October 20, 2019
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Maine developer accused of $50M fraud, using shell companies to scam investors

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
The Edward T. Giroux U.S. Courthouse building in Portland as seen in this March 20, 2018, BDN file photo.

PORTLAND, Maine — Fresh out of a federal prison, developer Michael Liberty is facing new legal troubles and the allegation that he and several accomplices deceived investors and took $50 million of their money to support lavish lifestyles.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission claims that Liberty, his wife, his Portland lawyer, his cousin and a friend of the cousin’s have used shell companies to run a long-term scam that drew in millions through fraudulent securities offerings for a technology company and pocketed much of that money.

From 2010 to 2017, Liberty and his accomplices allegedly engaged in “a classic bait-and-switch,” using shell companies to raise funds that they told investors would support Texas-based financial technology firm Mozido, also known as MDO. But the shell companies had either no stake in Mozido or could not sell their stake and the money lined the businessman’s own pockets, according to the suit filed in federal court in Maine.

Liberty and the others, the suit claims, used these funds to pay for expensive cars and chartered flights, credit card bills and legal settlements, a movie production, gas, groceries and even a dairy cow.

Liberty, 57, grew up in Gray. He became a leading real estate developer in Portland during the 1980s and 1990s and built up an empire of affordable and senior housing around the state. His business eventually grew beyond Maine and Liberty is now a resident of Windermere, Florida.

[How illegal campaign donations deepened the downfall of a Maine-made mogul]

The developer, who was once called “Donald Trump with a Maine accent” in the pages of Yankee magazine, came back to Portland in August, when he was sentenced to pay $100,000 and serve four months in prison for making illegal donations to the campaign of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He was released in January.

In the criminal case, Liberty was represented by local lawyer George Marcus, who is a defendant in the SEC’s lawsuit. Also named in the suit are Brittany Liberty, the businessman’s former bookkeeper and now his wife; his cousin, Rick Liberty; and Rick’s friend Paul Hess.

In addition to five shell companies, the suit also names Xanadu Partners, LLC as a relief defendant, meaning that it holds money tied to the other defendants but may not be involved in the alleged fraud.

Marcus did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening. Jay Dubow of the Pepper Hamilton law firm in Philadelphia, where Liberty is also facing an SEC probe, said in a statement that Liberty would “vigorously defend himself” and deny the “most of the substantive allegations” made by the SEC.

“The SEC has unfairly targeted him with regard to this investigation for over six years,” Dubow said.

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