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New London - The man who emerged as high bidder for the historic Lighthouse Inn last week has far-flung business dealings that include a $15.6 million government contract in Texas he won last year through a corporation in which hundreds of native Alaskans hold shares.
Anthony D. Acri III of New Haven, who bid $1.25 million for the inn Saturday, also has seen his share of controversy, notably as a key contractor in the installation of a much-criticized U.S. surveillance system along the Canadian and Mexican borders.
But Acri said his acquisition of the famed century-old inn has nothing to do with his previous business dealings. Although he is president of KIC Development of Arlington, Va., which has a business association with the Kikiktagruk Inupiat tribe in Alaska, and formerly served as president of International Microwave Corp., which the U.S. Office of Inspector General criticized for installing "faulty or incomplete equipment" for border security, Acri said the inn will be a personal investment.
"I am president of an Alaskan native corporation, but they have nothing to do with this," he said. "This is a venture of Anthony Acri."
Acri lived in Branford before building his New Haven home on the site of the old Villa Nova restaurant where his mother and father used to celebrate special events and where he held his stag party. He said he has fond memories of New London, especially days spent at Ocean Beach.
Acri said he found the Lighthouse Inn to be one of the most beautiful lodging facilities and restaurants he has seen along the shoreline, on a par with places like Water's Edge resort in Westbrook.
"It's for people looking for something different," he said. "It's an old-style kind of place."
Acri plans for his two daughters, 27-year-old Lauren and 22-year-old Lyndsay, both graduates of Fordham University, to have significant roles at the inn. A general manager would run the day-to-day operations, he added.
Acri, who has no background as a hotelier, said he'd like to build on possibilities that previous owners had not fully tapped into, including dancing, weddings, anniversaries and bar mitzvahs.
"I'm looking forward to dancing again," said Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, who welcomed the new ownership. "It really is a very, very important institution for eastern Connecticut and for the tourism business in general."
Sheridan said he hoped Acri would be able to bring back the gracious, old-world charm that generations have enjoyed at the Lighthouse Inn. But he noted that the inn needs a fair amount of cosmetic surgery - a fact Acri is aware of, though he said if repairs exceed his budget he may have to look at his funding options.
Acri said he was on the phone at 6 Monday morning trying to arrange financing for the deal. He secured his bid with a $100,000 check, which would be forfeited if he didn't come up with the rest of the money in about six weeks, according to attorney Narcy Z. Dubicki, committee of sale for the auction.
Acri said KIC Development has millions of dollars worth of government contracts, typically building or maintaining dining facilities or barracks. The contracts, which get preferential treatment because they are under the umbrella of the 2,300 shareholders of the Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp. of Kotzebue, Alaska, provide funds for natives removed from their land in the 1970s to allow for oil exploration, Acri said.
One of the company's contracts, on which KIC was the sole bidder, involved designing, constructing, repairing and renovating several buildings at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, according to an online listing.
Another large-scale contract, according to Acri, will pay KIC $70 million over five years for facility work at the National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Md. Acri also said he had contracts for work at Fort Sill near Lawton, Okla., and Fort Leavenworth in Leavenworth County, Kan.
Acri acknowledged that another government contract he won as president of IMC proved particularly controversial. The contract involved installing cameras and sensors along the U.S. borders in an effort to stop illegal immigrants, but the government alleged that the equipment didn't work well and taxpayers may have been overcharged millions of dollars.
A 2003 General Services Administration's inspector general's report said IMC had been paid $20 million for work in eight border zones, but none of the systems was fully functioning.
A Washington Post report in April 2005 indicated IMC had sought to curry favor from U.S. Rep. Sylvestre Reyes, D-Texas, a prominent backer of the system, by hiring his daughter and son to do work for the company. The investigation added that Acri and his family had donated thousands of dollars to Reyes' campaign over the years, and records show he gave an additional $500 to the congressman in 2007.
The Post also said an Immigration and Naturalization Service official had insisted that the government buy cameras from a firm IMC owned, despite objections from Border Patrol officials who preferred another brand.
Acri blamed problems with the border systems on a variety of factors, including difficulties with the desert environment of the Southwest, problems integrating government equipment with IMC's sensors and the unwillingness of the company to which he sold his business, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. of New York, to pay for repairs.
"The main thing is it's still up and running," he said in a phone interview. "We were stopping over 10,000 illegal aliens and drug traffickers a week."