Billionaire Blixseth still defiant behind bars
Businessman wages fight for his rights while questions about his finances go unanswered
GREAT FALLS, MONT. Tim Blixseth, the onetime billionaire who hosted parties in which famed chef Wolfgang Puck was flown in to prepare lavish meals for luminaries such as Bill and Melinda Gates, is living amuch simpler life these days.
Now an inmate at the Cascade County Regional Detention Center, the embattled businessman, former lumber baron, real estate developer and songwriter spoke to the Great Falls Tribune in an exclusive interview about his incarceration since April 20 for civil contempt of court ( he emphasized the word “civil”), his battles with the justice system and a long list of wrongdoings that he says have been perpetrated against him.
Blixseth, 65, who founded the tony Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, entered the room in orange jail garb. Rather than rubbing elbowswith the rich and famous, he spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. His cell, which he estimates to be 66 square feet, is a far cry from the 13,600- acre Yellowstone Club, where,
according to some news reports, he reigned as a self- proclaimed “benevolent dictator.”
When asked how he’s doing, Blixseth said with a grin, “It’s a great day to be alive.”
“This is really a constitutional injustice,” he said about the legal saga, now in its eighth year.
The Yellowstone Club, founded in 1997, filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Blixseth was accused of pocketing much of a $ 375 million Credit Suisse loan to the resort and later gave up control of the enterprise to his ex- wife during their 2008 divorce. Its creditors are seeking more than $ 250 million from Blixseth.
According to its website, the Yellowstone Club is the world’s only private ski and golf community. A residential membership deposit runs $ 300,000 with annual club dues of $ 36,000. Condominiums cost $ 4.9 million to $ 15 million; ranches with 160 to 360 acres can range up to $ 21 million.
On Feb. 22, a judge ruled Blixseth will remain incarcerated for violating a bankruptcy judge’s order not to sell Tamarindo, a luxury property in Jalisco, Mexico, for $ 13.8 million in 2011, the Associated Press reported. U. S. District Judge Sam Haddon wants Blixseth to reveal what happened to the money.
“Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in disbursements made to various Blixseth familymembers or to entities he owned or controlled have simply vanished without adequate or even plausible explanation,” Haddon wrote in a February order, according to the AP.
Blixseth told the Tribune his legal team has submitted more than 22,000 pages of documents but says that whenever he complies with the judge’s order, the bar is moved higher.
Blixseth said Haddon issued a new order that greatly expanded the original order and gave him seven days to provide the information. He says most of the documents were with third parties in Spain orMexico.
“Every time I provide ( the requested information) they change the requirement. It has nothing do with accounting.”
Blixseth was first ordered to jail for civil contempt in December 2014. He appealed to the 9th Circuit Court and was released. He was hauled back into court in April. He presented the accounting andwas found in civil contempt again.
Blixseth says civil contempt is intended for one thing: To compel someone to obey a judge’s order. “It means ‘ We’ll put you in jail, Blixseth, and when you provide the accounting, we’ll let you out,’ ” he said.
His attorney, Phil Stillman, calls Blixseth’s incarceration of about 11 months “an outrage.”
“He has literally fully complied with what this judge has asked him to do,” he said. “What is really disturbing to me as a lawyer is not getting someone to rule on themerits of his issues.”
Blixseth doesn’t have the right to a jury trial, arraignment or bail, Stillman said. He said there is an indefinite sentence on the suspicion that he has the keys to his own cell if he cooperates.
He said Blixseth has never said, “I will not cooperate. All he has said is, ‘ Here it all is.’ ” THE $ 64 MILLION QUESTION
Attorney Kevin Barrett of the West Virginia law firm of Bailey and Glasser represents the Yellowstone Club Liquidation Trust, which is suing Blixseth over the club’s 2008 bankruptcy. He said they have a couple of judgments against him that total $ 260 million.
When asked how much of the money Blixseth still allegedly has, Barrett says, “That is the $ 64 million question. We don’t knowif he has anything left.
“He professes to have nothing. Some believe he has assets that are hidden either in the U. S. or offshore,” Barrett said. “We don’t know of any assets at this point.
“I think it is pretty clear he is still hiding information.”
Barrett said attorneys now have litigation pending against two entities Blixseth transferred assets to and have filed legal action against Blixseth’s wife, Jessica, and mother- in- law, Cherrill Ferguson, who live in the Seattle area.
He said he has no sympathy for Blixseth over his incarceration.
“He brought this upon himself and continues to bring this upon himself every day he sits there by failing to do what he needs to do by complying with the judge’s order and refusing to testify on the stand about what he did with the money,” Barrett said.
Blixseth called Tamarindo his biggest misstep. “In hindsight, I should have done amotion to clarify the sale of Tamarindo,” he said.
Blixseth gave up control of the club to his ex- wife, Edra, as part of their divorce settlement in 2008, or, as Blixseth calls it, “the divorce from hell.” MODEST BEGINNINGS Tim Blixseth says he grew up poor.
He discovered his knack for the art of the deal when hewas 13. He bought three donkeys for $ 25 each and sold them a few weeks later, now touted as “pack mules,” for a $ 150 profit. After high school he worked in a sawmill, then moved into buying timber, the magazine reported. He was a multimillionaire, retired by 40, and living in Lake Tahoe.
In 2006, Blixseth was ranked No. 322 out of the 400 richest Americans with a net worth of $ 1.2 billion.
He said he has no idea what that figure is today.
“My biggest problem in business is that I amnot a cutthroat-Wall Street guy,” he said. “Money means absolutely nothing to me. It’s just a way to get through life. I’ve had plenty and I’ve had none.”
In a Nov. 27 essay he provided to the Tribune, “A Prisoner in America Without Rights,” he said he wears earplugs most of the day to silence the screams that echo through the jail.
“Communication,” he said, when asked what has been the toughest part of his incarceration, “not being able to call attorneys and other folks.”
“I’ve never been arrested or charged with a crime inmy entire life.”
He mentioned his success in songwriting, having co- written Heart of America, which he says was used by NBC’s Today show and raised as much as $ 130 million to help Hurricane-Katrina victims.
Blixseth said if he wins millions in a civil lawsuit, he will set up a legal defense fund to provide lawyers for people who have lost their constitutional rights.
He said they will take cases for free that “we deem to be a violation of our civil rights.”
“There is no worse opponent than a zealot.”
Tim Blixseth leaves the U. S. courthouse in Butte, Mont., after facing questions about his finances in November 2014. Blixseth was ordered into custody for civil contempt of court.
The Cascade County Regional Detention Center in Great Falls, Mont., is Tim Blixseth’s current home. He says he has 66 square feet there.