Robert M. Lee, who owns the second-largest island on Flathead Lake and built a castle-like mansion there, has spent his career making headlines for intrepid exploring, pioneering entrepreneurialism and hunting adventures.
But recently he has made less desirable headlines for allegedly groping a female paramedic on his private plane on a trip from Arizona to Minnesota. Court records say he “violently” grabbed the paramedic’s breast and then threatened a registered nurse onboard.
Lee, 83, is scheduled for arraignment in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on July 1 for a charge of one misdemeanor count of assault. Because the alleged incident occurred aboard an aircraft over the United States it’s considered federal jurisdiction. He faces up to six months in prison.
Since purchasing the 342-acre Cromwell Island on Flathead Lake in the mid-1990s, Lee has been reclusive and a subject of curiosity within the community. Permission to access his island is highly restricted. His mansion, which can be seen from U.S. Highway 93, is reportedly worth $25 million and is said to be 30,000 square feet. Lee owns property in other states as well.
According to court records filed on June 13, Lee was traveling as a passenger on Sept. 21 of 2010 from Arizona to a hospital in Rochester, Minn., on his private Gulfstream jet, which has been described as costing $37 million. Records state that Lee “knowingly” and “intentionally” assaulted a paramedic and respiratory therapist, identified as “M.L.” The registered nurse is identified as “M.D.”
“When M.L. assisted the defendant in returning to his seat,” records say, “the defendant reached up with his left hand and grabbed the right breast of M.L. He forcibly and violently grabbed and twisted the nipple of M.L.’s right breast, causing M.L. substantial pain.”
The paramedic then pushed his hand away, according to records, and told him: “You do not get to touch me like that. Do not do that again!”
“I can do whatever I want,” Lee responded, according to the court documents. “This is my airplane.”
Then, the records state, 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’m going to do to you.’”
“When M.D. told Robert M. Lee that he was not allowed to touch medical crew in that manner, he responded, ‘On my airplane, I can do whatever I want,’” court records say. “The defendant 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 has accomplished much in his career, ably wearing a variety of hats, including rugged adventurer and apparel designer. He is also an ardent protector of elephants on the Southeastern Asian island of Borneo. The biography on Lee’s Hunting World website describes him as a “marketing genius” and refers to his “considerable talents.”
Much of Lee’s considerable wealth and notoriety can be traced to hunting, particularly large game animals in African safaris. In 1955, Lee made his first trip to Africa and, according to his website, “was struck by the awesome beauty and magnificent wildlife he found there.”
“He decided to return one day to open his own safari organization,” the Hunting World website states. “And so he did in 1959.”
From there, Lee led “photographic, scientific and hunting expeditions” into 17 African countries and began designing his own hunting gear. In 1965, his biography states, political conditions at Lee’s safari base in Angola became too dangerous and “it was time to come home.”
Lee, who is pictured petting a cheetah in a photo on his website, then established Hunting World, a company dedicated to “designing luggage, leather goods, apparel, watches, and other outdoor sporting specialties for an international clientele who appreciated their classic design, functionality and outstanding quality.”
Included among his many foreign excursions was a 1980 trip to China. At the time, it was rare for Americans to travel to China, but Lee obtained permission to hunt there and chronicled his adventures in a book titled “China Safari: An American Explorer in the Forbidden Pamirs.”
In Montana, Lee has remained mostly under the radar, with very few exceptions. Last year, his name was mentioned in newspapers when he donated a barge to transport four wild horses to Wild Horse Island, the only island on Flathead Lake larger than Lee’s Cromwell Island.
Also, a Missoulian story reported that the Happy Hippo, an amphibious vehicle owned by Polson’s Three Dog Down, once belonged to Lee.
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