By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Former Sunwest CEO sentenced to prison

Jon Harder, 49, served as president and CEO of Sunwest from 1992 to 2008. The criminal charges, adjudicated in federal court in Portland, stemmed from a lengthy FBI investigation.

The company bought Hillside in 2003. The McMinnville retirement center was in receivership at the time, because of an overly ambitious and expensive expansion plan, so Sunwest was viewed as a White Knight.

Around the same time, Sunwest began purchasing other properties in Yamhill County, its local holdings ultimately coming to include the Osprey Point Assisted Living Community, Osprey Memory Court and Osprey Pointe Cottages in McMinnville, the Chehalem Springs Retirement Community in Newberg, and the Deer Meadow Assisted Living Facility in Sheridan.

But just a year later, Sunwest’s former chief financial officer filed a federal lawsuit accusing Harder and key associates of racketeering, fraud and theft. Federal officials began investigating, and weary Hillside residents knew they were in for another wild ride.

Sunwest officials continued to promise residents of its centers the situation was under control. But the company’s financial problems forced staff layoffs, made it difficult to attract new residents and fueled anxiety among existing residents.

In 2008, Sunwest put 132 of its 275 centers up for sale, including Osprey Pointe. In 2009, Harder resigned and the company went into bankruptcy.

In 2010, as part of its reorganization, Sunwest sold all its Yamhill County holdings except for Deer Meadow.

Hillside was sold to Emeritus Senior Living Corporation of Seattle, a move hailed by residents and staff. Emeritus also purchased Osprey Court Memory Care in McMinnville and the Chehalem Springs Retirement Community in Newberg.

Hillside is currently under the management of Brookdale Senior Living Solutions, a national operator.

The FBI released a statement Tuesday, indicating it had begun investigating Harder and Sunwest in 2008 and continued to work the case.

Harder was indicted in 2012. Prosecutors accused him of perpetuating the most massive investment fraud in Oregon history.

“Jon Harder targeted some of the most vulnerable people in our community — retirees who invested their life savings,” said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge for the FBI in Oregon. “Seniors who depended on the assisted living facilities to care for them and keep them safe.

“Harder’s greed led to a lavish lifestyle of homes and cars and trips that most people could only imagine. It is only fitting that that greed will now lead him to several years behind bars.”