Speculator’s personal bankruptcy may tinge spouse: Trustee sorting through assets of real estate investor Marten, jeweler wife

Keywords Real Estate
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A real estate speculator whose wife owns a prominent Carmel jewelry store has filed for personal bankruptcy, spawning an inquiry into whether her assets should be available to repay his creditors.

On April 27, Christopher Marten filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, listing assets of $1.03 million and liabilities of $2.56 million. The case is pending in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis. Marten’s 26 creditors include six banks and credit unions.

Christopher Marten is married to Jan Marten, owner of Carmel-based J.S. Marten Jewelers. Jan Marten is also one of 16 founders of the new Symphony Bank, which plans to open its first branch at 3737 E. 96th St. by year’s end.

Neither Christopher nor Jan Marten responded to IBJ’s requests for an interview. Christopher Marten’s attorney, Terry English, said his client’s financial troubles stem from a defunct real estate partnership called CM 1000.

Throughout the 1990s, English said, CM 1000 purchased residential houses to restore, then rent or resell. English said CM 1000 ceased operations in 1997.

Although Christopher Marten is listed as secretary/treasurer of J.S. Marten Jewelers, he took no income from the store and most of his assets are separate from his wife’s, according to the bankruptcy petition. For now, Kroger Gardis & Regas LLP partner John Petr, the U.S. trustee handling the case, is not pursuing Jan Marten’s assets.

“He testified at the meeting of creditors that he does not own any of the stock of J.S. Marten. Whether there are any claims against Mrs. Marten, there’s an ongoing investigation,” Petr said. “Right now, I have no knowledge or basis on which to pursue her.”

English said Christopher Marten has been facing financial woes since CM 1000 partner Joseph Cirillo declared bankruptcy in 2001, leaving many of the firm’s debts unpaid. Bankruptcy court records confirm that Christopher Marten was one of his creditors.

Until now, English said, Christopher Marten had attempted to satisfy CM 1000’s various creditors. But he no longer has sufficient funds to continue.

“He wanted to make his best effort to repay these people what he could afford to repay them. He could have walked out in 2001, and he chose not to,” English said. “He’s paid back what he could in the interim four years.”

Christopher Marten is also vice president and director of business development for the locally based investment advisory firm Wallington Asset Management, a division of Cincinnati-based Bartlett & Co. According to Wallington’s Web site, Christopher Marten has worked there since 1992, responsible for the firm’s marketing.

At a July 5 meeting of creditors, Christopher Marten testified that he owned a 20-percent stake in Wallington before Bartlett bought it in 2001. Christopher Marten also testified about a company he owns called Netram LLC, which, like CM 1000, buys and sells residential houses.

Bankruptcy records show Christopher Marten owns five houses around Indianapolis, all secured by bank loans, in addition to his primary residence in Carmel. He testified that he had been a silent financial partner in his CM 1000 venture with Cirillo, who still owes him several million dollars.

Attorneys representing various creditors are now attempting to establish which of Christopher Marten’s assets are not shielded by bankruptcy protection. For example, during the July 5 meeting, they pursued questions about his stake in a $6.2 million trust held by his 80-year-old mother, Virginia Marten. Christopher Marten testified that he and his 10 siblings will one day each be entitled to equal shares of the trust, but that it is controlled by his mother.

Symphony Bank CEO Steve Tolen said he and his team are still learning the details of the situation. Tolen said Symphony’s business plans remain on track.

“Bottom line, it’s not a director and [the bankruptcy case] doesn’t involve any companies controlled by any directors,” Tolen said.

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