A former Portland developer wants a Maine criminal case to take precedence over other legal challenges he faces.

Michael Liberty’s lawyers are asking a federal judge in Pennsylvania to delay an attempt by the Securities and Exchange Commission to force him to pay a higher fine for allegedly defrauding investors there. They said Liberty should instead be allowed to focus on fighting criminal charges the SEC has filed against him in Maine.

In February in Maine, the SEC charged Liberty with wire fraud and securities fraud in connection with a multimillion-dollar scheme in which he allegedly tricked investors who thought they were putting money into a startup financial technology company. The trial is scheduled for May.

Liberty also faces an SEC lawsuit on similar allegations, but that case is on hold while the criminal case moves forward.

In Philadelphia, the SEC said Liberty improperly diverted more than $9 million of a $100 million venture capital fund, which he had established, to himself or associates, including $4.5 million for his personal benefit. The fund also lost $18 million in failed investments that the SEC said were improperly directed by Liberty. Investors in the fund included the pension funds for public employees in the city of Philadelphia and the states of Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The case was settled in 2010 with Liberty neither admitting nor denying guilt. He was ordered to pay a $6 million fine, but Liberty argued that he was broke and a federal judge cut the penalty to $600,000.

Three years ago, the SEC alleged that Liberty lied about his finances in that case and asked the judge to reinstate the full fine. A federal judge has been hearing arguments, but a full trial on the matter has not yet been held.

In a filing with the federal court in Philadelphia, Liberty’s lawyers argue that it would be unfair to force him to defend himself in both matters at the same time.

The SEC has until early January to reply to Liberty’s request for a delay in the Philadelphia case.

Liberty, a Gray native who now lives in Florida, was once one of the top developers in Portland. His projects included the 100 Middle St. office buildings and the Chandler’s Wharf condominiums, but he stopped doing major developments in Maine after a 1980s building boom ended.

More recently, legal matters have brought him back to the state. In August 2017, he was fined $100,000 and sentenced to four months in federal prison for campaign finance violations. He pleaded guilty to using nine family members and employees to contribute $22,500 to a presidential campaign in 2011 and then reimbursing them, which allowed him to circumvent the $2,500 limit on personal donations. The campaign has not been named, but Liberty personally donated to Republican Mitt Romney during his primary run.

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