Three Years Later, Ultra-Conservative Lottery Winner Continues to Raise Concerns
(a/k/a Chapter 2 of “Not Me”)
Ditch Weekly, Kansas City, April 20, 2009.
On April 12, 2006, Kansas Citian Krusty Curmudgeon won the entire $224.2 million PowerBall jackpot from the Missouri Lottery. His comments after winning raised worries among lottery officials and others, and his actions since that time have kept those concerns alive.
The area just north of the city of Stanley, North Dakota, has changed a great deal in the last two years. Just off State Route 8, within view of White Lake, a new 15,000 foot grocery store, a 15,000 foot general merchandise discount store, and a string of shops have recently opened, and behind it, a new residential development, Douay Estates, may someday double the population of a county that had about 6500 residents in 2000.
The grocery, Raphael’s, opened six months ago, and the discount general merchandise store, Nicholas’ Mercantile, opened last week. Also open are some smaller shops, including Anthony’s Meats, a butcher shop immediately adjacent to the grocery which has its own storefront as well as a counter opening into Raphael’s to serve grocery patrons. Flanking the grocery on the other side is Elizabeth’s bakery, which, in addition to its own storefront and lobby with tables and chairs for coffee-and-pastry patrons, also has a service counter that sells into Raphael’s. Also open are Amand’s Cellar, a liquor store, and The St. Lawrence Grill.
Soon to open in the remaining shop spaces are Clitherow’s Books and Gifts, C&D Pharmacy, and a medical office. The developer has land to develop several more small retail shops as well.
Across the newly-paved Campion Drive, also facing Route 8, a building is under construction to house the Douay Credit Union and to provide a few office suites for rent. Behind the Douay building is Isidore’s Service, which sells fuel, performs auto repairs and sells tires.
Further down Campion Drive there are two new three-story apartment buildings and two others under construction, all similar in appearance to those built commonly built in cities in the 1920s and 1930s. There is a row of newly constructed small houses, and another row under construction. Nearby, several intermediate single family homes on typical city-sized lots are under construction, and larger homes on half-acre to two-acre lots are either recently completed or are being built a few hundred yards away. In total, 40 houses have been completed and another 25 are under construction. A carpenter who is working in the project told Ditch there were at least a fifty more houses that would come up in the next year. In the center of all this residential development is a large brick residence, a community meeting hall named after missionary and explorer Jean-Pierre DeSmet, a playground, a chapel building, and a private school building.
The first indication that this development is somehow different from the typical subdivision in more urban areas is probably lost on most of those who see it. But someone familiar with Catholic saints might notice that each shop is named after the patron saint for its particular trade, and the new street signs bear the names of Catholics who died in the religious violence that followed the Protestant Reformation in England. The main entrance road, a boulevard lined with young trees, is named after Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest who was executed by the English in 1581. If the observer pulls in and drives through the streets that have been built to date, he or she may notice subtle religious symbols at the intersections and in the roundabouts, as well as in front of most of the newly built homes: statutes of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, or Francis of Assisi, and a mosaic of St. Michael, a sword-wielding angel.
Another unusual feature of this development is the lack of advertising for the project. The unfinished homes and lots do not have for-sale signs, and the houses and none of the property in the development is listed with real estate agents. There are reports that the developer, who declined to be interviewed for this feature, is actually giving many of the lots away, and only asking the new owners to agree to the covenants for the subdivision and to pay their share of the cost of building streets and running utilities to the lot before they connect their houses. And ironically, Curmudgeon himself has not yet built a house here.
The developer is Douay Services, LLC, a company, like the project, named for the town in France where many English Catholics settled after King Henry VIII broke the English church away from Rome in the sixteenth century. Douay is owned by a series of other companies and trusts that are traceable to Krusty Curmudgeon, the Kansas City man who, on April 12, 2006, won the largest jackpot ever awarded by the Missouri Lottery, $224.2 million. Curmudgeon is a member of an ultra-conservative branch of the Catholic Church that continues to hold its services in Latin and preaches a strict morality where television, many modern fashions, sex outside of marriage, religious freedom and the equality of women are scorned. When interviewed shortly after he won the lottery, Curmudgeon told a reporter from the Kansas City Star: “I'm going to sell my house and build a compound of sorts somewhere out of the way--maybe start semi-rural a Catholic ghetto of sorts. . . . Once I get my family situated and my affairs properly organized to protect them, I intend to go from being a bystander to combatant in the culture wars."
And Curmudgeon has followed through on many of his other plans, including becoming a “combatant in the culture wars.” Curmudgeon now has a Kansas City-based staff of three (two full-time and one part-time) employees who, with the help of freelance writers and unpaid volunteers, publish a daily online news service and a 16-page weeklyt general circulation newspaper. He plans to move the newspaper to his new development in the next year. Curmudgeon has made donations to conservative extremist politicians and to right-wing social causes, including the backers of Missouri Amendment 1, the 2007 referendum which almost succeeded in reversing the Missouri stem cell research initiative passed in 2006. Curmudgeon regularly provides bail money and legal support for protesters who are arrested at Kansas City’s Stowers Institute, abortion clinics, and political and civic events. And when denounced by former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, who called him a “radical” at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon last year, Curmudgeon, who happened to be present covering the event for his website and newspaper, stood on his chair and shouted back “No, madam, I am a counter-revolutionary!”
His other stated plan, the establishment of what he called a “semi-rural Catholic ghetto,” is well underway. At an event a few weeks after his lottery win, Curmudgeon revealed his plans for Douay, a 300 acre tract of rolling farmland near Stanley, North Dakota. That event was closed to the press, but individuals in attendance said Curmudgeon announced he was buying land near Stanley, and was in negotiations with the Mountrail County officials to arrange for a mixed use development that would include small, locally owned retail shops and housing for a wide range of income levels, all built around a community center, a private school, and a church. He stated he was going to lease shop space to fellow ultra-conservative Catholics who would operate local businesses—no chain stores allowed—and help organize a credit union to be a source of working capital. He also promised to give away small lots of land—land that would be subject to strict covenants and restrictions—to fellow ultra-conservatives, and that if someone wanted a larger lot, those might be available, too. While Curmudgeon himself did not disclose why he chose a site in North Dakota for his projects, individuals close to him wrote in an email that was eventually forwarded to Ditch that “Mountrail County a place where a cohesive group of faithful Catholics stand a better-than-average chance of resisting the heathen mob.”
The Douay project moved along rather quickly. A local engineer planned the necessary utilities—sewer, water, natural gas, electricity, and data cable (no cable television or traditional telephone lines were needed, Curmudgeon insisted). The project passed through the minimal county approval process rather quickly. The only problem came when the local school district asked for land within the development for an elementary school. The Douay representative initially refused, saying that there would be little need for it because it was likely all the families would either homeschool or sent their children to private schools, but a week later, Douay announced that it would leave 10 acres in parkland available for potential delivery to the school district, in the event that there was a need. Some Mountrail County residents also initially opposed the plan, stating that they didn’t want such a large development in their area creating additional traffic and changing the character of the White Lake area, but Douay representatives met with them, one by one, bought out some neighboring landowners, and somehow placated others. None of the landowners will discuss any payments they received with the Ditch, stating that they had signed confidentiality agreements.
Confidentiality seems to be the watchword in the Douay project, and all persons involved keep a suspiciously low profile. The developer is secretive about his plans, declining interviews from the press and inquiries from local real estate brokers. Samuel Smith, a Mountrail County real estate agent who spoke to the Ditch, approached Douay on behalf of a buyer he represented, but was told that this was not a project that they could deal with a broker on. It seems that Curmudgeon is trying to avoid the application of federal Fair Housing law, which prohibits religious discrimination and preferences in the sale or lease of residential property, while at the same time trying to establish a neighborhood that is made up almost exclusively of ultra-conservative Catholics. That goal is evident in the covenants and restrictions recorded against all the property in Douay, which don’t mention religion at all, but (in addition to imposing typical subdivision rules) do attempt to restrict the types of books and magazines that can be sold in the shopping center or distributed within the residential area, the availability of contraceptives, and the clothing that can be worn in the common areas.
Two priests from the Confraternity of St. Paul, a religious order established to serve Catholics who rejected the English-language service and other reforms introduced by Vatican II, have been given a large house near the center of the project. They do not hold any public religious services yet, but the priests have private services during the week in the chapel that was recently built for the school, and many of the new residents of Douay regularly attend. The school chapel seats fewer than 100 worshipers, but it was built so that it could be expanded to a larger church that seats 700 or more. The Catholic Diocese of Bismarck has not yet authorized a parish church to be built in the project, and the priests don’t claim to be parish priests subject to the Diocese. Ditch was unable to reach them by telephone, but an email inquiry was returned in which their one priest, Fr. Donald Davidson, stated that he “had informed the Bishop of Bismarck of his residence in the diocese, and was not holding himself out as being in public ministry or being a pastor, but was merely saying Mass and hearing confessions on private property as an informal chaplain to some friends who have recently moved up here.
The school is not yet named or organized; however, eight classrooms have been built, and they are regularly used by homeschooling families who share resources, and priests of the Confraternity of St. Paul teach high school math, Latin and French classes to students of homeschooling families who desire it. There are regular activities in the Community Center, including a regular Sunday afternoon social gathering of many Douay residents and others who attend the Confraternity’s services.
While Mountrail County locals have accepted the new development with only minor complaints, and others in North Dakota have declined to comment, people in the Kansas City area have repeatedly expressed concern about Douay and other Curmudgeon projects. Bernie Varnette, head of the Kansas City Alliance of All Faiths, has written against Curmudgeon several times since his lottery win was announced and routinely writes against “extremism and separatism” of the Douay approach, particularly in focusing on the symbols of only one religion, and in honoring only the Catholic victims of religious violence. Some Kansas City Jewish leaders have called for an investigation into the inherent anti-semitism and intolerance in Curmudgeon’s Kansas City-based projects. The representatives for the Kansas City Gay Lesbian Causus said Curmudgeon’s projects smacked of sexual bigotry and hate, was relieved that he appeared to be leaving town, but would monitor the Douay project even after he left.
In Topeka, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, herself a Catholic and a regular target of protests by Curmudgeon and his supporters, had previously suggested that Kansas now has its own Catholic Taliban. Even some Kansas City Catholic leaders have been critical. Rev. Tim Tinker, pastor of Our Lady of Leawood Catholic Church, says that Vatican II changed church doctrine in many ways, and now it’s important for Catholics to embrace and be part of the larger world, rather than to regard it as something to be despised. “The people who are moving to Douay are either full of pride in their own righteousness or have been filled with fear by people like Curmudgeon,” Tinker said.
Nor have federal authorities been at ease with the backer of the Douay project. When asked about Curmudgeon and Douay, the public affairs officer for the Kansas City, Missouri office of the United States Attorney had no immediate comment. But other anonymous sources within the office say that Curmudgeon’s financial arrangements have been under scrutiny.
Curmudgeon has claimed that he has given away all but $2 million of his winnings, and while there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the initial IRS investigation, the US Attorney’s office is opening other investigations. Also, although no clear violations of the Fair Housing Law have been reported, they would like to find a violation. “In this country, you can’t simply go live with your own kind. It’s un-American,” the anonymous source said. “We’ll continue the investigations in coordination with our colleagues in North Dakota, and then investigate the investigations, and eventually we’ll create something to hang on him. The obstruction of justice statute is a beautiful thing. We sent Martha Stewart to prison on nothing; we’ll get Mr. Curmudgeon, too.”
Questions and concerns about the Douay are certain to continue in the months ahead, and the Ditch will continue to cover any developments.