By Jacob Wheeler
Kate Wickstrom has broken her silence. And she has spoken with a vengeance.
Wickstrom has effectively banned Eneliko Sean Smith from Sugar Loaf until he makes a legitimate, written offer to purchase the long-shuttered ski resort. Meanwhile, the mysterious West Coast boxer-turned-businessman is back in Las Vegas and may not return to northern Michigan unless a deal miraculously materalizes.
Sugar Loaf’s current hard-luck owner went public last month, following what she called an onslaught of mudslinging — both verbal and online — from Smith. Following a prolonged silence, Wickstrom began commenting in early May on Sugar Loaf-related forums on both Leelanau.com and on our website, GlenArbor.com, in order to defend herself, in particular from accusations that she says Smith made about her and her father on his blog, LikoSmith.com.
Wickstrom is an area native and graduate of Glen Lake High School who runs a substance abuse program in Manistee and lives on Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City. Her father Wally has been Sugar Loaf’s primary caretaker and maintenance man since the resort closed in 2000, and her mother, Betty, lives at the Maple Valley nursing home near Maple City. Both are nearly 80.
“The comments Sean was making on his blog set me off,” Wickstrom said. “I’m not going to let anyone paint me that way, and any attack on my dad really ticks me off. My Dad doesn’t need a bar named after him. He is an 80-year-old man who has worked manual labor all his life, and spends eight hours a day at the home with my mom.”
Kate and Wally agreed to an interview with the Glen Arbor Sun this past Wednesday evening at Myles Kimmerly Park near Maple City. As a girl’s peewee softball league played nearby, they described a very different narrative than the one that has appeared in Liko Smith’s blog posts this spring. And email correspondence this week between Smith and Wickstrom’s attorney, Traverse City-based Joe Quandt — to which she alluded during the interview — shed light on long-suspected Sugar Loaf-related ties between Smith and former owner, and convicted felon, Remo Polselli.
Wickstrom claims that after offering her a legitimate deal for Sugar Loaf on May 6 — and giving the impression that his finances were in order — Smith rescinded the offer and placed other chips on the table, which included pressuring Wickstrom to sign over the deed to the title, no questions asked, before he could prove that Florida-based TransCapital Bank would finance the acquisition, and that Wickstrom wouldn’t be left high and dry with mortgage payments.
Wickstrom alleges that as soon as she brought her lawyer, Joe Quandt, into the picture, Smith’s attitude changed dramatically.
“Sean sat there and called me stupid for involving my attorney,” Wickstrom attests. “We were asked to sign the deed by him. But I couldn’t just sign the deed without knowing that he was set up with the bank. My obvious concern was that if he had the deed and I still held the mortgage, he could salvage the property and I’d have nothing but the land and a building that had been emptied out.”
Smith reported on his blog that on May 5 he brought in a salvage crew to clean up the hotel and turn on the electricity and water, and offered Wickstrom half the salvage proceeds in cash. Smith also offered to name Sugar Loaf’s new future bar after her father Wally.
“My attorney contacted (TransCapital) bank’s attorney (Leonard Zedick), and they weren’t aware that Sean was doing that,” Wickstrom says. “My attorney was leery of me signing a deed, signing anything. My signature shouldn’t be on something without him having closed with the bank … or without Hanna and Remo releasing me from the mortgage.”
Surprising news emerged in February that Hanna Karcho Polselli was Sugar Loaf’s secret mortgage guarantor — unbeknownst to Wickstrom, she and Wally claim. In fact, Wally says they don’t even know what the Polsellis look like.
“Sean told me that Hanna is part Iranian, and here I thought she was a little blonde,” Kate joked.
Hanna Karcho and her husband Remo Polselli owned the resort from 1997 until 2000, before Wickstrom acquired it in 2005. Remo was sentenced to prison in 2003 for tax evasion, though unrelated to Sugar Loaf. Present business ties already link Liko Smith directly to the Polsellis, whom he admits he has known for years. Smith’s company, Hotel Management Advisors, shares the same Bloomfield Hills, Mich., phone number as Resort America, which is tied to the Polsellis.
Wickstrom told the Glen Arbor Sun that Smith has mentioned — in conversation and through emails with attorney Joe Quandt — that he already has a deal in place with Hanna Karcho. “(Smith) says that if I don’t do this, Hanna will foreclose on me, and it’s a matter of time before (he gets) it,” said Wickstrom, who added that Smith stated in an email, “I brokered the deal myself with Remo.”
Wickstrom also alluded to threats made by Liko Smith.
“In (a different) email that (Smith) sent to me, he said (that if I didn’t sign the deed) he’d make sure that Hanna would come after me, and after my property in Manistee, and come after my Dad. He mentioned that again in the email to Joe (Wednesday morning). To me that’s a threat to my Dad. You don’t do something like that to an 80-year-old man.”
“Sean is pretty unhappy now because things aren’t going his way.”
And yet the good-cop, bad-cop routine continues. Liko Smith was back out west this week, to celebrate his young wife Sarah’s birthday on June 8, he writes on his blog — though that was also the date for him to appear in court in Tahoe for restitution related to $200,000 in evaded taxes from a previous failed business venture with The Block hotels.
Early this week, Wickstrom says that she received the following text message from Smith (who may or may not return to Michigan this weekend):
“Please call me. I’ve worked out a deal with the bank for you that will close by Friday. I’m in Vegas. Please call me. This deal is from mortgage companies. They will release you along with Remo and Hanna, and you pick up a cashier’s check for $20,000 from their office in Troy by Friday. They will not pay your attorney’s fees. You sign the claim to the mortgage company and I buy it from them directly. This took two days to finalize. It is a confidential arrangement.”
The message left Wickstrom with more questions than answers.
“How can you go from having a deal here to a deal there?” she verbally expressed. “How many mortgage companies does (Smith) have? How can you have a mortgage company give you approval in two days? Who would put a deal together in two days?”
“It doesn’t make sense. If he has that much pull in the financial arena, he should just be able to sign a check.”
Wickstrom’s 80-year-old father Wally, who has maintained the grounds at Sugar Loaf, admits that he and his daughter were initially charmed by Liko Smith, and charmed by the notion of getting Sugar Loaf off their hands.
“He is very good at meeting someone and picking a soft spot,” said Wally. “He did that with (Kate), who has strong feelings for her parents. He said he wanted to name the bar after me. I didn’t care about that — there are plenty of Wally’s out there — but if he used my full name, I’d come after him.”
Kate and Wally both maintain that they hold no grudge against Smith, and that if he returns to the area with a legitimate deal, they’ll consider a sale.
“All he has to do is step up to the plate right now with a deal,” said Wally. “His original deal is legal. It’s a clean-cut deal. Sean just needs to hold up to his end of the bargain.”
Kate Wickstrom says she has spent close to $2 million on Sugar Loaf since buying it in 2005, including $750,000 prior to the purchase, and monthly interest payments.
“I’m not holding out for $2 million, not even for $1 million. I just want a little something in return to pay a few people: my attorney, my Dad, my accountant …”
When asked what went wrong with her plans for Sugar Loaf, Wickstrom responded that she was unable to open the resort after acquiring it in 2005, she says, because Ed Fleis and Brian Sculthorp, who own the septic drainage system, the golf course and property near the resort and ski hill, all but handcuffed her.
“I think they saw an opportunity with me. They terminated my agreement six weeks after I purchased the property. They wanted to purchase 450 of my 478 acres and leave the hotel and 25 acres on the other side of mountain. But the bank wouldn’t split the land. Instead, they wanted me to pay $8,000 for a toilet that I couldn’t flush. … I’ve spent $100,000 just in legal fees. They’ve lost twice in court, and they’re trying another appeal.”
If not to Liko Smith, will Kate Wickstrom ever sell Sugar Loaf?
“We want to sell the property to someone who is going to take care of Leelanau County and his residents.”
“It’s gonna take honesty,” Wally chimed in. “Honesty and hard work, and everybody working together, instead of coming into the project and asking ‘What’s in it for me?’”