Oct. 13-BELLAIRE - A married couple whose failed plan to open a glamour camping resort resulted in multiple larceny convictions will pay restitution to dozens of victims but will spend no time in jail for their crimes, a judge decided.
Bradley and Sandra Carlson were each sentenced to pay court costs and nearly $30,000 in restitution, as well as to serve two years probation by 86th District Court Judge Robert Cooney.
"I think it could easily be argued that this should be a jail case, given the amount of money that was taken and the number of victims that were involved," Cooney said during a sentencing hearing Wednesday. But he instead followed recommendations included in a plea agreement in which Kristen Stinedurf, an attorney with the Michigan Attorney General's office who prosecuted the case, did not seek jail time.
The couple had faced up to a year in jail, after being accused of scamming 34 victims out of money paid toward a fancy camping experience, as previously reported.
"There is no excuse," Bradley Carlson said during the sentencing hearing, adding the popularity of the couple's concept for the planned "glamping" resort in Antrim County's Jordan River Valley overwhelmed their ability to self-fund the enterprise.
"While money was taken with good intent, the simple fact is we could not return all the money we received for deposits and that has resulted in this criminal case," Carlson said. "We have worked harder than we've ever worked in our lives to come up with the restitution."
Sandra Carlson declined to speak at the hearing.
Cooney twice offered an opportunity for victims to speak at the hearing, though none did.
Traverse City attorney Shawn Worden, who represents the Carlsons in the case which was prosecuted by the Michigan Attorney General's office, said Bella Solviva, the name of the failed resort, "is going to die as a felon."
Stinedurf, of the AG's financial crimes division, charged the business with a felony, which Worden called "a pretty good chess move" to resolve the case.
"The Carlsons did violate the trust of the victims," Stinedurf said. "For many of the victims, this was a fairly significant expense for them. Many people were booking honeymoons, bachelorette parties, family vacations. And not only did the trip not happen, they didn't have the money that they spent so they couldn't make any other reservations."
The Carlsons may be able to start new businesses, Worden said, but getting financing through traditional means like banks will be difficult or impossible.
Worden said a restitution check from the Carlsons was on his desk at his law office, 360 Law, but hasn't yet been delivered to the court for distribution to the victims because he tested positive for COVID-19 and is quarantining at home until Oct. 18.
The Carlsons did not have traditional or bank financing for Bella Solviva, but raised $2,951 of their $50,000 goal on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform and asked for materials and labor donations on the business' Facebook page.
The Facebook page for Bella Solviva attracted more than 13,000 likes and remains online, though the last post was in May 2016 and the "book now" tab links to an inactive website.
The Carlsons in 2015 announced their plans for the resort and photos posted to social media and included in press materials of luxury tents, treehouses and novelty villas garnered extensive media attention as well as people willing to send deposits, records show.
Among them was Mary DeAngelis of Oxford, who in August 2017 paid a $634 deposit toward a two-bedroom treehouse and bath she said she planned to use for a weekend getaway with her adult daughter.
"I'm happy they will be under the watchful eye and not be able to scam again," DeAngelis, who attended the sentencing hearing, said.
DeAngelis previously said she decided not to pay the remaining balance after she drove to the site from her family cabin in Lewiston and found it completely undeveloped just two months before her planned stay.
The resort was planned on 229 acres in Alden near Torch and Intermediate lakes, records show.
DeAngelis and several other victims of the Carlsons watched Wednesday's sentencing hearing, held remotely over Zoom.
The business dissolved on July 15, 2018, state records show.
Federal court records show the Carlsons previously filed for bankruptcy in September 2013, a case handled in the Eastern District of Michigan's U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
In that filing, records show the Carlsons listed $216,520.36 in assets and $429,682.36 in liabilities - a significant portion of which was credit card debt, though they also owed money to their church in unmet pledges.
"We own four companies, three of which are doing no business, none have any value," bankruptcy court filings signed by the couple state.
The four previous businesses were listed as Ubermemorials, Inc., which did business as "Light of Hope Memorials," and sold "death care industry memorial products," according to corporate filings; Carlonni Inc., a property development and hospitality company; Uberquest, Inc., "a business incubation service," and Prism Management Group LLC, a holding company for "real estate development and other products."
Ubermemorials Inc., Carlonni Inc. and Uberquest Inc. were dissolved July 15, 2015, information with the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs shows.
Carlson was previously listed as an agent for Prism Dental Systems, Inc. of San Clemente, Calif., information from the California Secretary of State shows.
That company was listed as voluntarily dissolved by Carlson and his previous spouse, after being flagged by California's Franchise Tax Board for failure to meet tax requirements, information from the CSOS shows.
On Wednesday, Cooney said he thought the Carlsons had no ill intent, yet did spend money on personal obligations rather than on the campground.
Probation requirements levied by Cooney state for two years the Carlsons may not seek outside "venture capital" for any new business.