By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
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At his latest hearing in Denver District Court, Erik Osborn stood to address the judge, alone. That's a position in which the 41-year-old developer has increasingly found himself since late 2007, when a grand jury slapped him with an indictment on charges that he'd stolen money from his multimillion-dollar construction projects. If he's convicted, the two third-degree felony counts could bring a maximum of 24 years in prison — a very hard sell.
In December, Osborn's attorney, Jeffrey Pagliuca, had quit, citing a "non-adherence to the fee agreement" and "an inability to communicate caused by the client." Osborn then put in a request for representation by the public defender's office but was denied on the grounds that he didn't meet the "indigent" status required by the program. On February 20, Osborn was there to contest the denial.
Prosecutor Joe Morales, the Denver District Attorney's go-to guy on white-collar crime cases, viewed Osborn's sudden vow of poverty as simply an attempt to delay his trial, which was originally scheduled to begin February 2. A representative from the public defender's office showed Judge Sheila Rappaport a photo of Osborn's home at 7 Polo Club Lane. Osborn and his wife, local real-estate broker Angela Osborn, had bought the nearly 15,000-square-foot mega-mansion in the Polo Club for $6.5 million.
The judge decided to assign a collections investigator to examine the defendant's material condition, but included a specific warning to Osborn that he "provide truthful statements...regarding his indigency" and that anything to the contrary could be considered criminal.
Can a man who lives in an Italian-style villa with heated floors, a paneled library, a full gym, a home theater, a steam room, a humidor and a spa be too broke to afford a lawyer? Osborn insists that's the case, since the major deals that had made him the golden boy of downtown development in recent years — including One Lincoln Park, a 32-story luxury condo project — have become mired in lawsuits, liens and bitter fights between former partners. Disputes over Osborn's various projects have generated legal filings that take up entire shelves at the county court records department, over issues that tipped like dominoes across Osborn's burgeoning development empire.
Osborn insists he wouldn't need a public defender if his former associates in One Lincoln Park, local car salesman "Dealin' Doug" Moreland and talk-radio personality Tom "Lou from Littleton" Manoogian, would release what he says are millions of dollars in sales and commissions due to him and his wife. "They're trying to stretch us out, that's why they're not paying," he claims.
But where Osborn sees himself as the victim of a "witch hunt," others see him as a witch, the Bernie Madoff of Denver real estate. "Except with Madoff, at least some of the investors got paid," seethes Moreland. "Everything Erik Osborn touched turned to crap."
Erik Osborn is not a stereotypical asshole developer. He doesn't bark orders with an East Coast accent or strut around shouting, "You're fired!" He's personable and handsome, with youthful gray eyes and a construction worker's shoulders that could've allowed him to pass as a male model in his formative years. Associates describe their first impressions of him as "smooth as silk," "extremely charming" and "a really nice guy."
Growing up, Osborn split his time between Colorado and Arizona, where he was born. His father was an executive with the former Mountain Bell phone company. In his late twenties, he began working construction in the Denver area; in 1999 he started his own small construction outfit, Osborn Construction Enterprises. After several years of working residential jobs, doing framing, demolition, excavation and painting, Osborn got a chance at heading his own project in 2002, when he rehabbed a series of medium-sized office buildings in the Inverness area of Greenwood Village. For that deal, he says, he teamed up with investors ranging from his parents to former Denver Bronco Terrell Davis.
Osborn's charisma helped him woo the blond and beautiful Angela, a broker of high-end real estate for Coldwell Banker Devonshire, and they married in 2003. By July 2004, By July 2004, the Osborns were doing well enough that they bought a house for $2.3 million at 1991 East Alameda Avenue, and immediately began renovations to add a wing above the garage.
By then, Osborn had partnered with longtime residential developer Jeffrey Raymond in a company called Solen. Solen's first project, "Roslyn," was another small office-building rehab in the south suburbs, with Raymond the primary investor. The second was a seven-acre plot at 2801 East Cedar Avenue in Denver, just north of the Polo Club, where they planned to build high-end homes in an exclusive mini-neighborhood they dubbed "Montage." For legal purposes, though, the project was simply referred to as "Cedar." For investors in that project, Osborn pulled from a friendship he'd developed with Tom Manoogian after the two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance at the Greenwood Athletic and Tennis Club. Manoogian, a self-described "sports nut" for KOA as well as other radio stations, liked Osborn's investment idea so much that he called up another friend, a guy he'd known from his days selling used cars on South Broadway: Doug Moreland.