As an unnamed buyer circles Grand County’s privately owned Granby Ranch ski area, a roiling circus of family, lenders and homeowners is assailing resort owner Marise Cipriani.
It’s not a pretty scene at the picturesque 5,000-acre ski and golf resort along the Fraser River, which Brazilian developer Cipriani has owned since 1995 and put on the market for an undisclosed price a year ago.
Cipriani’s sister last month slapped a court-ordered lien on the resort property after losing her collateral when Cipriani defaulted on a big loan. Homeowners who paid toward a lease-to-purchase for the resort’s ski and golf assets are trying to elbow into the pending sale, arguing they also are owed. The Town of Granby is seeking financial assurances that necessary repairs to roads at the resort — which is part of the town — are completed.
Major lenders are in the mix too, with debt due dates looming. And then there’s the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the Texas mother, Kelly Huber, who was killed when she and her two children fell from a Granby Ranch chairlift following a lift malfunction in December 2016.
The storm clouds looming over Granby Ranch are so thick right now it’s hard to see exactly what’s happening. No one is talking on the record.
Cipriani declined comment, citing the buyer she has on the line in a deal that’s expected to close by mid-February, according to a letter she sent to Granby’s town manager. She’s not commenting on litigation either. Members of the homeowner’s association board — which has a long history of angst with Cipriani — are not talking. Town officials also declined to weigh in.
So that leaves us with public documents to peer through the storm. Let’s start with the writ of attachment complaint filed last month in Denver District Court by Cipriani’s sister, Valeria Pereira Fontana.
Fontana offered up collateral for Cipriani to secure a loan in 2013, in the depths of the recession that clobbered Grand County. As the resort market withered, Cipriani, through a subsidiary named Guimel Business Ltd., secured a loan from J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. Fontana’s Brazilian investment company, Amperes Administraceo e Participacoes Ltda., provided assets as collateral for the loan.
It’s unclear how much the loan was for, but Fontana’s lawsuit says she lost $19.26 million when Cipriani defaulted on the loan in 2015. In March 2015, Cipriani promised to repay her sister for the lost collateral by April 2018. That date passed without payment. So Fontana sued, asking the Denver District Court to levy an involuntary lien on Cipriani’s resort property.
“Guimel and Cipriani have repeatedly promised to repay the debt, but have … refused to pay any amount thereafter, despite repeated demands,” reads the complaint filed in December 2018 by Cipriani’s sister.
Fontana also filed a motion for prejudgement with her complaint arguing that Cipriani had sold her Boulder home in 2018 for $2 million and also sold her private jet. The complaint says Cipriani is under contract for her 5,000-acre Granby Resort and is expected to close the deal soon.
No price has been made public
Although the sale price of the resort property has not been listed, a broker for the sale compared Granby Ranch to Montana’s luxury Yellowstone Club, which sold in 2009 for $115 million to an investment group that rescued the struggling resort club at what was considered a bargain price.
Fontana, according to the motion for prejudgement, asked Cipriani to record a lien on the property or require a title company to pay Fontana at closing. The motion says Cipriani told her sister’s lawyer she had a “moral obligation” to pay her back and “that signing such documents … would somehow tarnish that moral obligation.”
“Plaintiff quite reasonably interprets Cipriani’s refusal to undertake efficient, virtually effortless assurances of repayment as an indication that she in fact has no intention of making repayment at closing,” the motion reads.
It also argues that after the sale of Granby Ranch, Cipriani will have no assets and lots of cash she “can easily remove from Colorado, hide from plaintiff, and shield from any judgment collection simply by depositing the funds into the domestic or offshore bank account of her choice.”
The complaint asked the Denver District Court to set aside $19.26 million for the debt, plus late fees, should Cipriani sell any assets at Granby Ranch. The court agreed with Fontana’s claim and ordered the Grand County Sheriff to withhold $19.26 million worth of Cipriani’s property for Fontana as a sale of Granby Ranch nears completion.
A hearing on the complaint is set for Wednesday in Denver District Court. That hearing concerns whether Granby Realty Holdings, the entity that controls the resort, should be allowed to intervene in the case. Granby Realty Holdings, in a filing with the court last month, said it does not count Cipriani as an owner. Her daughter, Melissa, is the chief executive Granby Realty Holdings.
Granby Realty Holdings, according to its motion to dissolve Fontana’s writ of attachment, says the involuntary lien involving the debt between Cipriani and her sister includes resort property not owned by Cipriani.
The deeds of trust on those properties, according to court filings, secure a resort debt of more than $55 million with a lender called Granby Prentice, LLC in a deal from April 2016. The deeds of trust were assigned by Redwood Capital Finance Company.
Melissa Cipriani, in an affidavit, said the court-ordered lien on the properties could be seen as a default by Granby Realty Holdings’ lender, “thus causing substantial and immediate financial harm to GR Holdings,” reads the Dec. 20 affidavit.
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