State Sen. Nienow files for bankruptcy

A Minnesota state senator who champions himself as a good steward of taxpayer money has declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, is in the process of liquidating his assets to pay more than $900,000 in debt he owes to the federal government, credit card agencies and a past business partner. Chief among Nienow’s debts is a loan he and his wife secured through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Nienow filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on June 1. According to court papers he has debts of $930,883 and lists total assets of $121,836. Because of the filing, Nienow will have to liquidate all of his nonessential assets and turn them over to creditors. Court papers say Nienow has declared his home, household goods, two cars, his wedding ring, four firearms, other hobby equipment, a boat and other household items as exempt assets.

Nienow, his wife, Cynthia and his attorney did not return calls.

“Well the reality is, there was a business loan, and the business did not succeed,” Nienow told MPR News in interview in April.

The biggest debt listed on Nienow’s bankruptcy filing is $747,937 owed to the United State government for a loan Nienow and his wife took out from the Small Business Administration. The couple used the money to create the National Camp Association, which aimed to help families find camps for children.

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Court records show Nienow and his wife took out a $613,000 loan in 2009. The monthly payments, with interest were $7,589. The Nienows stopped making the monthly payments 18 months after securing the loan. The U.S. Attorney sued Nienow in federal court earlier this year for defaulting on the loan. The office asked the court for a default judgment on the loan in April after Nienow failed to respond in court.

Roylene Champeaux, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, had no comment on Nienow’s bankruptcy filing.

Nienow’s debts, including the money he owes the federal government, may be forgiven through bankruptcy proceedings, but he will not be able to discharge a lender’s lien on his home. Court records show Nienow and his wife personally guaranteed the federal loan with a deed of trust on their home in Cambridge, which means they could still lose the home to creditors.

Nienow was first elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2002. He lost his seat in 2006 but was reelected in 2010 and 2012. During his time in office, he’s positioned himself as a watchdog of taxpayer money.

“Fiscal responsibility with the tax payers (sic) money is a high priority for Senator Nienow,” reads Nienow’s Senate web page. “The same common sense money management used by families and businesses is also necessary with the state budget. Senator Nienow is committed to being thoughtful, prudent and disciplined with your tax dollars to ensure the state meets its obligations, provides appropriate help to those in need, and fosters a vibrant economic climate for Minnesota business.”

Nienow’s bankruptcy filing says the family’s total income comes from his job as a state senator. He has seven children ranging in age from 8 to 23.

The trustee in Nienow’s case has scheduled a July 23 meeting with creditors to discuss Nienow’s bankruptcy filing.