If a storyteller was looking for one person to exemplify the troubles of the American economy, they couldn’t have conjured a better character than Travis Soule.

Soule was perhaps the most aggressive, high-profile property developer in the Twin Cities. He invested millions into downtown Lewiston — for apartment buildings and commercial properties — and built new condominiums from scratch in Auburn, among others.

Everywhere, it seems, he had a partner. As his recent legal troubles have come to light, so have his business associates, in both the private and public sector. The picture painted of Soule is one of the consummate deal-maker, who brought big ideas and got big money to follow them.

He’s far from unique, as the unraveling of the economy and financial markets continues. From coast-to-coast come tales strikingly similar to Soule’s — entrepreneurial wheeler-dealers building empires on paper, only to see them vanish when the notes came due.

At the extreme opposite end of this spectrum is Angelo Mozilo, the suave ex-chief of Countrywide, the monstrous mortgagor whose questionable practices and political ties have earned it Public Enemy No. 1 status following the housing collapse. Mozilo was charged with securities fraud this week.

Of course, the Soule is not charged with anything criminal; the only formal allegations against him have been made in a litany of civil cases filed against him by his partners and associates, from across the state.


Yet the investigation is ongoing. Federal regulators have raided Lewiston City Hall, looking for documents and records. There is evidence of fraudulent signatures on work orders for furnaces to be installed in Soule’s apartments on Pine Street, through federal program funding, that never were.

In the meantime, decisions are being made in civil courts that also pass judgment on Soule’s business practices. This week came yet another: the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the owner of the Cowan Mill, which Soule pledged to renovate and then backed away, is liable for unpaid architectural fees Soule incurred.

In 2005, Soule stood shoulder to shoulder with Lewiston officials to announce the renaissance of Island Point. Today, with the business Soule built crumbled, his assets sold and his debts unpaid, that four-year-old photo op should be considered a historical snapshot of how the U.S. economy went awry.

An over-leveraged developer, awash in the ample credit and superheated values of the mid-decade housing market, reaching beyond the limits of sustainability. Governments that, instead of asking all the right questions, were seemingly content with the answers for their bottom line.

The story of Travis Soule, with all its twists and turns, has become an allegory for these economic times. The grist for a scriptwriter’s mill is plentiful: the political intrigue and connections, the big business deals, the court cases, the shivering tenants in apartments without heat.

It’s the recent American tale in one spoonful: reckless investing and pursuit of profit, aided by both government prompting and lack of oversight, evaporates almost overnight, leaving investors scrambling and regular people helpless. Where this story ends is still unknown.

At least for now, until the federal investigators who trucked those boxes of papers from Lewiston City Hall have their say.


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