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Castle fetches $4 million

The latest chapter in the long and sometimes strange saga of the Redstone Castle left the town’s residents hanging Saturday.They left an auction in Glenwood Springs knowing the property’s value – $4 million – but not the identity of the owner or his plans for the place.A Pasadena, Calif., man, dressed casually in jeans and a blue pullover, hurried out of the Glenwood Springs Community Center after making the winning bid on the castle at an auction put on by the Internal Revenue Service. The mystery man brushed off an attempt to be interviewed before hurrying to his car. His quick exit left Redstone residents wondering who the man was and whether he plans to keep the castle open to the public.The buyer’s identity will become public once the sale closes, which must occur within 45 days, said IRS spokesman John Harrison. As for the buyer’s intentions, the other successful bidder Saturday thinks he has at least some inkling.Walt Stanaszek, a clinical pharmacologist in Oklahoma who spends summers at another Redstone property, bought a Victorian on Redstone Boulevard from the IRS for $480,000. Stanaszek said he had never met the castle buyer before, but happened to chat with him briefly just before the auction. Stanaszek found the buyer to be a warm and enthusiastic man who indicated he believes the castle should be a part of Redstone and not converted to private use.Stanaszek said his sense is that the castle is going to “somebody who really has some positive intentions for the community of Redstone. I look forward to being his neighbor.”Stanaszek hopes to rent his new property to someone with an artistic bent. As for the castle, “I’m glad to see it’s no longer an orphan and has an owner,” he said.The IRS is selling the castle and the Victorian home as part of an attempt to help provide restitution to potentially more than 1,000 victims of a $56 million investment fraud scam. The agency seized the castle in 2003, saying the owners, Leon and Debbie Harte, bought it with $6.3 million obtained in the scam.Harrison said the IRS had hoped to get as much as $7 million for the castle Saturday, and $650,000 for the house. But he said the agency got about what it anticipated.”They came in within the guidelines that I had set,” he said. “We’re very pleased with the sales.”Billy Amicon, owner of the Crystal Club Cafe in Redstone, said the castle sold for less than anyone had guessed in a little betting pool in town.”I picked $5.2 million, by the way, and I’m a sore loser,” he said.Mike Lewis, one of Saturday’s auctioneers, noted that the castle now has an easement on it that prevents it from being torn down or visually blocked from Highway 133. That may have made it harder to get what the Hartes had paid for it, he said.Coal mining magnate John C. Osgood built the 15-room mansion at the start of the 20th century for about $2.5 million. Visitors to the castle included John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and President Theodore Roosevelt.Frank and Jody Coleman have had a long love for the castle, and came from Fort Collins Saturday to witness the latest twist in the property’s unique history. Frank said it’s unusual to see a multi-million-dollar auction.”This is as exciting a half hour as I have spent in a long time,” he said.His wife grew up in Glenwood Springs, and the Colemans used to own a property near the castle. Coleman said they treasure some hinges they have that used to be on a gatehouse to the castle.”I regret that I never stayed up there,” said Coleman, who shared concerns about whether the castle might be closed to the public.About 20 people showed up to bid on the two properties, and probably 11 of them were trying to buy the castle, Lewis said. In addition, five were bidding online for the castle, and six more for the house. Some prospective castle buyers were from the Southeast. An Aspen online bidder, whose name officials wouldn’t reveal, submitted the second-highest bid.Bidding on the castle started at $1 million and the sale was over in 11 minutes of fast-paced action. While Lewis looked for bids in the middle of the room, fellow auctioneer Rob Olsen directed things from up front, and pictures of the castle were projected on a screen behind him.”Remember, the more you pay, the more you like it,” Olsen cajoled.In the back of the room, Cinda Hebert, of Eckert, kept an ear to a cell phone, informing a bidder from New York State of the increasing ante. Afterward, she said the bidder, whom she declined to identify, wasn’t willing to pay more than $3 million, but thought the sale price would be even higher than it was.She called the auction nerve-racking but fun.”It’s not as easy spending other people’s money as you would think,” she said.Although not bidding, Redstone residents were also uneasy. Business owners were anxious to know if the castle would end up going to somebody who would allow public tours to continue there.”Tourists come up there looking for the castle, and if they can’t have access to it, they’ll be very disappointed,” said Anne Grigutis, owner of the Trayde Castle in Redstone.Harrison said the IRS realizes the castle’s future is important to the town, and he hopes to persuade the buyer to discuss his plans for the property in public.”He was concerned about being mobbed by the press,” Harrison said.Glenwood Springs attorney Jonathan Shamis watched Saturday’s proceedings with a different interest. He represents a group of investors, led by Universal Synergy, that has won a $3.2 million judgment and hopes to receive some payment through the sale of the properties.”This is just a real estate transaction,” he said of the auction. “The story behind it is the real story.”Harrison said there are other claims to be decided as well, and it will be up to a court to decide how much money everyone gets. The IRS has recovered $25 million in assets to help pay off scam victims. But Harrison said not all victims may be paid. They will have to show that they invested money that wasn’t obtained through Ponzi schemes, drug deals or other illegal means.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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