Empty grocery store shelves continue to frustrate small town residents in Colorado

Records show owner has history of financial issues

AKRON, Colo. - Since 7NEWS began showing undercover video of empty shelves at Akron's only grocery store, the town has seen a huge response, but not from the owner of the store.

"The phones have been ringing off the wall," said Annette Bowin, the town clerk and administrator. "We even got two boxes of food from the Bronx. I took them to the local food bank. We don't need handouts. We need a grocery store."

Town leaders from Akron, Haxtun, Wiggins, Limon and Walden told 7NEWS that the once thriving grocery stores in their towns, bought in 2006 by Sam Mancini, are seemingly run into the ground.

"He [Mancini] said it was a direct result of some litigation between he and the previous owner, Mr. Odell," said Lisa Noder, with the Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation in Limon.

In town meetings and in an email to 7NEWS, Mancini has blamed his problems on Leroy Odell, the landlord and previous owner.

But long before any agreement with Odell, Mancini had a laundry list of creditors demanding payment, including a 2006 federal tax lien for more than $111,000.

The Mayor of Wellington, Jack Brinkhoff, said he worked hard to bring in Mancini, who bragged he had attended the West Point military academy to gain trust.

"The implication was that he graduated from the academy," said Brinkhoff. "I wish now that I had done more research on his background."

A West Point spokesman confirmed that Mancini attended, under a different last name, but he never graduated.

Bankruptcy filings obtained by 7NEWS and our partners at The Denver Post allege that Mancini's company, VM Odells defaulted on its loans to Odell during the first year and despite two loan modifications, declared bankruptcy in 2012.

Bankruptcy filings state Mancini was using the business income to pay personal creditors and finance his "excessive lifestyle."

Mancini repeatedly refused 7NEWS requests for an interview, but in an email claimed that Odel is trying to take back the stores through legal actions.

Odell would also not speak on camera, but his attorney issued a statement saying, "The Odell family is very concerned about the current condition of the stores and the welfare of the communities."

In Walden, people have to drive 60 miles one way to get to the nearest grocery store.

But people in small towns have always been resourceful.

Wellington just launched a farmers market.

"It's come at a great time because of the lack of produce at Bella's. We can have produce, meat, eggs and other homemade items we can't get there," said Juliann Harvey, who manages the market.

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