A reclusive millionaire known for having built an ostentatious mansion on Flathead Lake's Cromwell Island came forth from obscurity this week amid allegations that he groped a female paramedic aboard his private jet.
Robert M. Lee, 83, has aroused curiosities in the Flathead Valley for years, and gained local notoriety in the mid-1990s by building a $25 million mansion on Cromwell Island, which he also owns.
But the sportsman and outfitter has obsessively shied away from the public view, conducting his affairs in private and granting exclusive access only to his island home.
On Monday, that veil of secrecy was briefly lifted when federal prosecutors filed a misdemeanor assault charge against Lee. Because the crime is alleged to have occurred aboard an aircraft over the United States, it is considered federal jurisdiction.
The alleged incident occurred Sept. 21, 2010, as Lee was being ferried on his private Gulfstream jet from Show Low, Ariz., to a hospital in Rochester, Minn.
According to charging papers filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura M. Provinzino, two other people accompanied Lee on the flight. They are identified in court records only as a paramedic and respiratory therapist with the initials "M.L." and a registered nurse with the initials "M.D."
During the flight, Lee was under the care of the women, records state, but the reason for his medical care is not known, nor is the context of his hospital visit.
At one point during the flight, while M.L. assisted Lee in returning to his seat, he "forcibly and violently grabbed and twisted the nipple of M.L.'s right breast, causing M.L. substantial pain," records state.
The woman immediately pushed Lee's hand away and told him, "You do not get to touch me like that. Do not do that again!" the records state, to which Lee responded, "I can do whatever I want. This is my airplane."
Shortly thereafter, Lee reached across the aisle of the airplane and gestured to M.D. with his thumb and forefinger in a pinching motion, stating, "That's what I am going to do to you."
M.D. told Lee that he was not allowed to touch medical crew in that manner, and he again responded with a sense of entitlement, telling the woman "on my airplane, I can do whatever I want."
Lee then told M.D. that she should be wearing a V-neck shirt so that he could slide his hand in her shirt more easily.
Lee is scheduled to appear June 27 in Minneapolis for an arraignment before Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan.
He will enter a plea at the court hearing, which will be his first appearance on the charges. The maximum penalty for a conviction on the assault charge is six months behind bars.
A message left with a receptionist at his company, Deeside Trading Co. in Sparks, Nev., was not returned Thursday.
According to records with the Federal Aviation Administration registry, the Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159A is registered to Lee's business.
Lee has purchased several pieces of property in the Flathead Lake area, including Cromwell Island, which at 342 acres is the second-largest island on the lake. It is located on the west shore, near the town of Dayton.
He also owns homes in New York, Reno, Nev., Ennis and Dayton. He made his initial fortune developing planned communities on properties owned by his family in Long Island, N.Y.
A hunting expedition to Africa led him to pursue a career as a professional outfitter, and he eventually launched a chain of stores called Hunting World, which cater to hunters on big-game safari expeditions. The pricey merchandise was designed by and for Lee, who had not been satisfied with some of the gear his customers brought to Africa.
Lee owns dozens of U.S. and foreign patents for his inventions of apparel, luggage, leather goods, jewelry, photo equipment, arms and armor.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.