A developer who was involved with high-profile projects in Portland and Saco and was accused of embezzlement by a business partner has filed for bankruptcy.

The filing by Bernard Saulnier, whose development proposals included a $40 million project on Saco Island, puts on hold a lawsuit filed against him last year by a former business partner. Saulnier has denied allegations that he embezzled money and blames the business partner for the company’s financial troubles.

Bernard Saulnier

In the past four years, Saulnier proposed high-profile projects in Saco and Portland while also drawing criticism from people he worked with and facing dozens of liens from unpaid bills.

Saulnier, a Massachusetts native who lives in Saco, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on June 30. The court filing lists 12 LLCs under which Saulnier has done business in recent years, including J&B Partners LLC and Saulnier Development LLC.

The bankruptcy filing lists more than $1.9 million in liabilities owed to 30 creditors with unsecured claims. Those debts include $6,612.52 owed to the City of Portland Planning and Urban Development Department and other business debt with contractors, landscapers, architects and individuals.

Saulnier did not respond to an interview request. His attorney, James Molleur of Molleur Law Office in Saco, was on vacation and could not be reached.

The bankruptcy filing places on hold the lawsuit filed against Saulnier by his former business partner John Veneziano, who alleged that Saulnier “squandered, embezzled and stole” money from their company, J&B Partners LLC, to pay personal debts and maintain a lifestyle he could not afford.

Saulnier filed a response to the lawsuit that denied Veneziano’s allegations and alleged that Veneziano’s failure to secure $32 million in loans led the company to run into financial troubles, culminating with foreclosure auctions on properties in Saco and Portland.

William Gallitto, an attorney with Bergen Parkinson Attorneys who represents Veneziano, filed a motion for judgment in the lawsuit shortly before Saulnier filed for bankruptcy.

“It is unfortunate that Mr. Saulnier has decided to file for bankruptcy; however, we will be opposing his bankruptcy based on fraud and I firmly believe the bankruptcy will be dismissed on those grounds,” Gallitto said in a statement.

In 2017, Saulnier went public with plans for an ambitious $40 million project to transform the undeveloped side of Saco Island into apartments, a hotel, restaurants and two marinas. Despite public presentations and meetings with residents about the plans, the project, called The Waters, never got off the ground.

Saulnier and J&B Partners LLC defaulted on the mortgage for the Saco Island site in January 2019 and a public auction for the 6-acre property was delayed twice to allow more time to repay the lender. The site was sold at auction last July to Massachusetts developer Ted Moore.

The same day, Moore purchased at auction the land at 75 Chestnut St. in Portland, where Saulnier had planned to build a $5.9 million, 53-unit apartment building next to an existing parking garage. Saulnier had purchased the project from A&M Partners for $1.25 million, according to city tax records.

When Moore purchased the two properties he took on nearly $3 million in combined liens that had been placed on the Saco and Portland properties.

Previously, a condo project Saulnier proposed on Sheridan Street in Portland in 2016 was delayed when a moratorium was enacted and new restrictions put in place to preserve views of Fort Sumner Park on Munjoy Hill.

Saulnier was also criticized by town officials and residents of an Old Orchard Beach subdivision he left unfinished after running into financial difficulties. Residents of The Legends subdivision say Saulnier failed to build the neighborhood to standards required by the town. Some residents said they were never able to complete the purchase of their homes because of unpaid liens filed by Saulnier’s contractors, eventually leading to a foreclosure auction of two occupied homes and several undeveloped lots.

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