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Jeb Bladine: What an interesting cast of characters!

I can imagine your eyes rolling as the Evergreen saga produces another high stakes legal drama. This time, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is a much-interested bystander.

The Falls Event Center has filed a $25 million lawsuit against J.W. Millegan of McMinnville and Paul Peterson of Beaverton. This will be a long, complex story, so as a public service, here’s a brief introduction to the main characters.

TFEC owner Steve Down is an Oregon-born, Utah-based, self-described “cause-capitalist” who has integrated charitable giving into a burgeoning multi-state array of event centers and sandwich shops. Last year, after bankruptcy of the private Evergreen Airlines empire, he acquired the space museum building, water park, surrounding lands and nine aircraft.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Down combines private investors and traditional financing sources into individual limited liability companies for each development. Last year, his aggressive investor recruitment practices drew a “nonpublic” investigation by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission -- now a very public inquiry despite silence from the SEC, which won’t even answer questions about process.

J.W. Millegan is a McMinnville native who returned to his hometown with resources from a successful investment banking career, and a passion for developing an international equestrian center. As that idea dissolved into an ill-fated land use controversy, he became a local gadfly seeking to educate area officials about proper ways to govern.

Paul Peterson may be the most interesting character. In this small space, I can only refer to an upcoming article in this newspaper to learn more.
Recently, Millegan launched a series of public attacks on Steve Down and EASM. He argued TFEC’s sale of two aircraft was illegal; museum officials violated fiduciary duties by allowing those sales; and Down operates a Ponzi scheme.

Down claims Millegan and Peterson engaged in a widespread, fraudulent campaign to discredit and damage his companies, stating, “The defendants ... seek to acquire the McMinnville Property at a price substantially below its market value, by disparaging TFEC, for their own gains and purposes …”

A Ponzi scheme is defined as a fraudulent investment system in which returns for earlier investors come from new investors rather than from legitimate business activities. Three weeks ago, in a far-ranging interview, we asked Steve Down if his network of companies is a Ponzi scheme. “No,” he said forcefully, “it isn’t.”

Answers eventually will come from the SEC and the courts. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Evergreen Museum keeps on keeping on.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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