Jeb Bladine: SEC plea bargain back under wraps?

Confused by the latest Evergreen-related kerfuffle? Well, get in line.

We have a stack of legal documents, along with access to multiple sources and numerous notes, but we don’t have the first clue where things are leading. Here’s what we do know:

Businessman Steve Down, Oregon-born but Utah-based, has built a national chain of event centers by enticing investors via use of disputed practices. In 2016, he acquired the Evergreen Space Museum and Water Park buildings, along with the chapel and surrounding lands, in a bankruptcy auction.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, after investigating investor practices by The Falls Event Center LLC, prepared a complaint alleging fraud. In the SEC version of plea-bargaining, Down admitted to negligence and agreed to an SEC consent order calling for payment of a $150,000 fine.


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

> See his column

It was a done deal, wrapped up last Friday in a Utah court. However, as that fast-track adjudication process was closing, Down went ballistic over SEC’s filing of the complaint in its original form, still alleging fraud.

Inexplicably, Down either didn’t review details of the SEC complaint and/or didn’t realize it would become a public cornerstone of the negotiated agreement. We asked, but don’t yet know, if that is standard SEC policy.

In any event, Down responded by withdrawing his consent to the negotiated settlement and vowed to fight the SEC allegations, perhaps throwing the case back under a veil of “non-public investigation” secrecy.

One media-connected observer termed the SEC action “classic government overreach.” But a local Down nemesis being sued for $20 million by TFEC responded by calling Down a “con man” and asserting, “Criminal charges are likely.”

As popularized in “The Original Amateur Hour,” dating to 1934, “Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows.”

Meanwhile, TFEC has three local legal actions pending: Down’s guarantee of monthly $70,000 donations to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum spawned a late-payment lawsuit filed by the museum, reportedly nearing resolution; a motion to dismiss the $20 million TFEC lawsuit against two local businessmen remains in the Court of Appeals; Oregon Tax Court negotiations continue in a long-quiet TFEC action asking Yamhill County for hundreds of thousands in property tax reductions.

Through it all, the museum itself keeps reminding people it is an autonomous tenant with independent missions, hoping its landlord regains financial stability.

People don’t always read the details, and tend to heap all the legal uncertainties onto the museum. That’s no surprise, however. With a bow to the infamous social media meme, we can’t even decide among ourselves whether the museum is “Laurel” or “Yanny.”

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


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