John Linnehan, a prominent and politically active Ellsworth-area businessman whose stated mission is to spread the word of God, has a much higher public profile than the three other candidates in this year’s Ellsworth City Council race.
Along with greater name recognition, Linnehan also has a string of well-publicized controversies in his past.
These include legal disputes with state regulators over how he has run two separate businesses, a bitter feud with fellow board members of a now-defunct private Christian school, and other legally binding orders.
Twice his businesses have come under fire by the state attorney general’s office, which accused Linnehan of misleading and mistreating his customers, first through his used car business and later through his real estate management firm Linnehan Homes.
When asked this week about the state investigations, which resulted in settlements with the attorney general’s office in 2002 and 2019, Linnehan denied wrongdoing, saying he was “falsely and needlessly attacked” by the AG’s office. In each case, he said, the AG’s office took exception to his business practices and sought to establish “new laws” that would have forced him to operate differently.
“Each of my targeted companies … were found innocent legally, had broken no laws, yet agreed to make some very minor changes to our business operational policies,” Linnehan said.
His companies also agreed to pay “very small” amounts of money — roughly $51,000 in fines and costs in the car case and more than $18,000 in refunds in the real estate case — to resolve the investigations and avoid the “much higher expense” of going to court, he said.
“I am not going to speculate here about why I believe they chose to come after me, although I have my strong opinions,” Linnehan said.
In the used car case, Linnehan’s Credit Now Auto Co., agreed in 2002 to forgive more than $2.8 million in outstanding consumer car loans after it reached a settlement with the attorney general’s office. The state had filed suit against the car company for repossessing and then reselling cars in a scheme that violated a “reasonable conduct” provision of the state’s unfair trade practices laws, state officials said at the time.
Before Linnehan sold his car sales company to Lee Auto Malls in 2009, it also came under scrutiny from state tax officials.
The state supreme court in 2006 upheld a Superior Court ruling that determined Linnehan’s Credit Now was not entitled to claim a bad debt tax credit and ordered that company to pay nearly half a millions dollars to Maine Revenue Services, including more than $400,000 in back taxes and interest and roughly $84,500 “as a penalty for negligence.”
Two years ago, Linnehan again came under scrutiny from the attorney general’s office via his real estate business Linnehan Homes. The office accused Linnehan of enrolling consumers in the company’s “American Dream Path to Home Ownership” plan though they could not afford it and lost money when they withdrew or were terminated from the plan.
Some people who left or were terminated from the plan complained to the attorney general’s office that when they signed deals with the company, they thought they were buying homes and did not realize they instead were leasing the homes and were supposed to make additional option payments toward the purchase price if they wanted to buy them.
In a subsequent agreement with the office, Linnehan Homes said it would give partial refunds to customers who withdrew early, and more time for customers to review plan documents before signing. It also agreed to revise the plan’s documents and promotional statements to address other concerns raised by regulators.
Linnehan said this week that the company is no longer offering the American Dream Home Ownership plan.
“Sadly, some Maine consumers that would have had an affordable plan in place to eventually purchase their own homes will no longer be able to qualify,” Linnehan said.
Another past controversy did not involve state regulators, but instead was a feud between Linnehan and other board members of a now-defunct Christian school in Trenton that he had supported financially.
The board dispute that embroiled Life Christian Academy spilled into public view in 2007 when Linnehan was kicked off the board and then tried to lock school officials out of its leased Route 3 building, where Linnehan served as the property manager. The school board later sued Linnehan and others, but the lawsuit ended up being settled out of court for terms that were not disclosed.
At the time, some officials at the school pointedly and publicly blamed Linnehan for “a very unpleasant and traumatic situation.”
Without going into details about the dispute, Linnehan said this week that the episode “remains one of the saddest times and events that I’ve had the misfortune of ever being involved with in my entire life.”
He said he made wrong choices at the time and that he has since asked for forgiveness from others involved in the dispute and from God.
“As difficult a situation and time as this was in my life, I have learned many positive lessons from it and I believe it has made me a much better person,” Linnehan said.