JEANNE RIZZOTTO

Developer loses property and chimps

2010-08-18T22:00:00Z 2010-08-19T00:40:03Z Developer loses property and chimpsCLAIR JOHNSON Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 18, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

Red Lodge real estate developer Jeanne Rizzotto, who had big plans for a luxury RV resort, has lost everything. Her home, her office and her development properties now belong to the banks.

Even her two pet chimpanzees, Connor and Kramer, are gone. Rizzotto sent them to a chimp sanctuary in Florida.

“The financial disaster has occurred that we worked so hard to avert,” said Rizzotto’s attorney, Robert L. Stephens of Billings, on Wednesday.

The banks took possession earlier this month of Rizzotto’s properties, Stephens said — “all of it.”

Rizzotto, who filed for bankruptcy in 2009, had a reorganization plan based on income being generated from leasing lots in a proposed luxury RV resort called Of Course RV Resort, Stephens said. The development was to be located on 190 acres south of Red Lodge and feature a nine-hole golf course.

Earlier this year, Rizzotto said she expected the development to generate about $10 million the first year through the sale of 99-year leases to affluent, semi-retired baby boomers.

Under the bankruptcy plan, Rizzotto had a deadline by which to pay the banks or lose her property, Stephens said.

Rizzotto negotiated a business agreement with resort operators in which she would have been general manager of the project and been guaranteed an income plus a percentage of the sales, Stephens said. The deal was worth about $5 million, he said. Stephens said the resort operators decided not to proceed with the deal.

The agreement with the banks hinged on the ability to get financing and a business purchase completed by a July 30 deadline, Stephens said.

“When that deal went south, there was no backup plan in place,” he said.

The bankruptcy reorganization is still pending, Stephens said, but the possession of the property by the banks make it impossible for Rizzotto to perform under the plan.

In March, Rizzotto owed about $369,000 to the Bank of Red Lodge and nearly $1.9 million to Beartooth Bank, along with other debts.

Rizzotto’s criminal charges in Carbon County also have been resolved. Stephens said a felony bad check charge that was deferred was dismissed and that pending probation revocation accusing her of maintaining vicious animals also was dismissed.

Stephens said he still remains Rizzotto’s attorney on several pending civil matters.

Rizzotto has placed her chimps, which she raised like her children, with a sanctuary called Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“Jeanne has no intention of acquiring chimps in the future,” Stephens said. “She long ago recognized when chimps reach a certain age it was inappropriate to have (them) as household pets.”

Rizzotto found the chimp sanctuary on her own, he said.

A spokeswoman for Save the Chimps did not return a call seeking comment. The organization’s website said in an undated news item that it welcomed the 8-year-old male chimps.

Save The Chimps did not identify Rizzotto but said the chimps’ owner wanted a sanctuary to take them on “an emergency basis when she realized that chimpanzees do not make appropriate pets and faced growing pressure from her local community to relocate the chimps.”

The organization also said that like all people or groups that give them chimps, Connor’s and Kramer’s former owner agreed never to acquire another chimp again. Save The Chimps said it costs $14,000 a year to care for a chimp, which can live an average of 50 years in captivity. The sanctuary provides lifelong care to 275 chimps.

Rizzotto faced a misdemeanor public nuisance charge in Carbon County when one of her chimps attacked and bit a woman in November 2008. Officials alleged the chimps escaped from their enclosure, while Rizzotto maintained that their getaway was the result of vandalism.

Last year the Carbon County Board of Health voted to require Rizzotto to quarantine her chimps, provide current medical records and update their vaccinations. The quarantine came in response to a biting incident in November 2008.

Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon said the quarantine has been in place a long time but that Rizzotto didn’t really comply with the conditions. There wasn’t cooperation or communication with the health board, he said.

Nixon said he didn’t have confirmation on the location of the chimps but hoped the animals were in a place where they could receive proper care.

Rizzotto’s chimps had been a public health concern in Red Lodge for several years, beginning when she took them into restaurants and other public locations. The chimps, which Rizzotto used to buckle into car seats, had not been to town since 2005, she said previously.

Rizzotto could not be reached for comment. Her phone was no longer in service. Stephens said he thought she was staying with friends.

“Jeanne Rizzotto is very resilient and very creative and a very hard worker. I suspect Jeanne will return to the business world and be very successful,” he said.

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