "do not mention the $225,000 stolen from us."
She also wrote that anyone who has a question or concern about his past situation should ask him. "He is an open book and anyone who knows him is well aware of anything that has been printed in the press the past few weeks."
Also questioning Smolin's account of his bankruptcy is Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) the current District 3 commissioner, who is running for a two-year term representing Meredith, Alton, Gilford and Center Harbor. He says that the judgment against Smolin is not recent development and that Smolin has filed for bankruptcy three times in the last eight years.
Taylor said Smolin accepted all of the allegations made against him in a 2005 filing on behalf of the estate of his wife's grandfather, Frederick Espeaignette, and agreed to have a judgment entered against him rather than defend himself at trial. The 2007 consent order and judgment found for the estate on all counts and ordered Smolin to pay $210,000, plus interest.
The 2005 filing said that Espeaignette had entered a last will and testament leaving all of his assets in equal shares to his six children. Espeaignette had operated a junkyard on Rte. 302 in Windham, Maine, where he also had a home, which was destroyed by fire in July of 2003. At the time he was 86 years old, legally blind and in poor health.
He later moved in with the Smolins in New Gloucester, Maine, and transferred title to his property to the Smolins, who, according to the filing, had falsely represented to him and his children that a clean-up order existed for the property and that transferring the title to them would extend the time within which the premises would have to be cleaned up.
Espeaignette and his children agreed to the transfer, which involved no money, with the understanding that the Smolins would hold the property in trust for the estate and clean it up and sell it with the profits from the sale divided in seven equal shares between the family members and the Smolins.
Following Espeaignette's death in February of 2005, the Smolins are alleged to have breached their agreement with the family members by claiming that they owned the premises free and clear of any claims or interest held by the estate or family members and refused to allow the family members to enter the property.
The filing also says that the Smolins took out three mortgages on the property which totaled $150,000, the first of which was taken out in January of 2004, just weeks after the title had been transferred to them, and the last of which was taken out in July of 2005, after they had notice beyond doubt that the estate claimed an interest in the property.
The Smolins also claimed that they were entitled to be compensated for the 15 months Espeaignette had lived with them and field a claim against the estate for $100,000.
The filing charged the Smolins with fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty for mortgaging the property for their own benefit.
The June 15, 2007, consent order and judgment prohibited the Smolins from fling any petition for bankruptcy within 105 days of the entry and consent order.
A memorandum issued by U.S. Bankruptcy Court for New Hampshire in March of 2014 says that Smolin and his wife filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in Maine on Feb. 14, 2008, which was dismissed on Dec. 17, 2008, with a provision that the debtor would not file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for two years. On Dec. 5, 2011, Smolin filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition which was closed on Aug. 3, 2012.
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