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For some of Clem Carinalli's former investors, Chapter 11 is proving to be a longer saga than expected.

Two and a half years after the Santa Rosa developer filed the largest personal bankruptcy in Sonoma County history, most of his unsecured creditors have yet to see a dime from the liquidation of his holdings.

And some feel they've been left in the dark as to why.

"I was hopeful to have some money by now," said Bob Sinai, a 95-year-old retired attorney who said he often wakes up in the middle of the night blaming himself for investing his life's savings with Carinalli.

"We'd like to know what property they've sold, what property they haven't sold and why they haven't sold it," he said.

It is unclear whether Carinalli is continuing to be paid $15,000 a month to act as a consultant while his holdings are sold off. He declined comment. Andrea Wirum, trustee for the bankruptcy, did not return repeated phone calls and emails over the past week.

Under the bankruptcy plan, all of Carinalli's belongings are being sold or returned to lenders to partially repay $196 million in debts.

Last year, the court-appointed trustee overseeing the disposal of Carinalli's crumbled empire paid out nearly $9.7 million, according to court filings.

But just 41 percent of the total went to creditors, and nearly all of that appears to have gone to secured lenders, such as banks. Meanwhile, 29 percent went to various fees and expenses and 30 percent has gone to "all other disbursements."

Individual creditors, such as Sinai, who made loans to Carinalli backed only by his word, have had to keep waiting or accept just 10 cents for every dollar they were owed.

A handful of such investors were paid $64,369, or 10 percent of their claims, in exchange for a quick resolution, according to a year-end report filed by Wirum.

But most of the more than 100 unsecured investors, many of them elderly, continue to wait for more, some without much hope.

Joe Mattos, 67, who was forced back to work after losing $500,000 to Carinalli's investments, worries there may be no money left once attorneys and experts take their share.

"My gut feeling tells me we are not going to get anything," he said.

Wirum, a Lafayette attorney hired to administer the bankruptcy case, has issued quarterly reports to creditors that leave many of their questions unanswered.

She has declined to disclose how many of Carinalli's more than 200 properties have been sold or reveal their values, saying such information could weaken the trust's ability to market its land holdings.

Her reports are silent on Carinalli's role in the trust. The developer was slated to be paid $15,000 a month to serve as a consultant for the first year of the liquidation plan, with the option of continued employment.

Carinalli's compensation is a point of contention for Sinai, who believes the developer knew his financial problems were mounting when he took Sinai's money in late 2007.

"I think he was in trouble and he knew it," Sinai said.

According to her year-end report, Wirum makes regular reports to a committee made up of unsecured creditors, which must approve the sale of any asset exceeding $250,000. Members of the committee did not return phone calls.

"There is not a lot of transparency," said Doug Provencher, a Santa Rosa bankruptcy attorney whose clients forced Carinalli into bankruptcy in 2009, alleging he was treating some of his creditors better than others. "But on the other hand, this is what the creditors decided to do."

Wirum described challenges in dealing with the trust's vast assets in her year-end report, which was submitted to creditors Jan. 31.

The value of Carinalli's holdings -- a mixture of residential, commercial, farm and undeveloped properties -- has declined since the liquidation plan was developed, Wirum wrote.

The market for raw land, a large portion of the trust's holdings, has fallen to historic lows, she said.

Some properties have lost so much value that it no longer made sense to continue making payments to lenders, she wrote. In those cases, the trust has surrendered the properties to the secured lender.

Many potential buyers expected fire-sale prices, well below the value placed on them by the trust, Wirum wrote.

"The trustee has rejected low offers and is satisfied that the sales that have been completed to date have been for fair market value," she wrote.

Wirum also is responsible for tracking down any additional money owed the estate.

To that end, she is suing a pair of Carinalli's former business partners, alleging they took advantage of his plight to pick up assets, including his share of the local garbage company, North Bay Corp., at a steep discount. The suit against Dennis Hunter, James Ratto and several related business entities currently is in the discovery process.

Still the trust has managed to keep to timelines laid out in the repayment plan approved by creditors in fall 2010, Wirum wrote.

The plan calls for unsecured creditors to be paid an estimated 26 percent to 56 percent of their claims within five years.

Wirum wrote that she expects to make the first payments to unsecured creditors by the end of 2012, beating conservative projections that called for them to start at the end of next year.

Some creditors say the process, though expensive, slow and far from perfect, is proceeding as intended.

"It's unfolding the way it was always expected to unfold," said Corrick Brown, the retired Santa Rosa Symphony conductor who helped force Carinalli into bankruptcy.

You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or sam.scott@pressdemocrat.com.

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