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Idaho Springs gondola project investors ask judge to force escrow company to return “stolen” $4.5 million

The Mighty Argo project wants to build a 1.2-mile gondola that reached the EPA Superfund site at the Argo Mill on the banks of Clear Creek

Idaho Springs resident Pete Galmish, left, asks questions about the proposed Mighty Argo Cable Car gondola project at the historic Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel while looking at a site map with Travis Cook, right, Mighty Argo project design director, following an unveiling event held at Beau Jo's Colorado Style Pizza on Nov. 13, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

The investors behind a gondola resort in Idaho Springs say they have been robbed by the owners of an escrow company that stole $4.5 million the investors raised as a deposit for construction financing.

And when the investors behind the Mighty Argo Cable Car project asked a federal court to force the owners of Virginia-based First Title escrow company to provide details of the August 2020 deposit, the company responded with claims of protection under the Fifth Amendment, which protects people from self-incrimination. 

Now the investors are asking a federal judge to force First Title owner Sandra Bacon and her friend Chrisheena McGee to return money the investors say the two women stole. 

“The First Title defendants transferred $4.5 million for their own benefit and gain,” reads a motion for summary judgment filed Feb. 4 in Colorado’s U.S. District Court. “Of the $4.5 million, thousands went directly into the First Title Defendants’ personal accounts.”

The Mighty Argo project includes a 1.2-mile gondola stretching from the EPA Superfund site at the Argo Mill on the banks of Clear Creek to the 450-acre Virginia Canyon Mountain Park owned by the City of Idaho Springs. The project sketches a village around the gondola, with homes and a hotel at the historic mill where miners 125 years ago bored a 5-mile tunnel accessing what was once considered the continent’s largest cache of gold. 

Mighty Argo gathered 35 investors to raise $4.5 million. That was going to be the deposit for Texas-based TriVecta Capital Group to raise and loan Mighty Argo $32.4 million to complete the gondola phase of the project.

According to the motion filed early this month, Trivecta on Aug. 20, 2020 asked First Title owner Bacon if the $4.5 million deposit landed in the escrow account. 

“Bacon responded ‘Yes and it is now safely in my escrow account,’” reads the motion, which details transactions showing Bacon transferring millions from the escrow account. “The funds were anything but ‘safe.’”

Last month, First Title filed responded to Mighty Argo’s discovery requests. To every request for information and documents, First Title answered with “Plead the 5th Amendment.” In a court filing over the discovery dispute, Mighty Argo argued that corporate officers and companies were not legally protected from self-incrimination. 

Mighty Argo has asked for emails, bank records and agreements connected to the $4.5 million in escrow money. First Title has provided 14 pages of documents to Mighty Argo. 

“Certainly, there are more than 14 pages that the First Title Defendants believe will support their defenses in this case,” a filing from January reads. 

The city is moving ahead on trail construction on its 400-acre Virginia Canyon Mountain Park and city leaders are supporting the Mighty Argo investors as they negotiate new financing for the gondola, which Idaho Springs Mayor Chuck Harmon called “a great amenity for the city, both its residents and visitors.”

“These folks are victims of a financial crime,” Harmon said. “My compliments to them for not just sitting on their hands and waiting for their money to be clawed back, which could take years.”

Mary Jane Loevlie, the Idaho Springs entrepreneur leading the Mighty Argo project said she and her investors are working with federal authorities and hope to see criminal charges filed in the case. 

The investment team has a new financial broker who is helping to secure construction funding. Loevlie said. Trail builders are carving new biking and hiking trails. Grand Junction’s Leitner Poma of America has rescheduled its plan to build the gondola and could begin construction of tower foundations this winter. 

“There is no possibility that this is not going to be built,” she said. “Our investors have been great. The city of Idaho Springs has been great. They still believe in this project and we are making sure everyone gets a return on their investment, though it’s going to be a longer investment. This has been painful, but it’s also been good to see support for this project remain strong despite the last year.”

Developer and businesswoman Mary Jane Loevlie laughs during the unveiling of the Mighty Argo Cable Car gondola project on Nov. 13, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

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