A former prominent Lewiston-Auburn developer who served prison time for misappropriating federal money was remembered Tuesday as a generous friend and an outstanding athlete who was larger than life, figuratively and literally.

Travis Soule, 53, of Portland died Saturday after suffering a fatal heart attack on a stationary bike, friends said.

Soule had been participating in a spin class, a longtime passion of his, and had planned to go to his job at Yankee Ford in South Portland, where he was general sales manager.

He had joined the Maine Cycling Club nearly a decade ago to lose weight and get fit, Rainbow Bike owner John Grenier said Tuesday.

Soule came into Grenier’s shop to buy a bike and their friendship blossomed.

“He was a classic tough guy,” Grenier said. “Strong mentally and physically.”

Grenier, like Soule, had been a weightlifter but had adapted to cycling and showed Soule how it was done.

Soule had competed in varsity football, wrestling and outdoor track in high school and later attained the level of black belt in karate.

But friends also remember Soule’s softer side, Grenier said.

“One of the things that always struck me was how nice a person he was,” Grenier said. At the bike shop, “if there was a customer standing there who didn’t have enough money to fix something, he would pull me aside and tell me, ‘Hey, I’ll take care of that for him.’ A complete stranger.”

Soule got wind that Grenier planned to go to a local restaurant for his 30th anniversary and arranged for an expensive bottle of wine at the best table.

Another cycling club member, Dr. Jamie Loggins, said Soule became a fast friend when Loggins arrived in the area in 2006.

They rode together frequently, Loggins taking advantage of Soule’s size while drafting behind him, said Loggins, who stands 6 feet, 2 inches tall.

“We were big guys trying to participate in a skinny man’s sport,” he said. “Travis made me look small.”

Like most of Soule’s friends, Loggins said news of Soule’s death came as a complete surprise.

“I was shocked and horrified and sad,” he said. “If it can happen to Travis, it can happen to anybody.”

Ben Tuttle, who competed with Soule in football from childhood through high school, spoke of Soule as an enigma.

“Travis was a force, the epitome of health,” Tuttle said. Soule played linebacker to Tuttle’s lineman.

For those men entering middle age, Tuttle said, “It’s a perspective in the city of Portland (where) many lives have been touched by Travis’ death that we’re all trying to comprehend. We don’t get it. We don’t understand. How could somebody so vibrant, so healthy, so complete as a competitor be gone.”

Henry Griffin, an assistant attorney general who served as Soule’s defense attorney in 2012 when he was charged with federal counts of fraud and embezzlement, said his former client had gotten in a financial jam as the economy began to collapse.

Griffin remained friends with Soule. “Unfortunately, everything people see in the headlines is anything but who he actually was from my perspective,” Griffin said.

After serving 14 months in federal prison, Soule had addressed his health and other issues “he needed to work on,” Griffin said. “He really was continuing to work hard and was becoming a better person and a better father and, in my opinion, he succeeded in that goal.”

At the time of Soule’s sentencing, Griffin had characterized him as an ambitious, hardworking family man who resorted to manipulating paperwork and mingling funds in an effort to prop up his business during the start of a severe downturn. Griffin blamed the soaring price of heating oil for sparking Soule’s money problems. He said Soule’s lapse in judgment was an “aberration.”

Prosecutors had told the judge that the government believed prison time was warranted, given Soule’s repeated deception, forgery and diversion of taxpayer money. Then Assistant U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank said prosecutors didn’t know where all of the ill-gotten money went.

Misappropriating $180,000 of taxpayer money was a “serious violation of trust,” Frank said. “There is a message that needs to be conveyed here.”

Soule told the judge: “I know I broke the law. I know I hurt a lot of people. … I am truly very, very, very sorry for what I did.”

He said he had learned from his crime that the ends never justify the means.

“I was desperately trying to save something,” he had said. In doing so, he said he’d destroyed his character, beliefs and reputation.

Soule pleaded guilty to soliciting estimates from various contractors for rehab projects at three Pine Street properties and filing the estimates with fraudulent applications to the city of Lewiston for loans under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOME program, which is aimed at improving availability of affordable housing for low-income families.

Through his plea, Soule acknowledged that he embezzled money from the HOME Investment Partnership Program by converting checks and vouchers for his own use, including forging subcontractors’ signatures and depositing some of the checks into his personal checking account.

In 2005, Soule and the city of Lewiston signed an agreement to jointly develop the spit of land that juts into the Androscoggin River, the remnants of the Libbey Mill, the Cowan Mill, the former CMP building and a substation. The multimillion-dollar Island Point project would have converted the two mill buildings into upscale condominiums, bringing a mix of retail and office space to the other buildings and site a high-end hotel.

In 2007, the joint development agreement with the city expired when Soule couldn’t secure financing. Also that year, the rest of the W.S. Libbey Mill was torn down.

After serving his time, Soule excelled in sales at Yankee Ford where he earned a manufacturer’s award for two consecutive years that is conferred on only two people in New England, according to his obituary.

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