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Nelson Skalbania, the jet-setting former sports magnate who suffered a humiliating fall from grace, is inching back into the spotlight after years of keeping a low profile.

Still a risk taker and fitness fanatic at 65, the bearded financier was sidelined in 1997 when he was convicted of stealing $100,000 from a prospective real estate partner and narrowly avoided time in jail.

From his base in Vancouver, Mr. Skalbania has continued to work behind the scenes to finance real estate projects, including an $800-million ski and golf resort near Squamish, B.C., a scenic logging town about halfway between Vancouver and Whistler.

He is also involved in a New Mexico company researching ways to desalinate sea water using solar energy.

Real estate industry sources say Mr. Skalbania's usual practice is to create a syndicate of investors, even though he may not be an investor himself.

But in a telephone interview, Mr. Skalbania declined to be specific about his role in the Garibaldi Mountain resort near Squamish, confirming only that he is "part of the team" that includes Vancouver developers Bob Gaglardi and Luigi Aquilini. The project is designed to take advantage of improvements to the Sea-to-Sky highway that links Vancouver to the Whistler ski area before the 2010 Winter Olympics.

He would not disclose what his interests are in Solar Energy Ltd. of Los Alamos, N.M., a company he helped to reorganize in 1997, and whose shares are quoted on the Nasdaq Stock Market's unregulated over-the-counter bulletin board.

"Sometimes my involvement in deals is controversial," he explained. "Sometimes it helps; sometimes it doesn't, especially when it comes to governments and permits.

"So sometimes I'd rather just be quiet."

A fixture in Canadian sports pages in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Skalbania stayed out of the spotlight after the British Columbia Supreme Court sentenced him to one year in jail for stealing $100,000 from prospective real estate partner Gordon Gooch six years ago.

According to court documents, he used the money he had agreed to deposit in a trust account to pay a $50,000 debt to financier Sam Belzberg and for payments to his daughter and a brokerage firm.

Court records indicate that Mr. Gooch "got the run-around" before the money was repaid, with $4,000 more to compensate him for the delay and inconvenience.

After the intervention of prominent friends who provided the court with character references and testified on his behalf, Mr. Skalbania avoided a term in jail. Instead he spent nearly a year on parole wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that enabled provincial corrections officials to monitor his every move. The bracelet was removed in December, 1999.

It was a humiliating blow for a man who once vied for headline space with icons of Canadian professional sports such as Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, now deceased, and former Edmonton Oilers supremo Peter Pocklington.

When he was riding high, Mr. Skalbania owned a list of sports franchises over the years that included the Montreal Alouettes and the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League, and the National Hockey League's Oilers.

The son of Polish immigrants, Mr. Skalbania grew up in East Vancouver before earning a master's degree in engineering at the California Institute of Technology. He is best known for selling Wayne Gretzky to Mr. Pocklington and the Oilers in 1978. That was when the hockey superstar was only 17 and Mr. Skalbania owned the Indianapolis Racers of the defunct World Hockey Association.

According to a 1981 Globe and Mail report, he even considered taking Mr. Gretzky on as a deck hand on one of his yachts.

He made and lost millions in the 1970s by flipping real estate properties, and reinvested the proceeds in assets that included a fleet of Rolls-Royces and a joint interest with his wife in Vancouver's prestigious Georgia Hotel.

But because of rising interest rates and an extravagant lifestyle that included betting tens of thousands of dollars on backgammon games, he was insolvent by 1982, court documents show. He suffered further embarrassment when his second wife, Eleni, left him and, in a widely publicized show of remorse, he pleaded with her in front of 400 guests at a party to return. The couple later reconciled.

"Poor old Nelson, he is still the sort of chairman of the board in Vancouver," said one financier who has had financial dealings with him over the years.

Previous attempts at a comeback fell through when he was forced to hand over control of the Lions to a receiver in August, 1996, only six months after he had taken on the ownership role.

He also made an unsuccessful bid to revive Norton Motors Ltd., a relic of the British motorcycle industry after buying the company for his daughter, Rozanda, in 1993 and selling his stake less than a year later.

More recently, he has been involved as a consultant and financier to various groups in trying to kick-start development of the Garibaldi ski resort.

But if he is no longer courting the media, Mr. Skalbania has not lost his appetite for risk or doing deals.

"He is the kind of guy that you go to when you have some crazy idea and a sliver or a hair chance of getting it financed," said Wolfgang Richter, a Victoria developer who has tried for 25 years to get the Garibaldi project off the ground. "He will look at it and he will probably pass on it, but he will at least look at it. So he is very much in demand."

In an interview, Mr. Gooch described Mr. Skalbania as someone who virtually invented the concept of "flipping real estate,'' a process that involves making a small down payment and selling for a profit before he had taken possession. "He could look at an apartment building and tell right away whether it was worth buying,'' Mr. Gooch said.

Mr. Skalbania got involved in funding Solar Energy after reading about the company's chairman, Melvin Prueitt, in a 1993 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine.

At the time, Mr. Prueitt was working at Los Alamos National Laboratories on a project that envisaged using giant convection towers to eliminate urban smog.

"He called me up and asked me if I would do some consulting for him," Mr. Prueitt said.

With other partners, Mr. Prueitt said, they established a company called Hydro-Air Technologies Ltd. that was acquired in 1997 by a publicly traded shell company found by Mr. Skalbania.

Having changed its name to Solar Energy, the company is now engaged in a number of research projects, including the production of drinkable water from the sea.

"He comes down to visit us every once in a while," Mr. Prueitt said.

Still, real estate industry officials say his best chance for a comeback may lie with Garibaldi Mountain.

"He is involved and has made some introductions," said Mike Esler, the project's general manager and a director of a company that is attempting to develop the site.

Mr. Richter said Mr. Skalbania has contributed about $1-million to cover the cost of environmental assessment work and introduced Mr. Aquilini to those interested in the project.

Sources familiar with the project say Mr. Skalbania recruited Mr. Aquilini, one of two Vancouver developers [the other is Mr. Gaglardi]who are positioned to control the latest bid to secure permits for what has been dubbed a smaller version of the booming Whistler-Blackcomb resort.

That was before the project recently became bogged down in separate lawsuits launched by Mr. Richter and the Squamish First Nation.

Mr. Richter alleges in a statement of claim that shares in Garibaldi at Squamish Inc. (GAS), a company with exclusive development rights, should not have been transferred by Toronto financier Hunter Milborne to Mr. Gaglardi and Mr. Aquilini without the prior consent of the province.

"I'm opposing the sale of the shares to those individuals and I have made that very clear," he said in an interview. However, Mr. Richter says he has no quarrel with Mr. Skalbania, even though he said the two no longer talk about Garibaldi when they run into one another. "It's off topic."

The Squamish First Nation filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court in a bid to stop the developers from expanding the boundaries of the resort study area to include an 18-hole golf course.

In its petition, the Squamish First Nation said it was not consulted when Land and Water B.C., an agency of the provincial government, approved a request by GAS to expand the scope of the project's study area.

They [the provincial government]are trying to create a development boom on our traditional lands," Chief Bill Williams said in an interview. "Our interests are not being respected whatsoever."

A spokeswoman for Land and Water B.C. said she could not comment on the allegations in the petition, nor speculate on what impact they will have on the existing development plans.

Also, in statements of defence filed in the B.C. Supreme Court, Mr. Milborne, Mr. Gaglardi and Mr. Aquilini each deny all of the allegations. Mr. Milborne has also launched a countersuit seeking compensation for legal costs and damage to his reputation.

Meanwhile, Mr. Skalbania keeps himself fit by running (he is a former marathoner) and playing golf and racquetball. "Running is a big part of his life," said Jack Poole, chairman of the Vancouver-Whistler Olympic bid committee, who described himself as a friend of Mr. Skalbania's for more then 30 years.

Sources say Mr. Skalbania also hangs out with a "brat pack" that includes stockbroker Peter Brown and real estate developer Bob Lee.

"He is society now," said one real estate dealer, who asked not to be identified.

Mr. Skalbania retains a keen interest in sports, particularly the business side.Friends such as Mr. Poole describe him as a very knowledgeable and "fun guy to be with." But they also attribute his earlier financial troubles to a lack of patience. "Probably his biggest flaw is that he is way too quick, and maybe not thorough enough," Mr. Richter said. "He has just got a very, very quick mind."