By PAUL FOY, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In another setback for one of the world's most decorated wrestlers, Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner has filed for bankruptcy after trying to capitalize on his fame in numerous business and publicity pursuits over the years.
Court records show Gardner owes creditors nearly $3 million on a household income of $37,392.
Gardner disputes much of that debt, saying he's being asked to pay off the balance of a loan co-signed by a real-estate partner and lost $400,000 in the deal.
"I got involved in a Ponzi scheme with a lady serving time in federal prison," Gardner said Tuesday. He planned to release a full statement later in the day.
Gardner will offer his version in a deposition scheduled for Oct. 10, bankruptcy trustee David L. Miller said.
Less than three weeks later, the Salt Lake City auction house of Erkelens & Olson is set to sell off his most valuable belongings, including a Ford Excursion SUV, Harley-Davidson motorcycle, dozens of watches and knives, his wrestling shoes and autographed memorabilia.
Gardner's Olympic gold medal was on a seizure list for the auction but authorities couldn't find it and Gardner told them it had been stolen, deputy Cache County Sheriff Brad Slater said Tuesday.
Gardner's major creditor, Las Vegas-based WestCoast Lending Group Inc., obtained a court order for the Aug. 15 seizure at his home in Wellsville. Slater said deputies also couldn't find a Jeep that was supposed to be seized.
Gardner filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 31 and said he's trying to stop the auction.
"I'm offering to buy the stuff back, but my money is tied up in a lot of businesses," he said.
He added, "I don't have all this money people think Olympic athletes have."
His bankruptcy lawyer, Chad Shattuck, declined to comment.
Gardner rose to fame at the 2000 Sydney Olympics by toppling Russian Alexander Karelin, who had been unbeaten for 13 years. A year later, Gardner won the world title.
Later, Gardner nearly died after a night stranded in the Wyoming wilderness, and he survived a motorcycle accident and a plane crash.
Last year, he weighed in at 474 pounds on the reality TV show "The Biggest Loser" before losing weight in a failed attempt to qualify for the London Olympics that friends say taxed his health.
Gardner moved to Wellsville years ago and opened a gymnasium in nearby Logan that now operates under another name. He said he had $1 million invested in the gym.
In his family's hometown of Afton, Wyo., Gardner lent his name to a restaurant that served a 1.5-pound hamburger.
As recently as July, Boston-based Cone Communications tried to pitch a story about Gardner's attempted Olympic comeback bid — and the fact he lost 6 to 10 pounds of sweat per workout and "needs a strong detergent" to clean his gym clothes.
Gardner said Cone Communications was representing Wisk laundry detergent, not him. A top executive and an account representative at Cone didn't return phone and email messages seeking comment.
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