Published September 19. 2012 4:00AM
You have to wonder if all those years of service as an amusement park cast some kind of weird spell over the former Maple Breeze Park on Route 2 in Stonington.
Maybe it's contamination, the result of all those years of spilled ice cream.
After all, the old amusement park looks positively spooky these days, with big trees growing up through what once served as a miniature golf course and the swimming pool collapsing, like the ground is just swallowing the place up whole. You can barely make out where the parking lot once was.
What makes it stranger is that all around there are signs of the kind of new development you might expect here, in this big commercial corridor off Interstate 95.
Across the highway is a new La Quinta Inn & Suites. Close by is a 10-screen cinema, a new Stop & Shop, a new doughnut shop and a new bank.
It is a part of Stonington that town officials have designated as desirable for commercial development.
And yet the 9-acre site of the former Maple Breeze Park has languished, part of two separate finance scandals involving two different owners.
The first unfolded in 2003, after a Ledyard-based financier bought the old park for $1.2 million and promised to bankroll a $5 million health club there.
Alas, the same day they broke ground on the health club, federal agents raided the Ledyard offices of Blake A. Prater, the newest Maple Breeze owner, beginning a long case in which he was charged with running a sophisticated Internet Ponzi scheme.
The government successfully prosecuted Prater for a variety of charges stemming from a scheme in which he would get people to make payments up front in return for loan payoffs down the road.
You could make two payments on a car loan, for instance, and the rest would be paid for you, according to the government. Like a classic Ponzi, the money from new investors was used to pay high returns to old investors.
Prater was sentenced to 10 years in prison and made to pay a $3.4 million fine.
The next criminal to own the park was a little less colorful in his crimes.
Richard Girouard of Norwalk bought it in 2006 for $1.8 million from someone who had bought it at auction in 2004.
Girouard, who built expensive mansions in New York suburbs, was known around here for buying the Ocean House in Watch Hill and proposing to tear it down to build five big houses.
Those plans were scrapped, though, when he sold it instead to mutual fund manager Chuck Royce, who ended up restoring the oceanfront hotel.
Girouard had proposed a 61-unit townhouse development for Maple Breeze, which was rejected by the town, and a supermarket, which was approved.
But before even a groundbreaking on the new Maple Breeze project could occur, the long arm of the law intervened again.
Girouard was arrested on charges that he masterminded a $6 million scheme to bribe a Bank of America vice president to rig an auction of surplus bank property. He was sentenced in 2010 to 2½ years in prison, fined $15,000 and ordered to forfeit $2 million of waterfront real estate in Norwalk.
Girouard's limited liability corporation still owns Maple Breeze.
But Konover Development Corp., the big Connecticut commercial developer, has a contract on the property and recently began marketing it. They will sell or build to suit for one or more tenants.
Stan Glantz, Konover executive vice president, told me recently there have been a lot of calls since a sign went up on the property.
It's a good location.
Things should work out, as long as no new criminals turn up to develop it, and they don't find any ice cream contamination, after all.
No one believes in curses anyway, right?
This is the opinion of David Collins.