CALAIS – A man who bilked this city out of thousands of dollars has left a “trail of broken dreams” from Illinois to Connecticut to Maine.
On Saturday a Washington County Superior Court jury returned 10 guilty verdicts on theft charges against James Schmidt, 59, of New Brunswick.
His victim: the city of Calais and its Revolving Loan Fund.
But Schmidt’s trail of victims dates back to the 1980s.
According to two articles written in 1990 in Connecticut’s Hartford Courant, including one headlined “Salesman painted a vision, but left a trail of broken dreams,” Schmidt left a long line of people in Illinois and Connecticut with empty pockets.
“By his own admission he left almost $600,000 worth of debts behind in Illinois where various development schemes had failed,” the article said.
While Schmidt was working for Convenient Food Marts Inc. of Illinois opening convenience store franchises for that company in Connecticut, he ended up owing the parent company more than $100,000.
The article went on to say that Schmidt walked way not only from the debt he owed but also from court hearings held to collect the debts.
Schmidt landed in Connecticut in the late 1980s.
In 1987, Schmidt bounced a $18,900 check to a headhunting company he’d hired to find a vice president for his operation, the article said.
His trail of misdeeds in Connecticut included a Manchester doctor who said Schmidt took $57,400 in the spring of 1988 to buy land to construct a professional building that never got built.
He also ended up in housing court in Hartford where he and his wife and teenage stepdaughter were evicted from their Glastonbury home for nonpayment of rent. The owners of the house eventually evicted him, but Schmidt walked off with the wall-to-wall carpeting.
Schmidt also owed his tailor in Connecticut $15,000 for handmade suits including shirts with his initials on the cuffs.
Several attorneys who represented Schmidt sued him after retainer checks he’d written bounced.
In March 1990, Schmidt was in criminal court in Manchester, Conn., where he avoided prosecution on $36,000 in bad check charges by making restitution to four victims including the tailor who made his suits, the Hartford Courant said.
Although people were clamoring for their money, Schmidt denied he had conned any of his investors, the newspaper article said. “He describes himself as a victim of his own zealousness and of one franchisee who opened a ‘gold mine’ of a store and then reneged on the contract.”
In 1992-93, Schmidt was convicted of larceny in Connecticut and sentenced to five years probation.
He landed in Calais in 2005 as director of the Nova Scotia-based Wantaqo’ti Foundation. He met with the city’s loan board and borrowed $100,000 from the city’s Economic Development Loan Fund to renovate a historic building on Main Street. Of that amount $70,000 was to be used to purchase the building and $30,000 to renovate it. Another $40,000 was supposed to come from the foundation.
Once completed, the building was to be used for retail businesses and upstairs apartments. It was never finished.
Checks to contractors bounced.
He sent $14,000 of the city’s $30,000 to his girlfriend in New Brunswick.
The District Attorney’s Office prosecuted, a jury found him guilty and Schmidt remains in the Washington County jail awaiting sentencing.
City Manager Linda Pagels said Tuesday the encounter with Schmidt had been a “learning process.”
“One of the things we discovered early on before going to court is that we didn’t have policies and procedures written that reflected the bylaws, and we’ve since enacted those,” she said.
“The program was designed to help existing businesses, people in the community to expand their businesses and create new jobs,” Pagels said. “But the world’s changed … and we do have to ask those questions about their background and we do need their permission and knowledge before we ask those questions as well.”
The city has since foreclosed on the property and a public sale will be held at 10 a.m. Nov. 13 at the Bangor law office of Michael S. Haenn
Pagels said the city has learned its lesson. “I think what the city may be guilty of is being too trusting and having some … inconsistencies that we need to review, and as long as you have humans in the equation that’s going to happen,” she said.