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The Donald Trump of Portland Gets 15 Months

by | Jan 8, 2019

The long-vacant building at 745 Forest Ave., former site of Avenue Auto. photo/The Fuge

Steve Mardigan, the infamous Portland bookie and real-estate kingpin, was sentenced to 15 months in prison today in federal court by U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy on charges of illegal gambling, money laundering, and filing false tax returns. That’s six months less than the maximum amount of prison time he was facing under terms of a guilty plea he reached with federal prosecutors last year.

In addition to that sentence, last month the government formally took possession, by forfeiture, of 19 commercial and residential properties Mardigan owned in the Portland area, collectively valued at approximately $12 million. In April of 2017, the FBI seized over $700,000 from Mardigan and his longtime girlfriend, Patricia Nixon, during a raid on their posh Baxter Boulevard home — where agents found over $125,000 in cash stashed in filing cabinets — and in a safety deposit box at a bank that contained a cool half million. The feds allowed Mardigan to keep a handful of properties, collectively valued at about $3.3 million, but as his attorneys, Bruce Merrill and J.P. DeGrinney, noted in a recent court filing, that sum is roughly equal to the amount Mardigan owes the IRS in restitution, penalties and interest.

In a remarkable letter to Judge Levy dated Nov. 20, 2018, Mardigan, 62, claimed that his decades of illegal activity were the result of his personal addiction to gambling. He wrote that over 30 years ago he was watching a football game with friends who were placing bets with a local bookie. “It made the game more exciting so I joined in,” he wrote, placing what he recalls was a $500 bet. “I lost and that’s when the chase started.”

“There was no one particular sport, I bet them all,” the letter continues. “I would have so many games going I was never at a loss for action. For some reason I need something going on all the time. I need my mind to be going full throttle constantly.”

“Somewhere along the line,” Mardigan wrote, several friends asked him to place their bets with his bookie, but he didn’t get the bets in on time. All of those friends lost their bets that day, he claimed, “which meant I won” (Mardigan is asserting that as the go-between, he kept the money his friends intended to bet with his bookie.) “I thought to myself, this is much better,” he wrote. “I don’t have to spend the time researching and picking the games I want to bet. I let them pick.”

“I know this sounds naive but the words ‘money laundering’ never entered my mind,” Mardigan wrote. “I also never realized you could put gambling winnings on a tax return.”

Mardigan and his lawyers claim that the “majority of the wagers” he accepted from 2009 until he was busted in 2017 were placed by two people: Stephen Goodrich and Gerald Day, who between them bet nearly $4.5 million with Mardigan during that time. Day is the owner of Sanford Auto Sales, according to court documents.

Goodrich is a well-known business owner and real-estate developer in Maine. He was the founder and CEO of the payment-processing company PowerPay and bought the former Portland Public Market building on Preble Street in downtown Portland, converting it into that company’s headquarters (PowerPay was subsequently sold to EVO Payments International, which now occupies that space). In 2013, Goodrich bought Maine Wharf, the wharf just west of the Maine State Pier, and erected a new building there that’s currently occupied by Scales restaurant and other tenants. He bought the RiverDam Mill Yard in Biddeford in 2010, but aside from the space occupied by Dirigo Brewing Company, that property, located next to the old incinerator, has not been redeveloped as planned and is rumored to be for sale.

More recently, Goodrich partnered with restaurateur Bob Esposito (of Espo’s Trattoria) and his son, Anthony Esposito, to buy three Ford dealerships (Brunswick Ford, Rockland Ford and Yankee Ford). According to his LinkedIn page, Goodrich is still a member of the ownership group of the Maine Red Claws basketball team and a board member of the Idaho-based Tamarack Aerospace Group.

In their court filing to Judge Levy seeking leniency for their client, Merrill and DeGrinney disputed the government’s estimate that Mardigan made upwards of $12 million from illegal gambling activities over the past quarter century or so, saying that estimate is based on an assumption that Day and Goodrich were typical of the gamblers who placed bets with him, at least in terms of the amounts wagered.

But their filing also contains the curious claim that Mardigan’s sideline business selling used cars had resulted in sales totaling $60 million by 2008, an average of “approximately 1,200 automobile sales per year” — transactions made via an auto-detailing business called Matt’s Auto Prep and via Avenue Auto. Avenue Auto, the green-and-brick building on Forest Avenue where Mardigan maintained a tiny office, has otherwise been vacant for the better part of a decade and did not appeared to be the site of a bustling used-car dealership before it was largely destroyed by arson in 2009. Mardigan was known to have maintained an impressive collection of expensive sports and antique cars in the basement of the property he owned a couple blocks up the avenue, a bank building now occupied by Maine Savings. Those vehicles were not seized by the feds and it’s unclear what happened to that collection. A source told The Bollard that the vehicles were removed from the bank property within the past year.

Merrill and DeGrinney asked Judge Levy to impose a sentence of probation, in lieu of prison time, “with a combination of home detention and community service.” They argued that Mardigan has already suffered “collateral consequences” for his crimes, including the loss of his car dealer’s license and “the loss of established banking relationships,” in addition to all the money and property that’s been seized.

“Mr. Mardigan has come to realize the profound impact that has wrongdoing has caused, not only to himself but, to his partner of 40 years [Nixon] and his family,” the lawyers wrote. “Moreover, Mr. Mardigan recognizes that his actions, for which he blames no one but himself, have cost him nearly everything he has worked for his entire life.”

Left unmentioned in the attorneys’ filing were the many small business owners who still lease space in commercial properties that Mardigan owned — all of whom now face an uncertain future as their buildings go up for sale later this year. Also unmentioned: the untold scores who’ve gambled with Mardigan over the years and who likely faced serious personal consequences, including financial ruin, personal and professional problems, and physical threats and/or beatings at the hands of the debt collectors Mardigan employed, according to court documents.

In court, Mardigan wept while he expressed remorse to the judge. He said he regretted the negative consequences his actions caused his family and tenants. Merrill, one of his attorneys, claimed (without evidence) that Mardigan only took bets from people who could easily afford to lose money — mostly businessmen like Goodrich.

In his letter to the judge, Mardigan said he’s been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings since May of 2017. “I see a therapist and have met several times with a psychologist,” he wrote. “I feel depressed an despondent most of the time. … I have learned a great deal about myself over the last year or so. This has been incredibly humbling and terrifying. I am frightened that I face possible prison time.”

Mardigan’s alleged humility is in contrast with the account of a former associate who spoke to The Bollard on condition of anonymity due to that past association. The source said Mardigan was his cocky former self when he encountered the bookie last fall, and bragged that even if he got prison time, upon his release he’d “still be a millionaire.”

Attorney Merrill argued in court that the forfeiture of most of Mardigan’s properties, combined with the loss of his license to sell cars, means “essentially he’s left with nothing.”

The prosecutor, David Joyce, requested a sentence of 21 months in prison, citing the many years that Mardigan engaged in illegal gambling and the fact that his crimes allowed him to live a life of luxury.

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