Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Keeping Up Appearances, Russian Style

There's plenty of millionaires living along the North Shore of Lake Michigan, but if you're looking for an opulent lifestyle with plenty of display, you'd need go no further north of Chicago than Highland Park.

Mikhail Katamanin resided in a lakefront mansion, with a second mansion next door to accommodate his happy family. Or to accommodate his fleet of vintage sports cars. Either way, he broadcast to the community that he was a wealthy man with plenty of money to throw around.

Except it was all a big show.

Mr. Katamanin died recently, leaving more debts than assets. He spent what he didn't have, playing off his apparent wealth to acquire loans that funded a lavish lifestyle he couldn't actually afford.

Little wonder that he died young of a heart ailment. The stress of keeping up appearances must have been phenomenally stressful.

While his creditors scramble to get their $20 million back, the Katamanin children have been selling off bits and pieces of the estate to get their share before it's all gone to pay off loans.

The side by side mansions are up for grabs at the moment. According to legal documents, the properties are owned by a separate corporation, but there's other legal documents that show Mr. Katamanin used the parcels as collateral for a personal loan. Nothing like weaving a tangled web to keep your creditors running around in circles while you party, party, party!

It was wealth on paper, and now that the paper has crumbled to dust, the family thinks they are entitled to something when there's actually nothing there. They'll fight in court, of course, and the only ones who'll end up ahead will be the lawyers.

Unlike Daniel Deronda, Mr. Katamanin didn't entice others into bad investments, but he's a fascinating character for a novel anyway. There's an international element, with his homes and business in Russia and America and Switzerland.

And he's a made-up character through and through.

There was no real money, just pretend wealth. His life was a complex shifting of scenery to mask what was going on behind the stage.

The curtain has rung down, the show is over, and Mr. Katamanin's children are scrambling to find money to pay college tuition and keep a roof over their heads. The lakefront homes are for sale, but who will get the proceeds will take years to determine.

The drama has ended and the set must be struck. And so ends the big production that was keeping up appearances. As always, the stagehands are left to clean up the mess.

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