- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

BIDDEFORD, Maine (AP) - The old owner of a once-beloved aquarium in Maine is suing his former attorney with a claim that the lawyer intentionally mishandled a bankruptcy case stemming from an attempt to resurrect the facility.

Former Maine Aquarium owner Raymond Cronkite hoped to reopen the long-shuttered facility in Biddeford before seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. He owned the original Maine Aquarium in Saco, which in its heyday was a popular attraction for locals and vacationing families, from 1984 to 1997.

Cronkite’s lawsuit alleges that Portland attorney James Molleur intentionally damaged his prospects for reorganization by misrepresenting his assets and letting the former mill building Cronkite had been rehabbing go to a group of investors at auction.

“Maine residents were denied a great opportunity to resume their patronage of what would have been an even bigger and better Maine Aquarium than the one they already enjoyed for over 12 years,” wrote Cronkite, who is representing himself, in the lawsuit.

Molleur’s attorney, Jim Bowie, of Portland, said Molleur and his firm deny the allegations and believe Cronkite’s bankruptcy case was properly resolved.

Bowie said he and Molleur expect the lawsuit to be dismissed swiftly. He added that Molleur’s firm hasn’t had any involvement with Cronkite since 2009.

“We will be filing the appropriate motions to resolve the case in due course,” Bowie said.

The original Maine Aquarium was on 70 acres of land on Route 1 in Saco. It housed exhibits with seals, sharks, penguins and the fish of Maine’s lakes until its foreclosure. The animals were transferred to other aquariums, Cronkite said.

Cronkite hoped to revive the aquarium in a former mill building in Biddeford with a research center and educational tour boats running on the Saco River. The aquarium would have been in Biddeford’s revitalizing downtown, where other faded mills have been repurposed.

One of Cronkite’s claims is that Molleur knowingly made it look like Cronkite’s assets - chiefly the mill - were worth much less than their actual value.

Cronkite said his assets were at least $3 million, but Molleur told the court they were less than $50,000, the lawsuit states. The lawsuit accuses Molleur of “sitting like a potted plant” when he could have objected to a judge’s order that let the property go to auction, where investors bought it for a fraction of its worth.

Cronkite is asking for a jury trial and monetary damages. The case is currently in the discovery phase, which ends Oct. 10. A spokeswoman for York County Superior Court in Alfred said the case could be scheduled for a hearing after that.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said the plan to reopen the aquarium, which would have been along a major rail line, would have been a boon to the city, and the project’s failure was a disappointment.

“Conceptually, looking at the designs, they were beautiful designs,” he said. “I know he sunk a lot of money into it and invested a lot of time into the design. I am disappointed that it never came to fruition.”

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