Mansion sale signals end to Gwinnett politico’s debt battle

The Rose Hill mansion, a sprawling eight-bedroom red brick home in Suwanee, was said to have cost $40 million to build during the housing boom. It sold last month for $8.8 million.

[More photos of this house: 35,000-square-foot Georgia mansion sold for $8.8M]

The sale made local headlines recently for the difference in cost vs. sale price, but it also was a epilogue of sorts in the story of Georgia’s real estate crash.

The gated estate was built by prolific Gwinnett County developer and deal-maker Wayne Mason, and its sale appears to close the book on a pair of debt lawsuits that dogged the real estate guru following the recession.

The buyer, in a further footnote, was a small company with ties to new Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard, an Atlanta native who signed with the team in the offseason.

A number of high-profile developers and land speculators took a beating during the financial collapse, battling through years of litigation to sort out the mess. Georgia led the nation in bank failures during the crisis, largely small community banks that lent to developers that were riding the wave of population growth and a white hot property market before it crashed.

Mason's battles with creditors were more public than most, with one alleging last year he off-loaded assets to avoid paying his debts — a charge Mason's legal team vigorously denied.

In recent months, however, Mason quietly settled a pair of lawsuits over unpaid loans, and creditors released Rose Hill from liens, court and property records show, that had stymied efforts to sell the home.

Terms of the settlements were not disclosed.

Messages left for Mason and his attorney, former Gov. Roy Barnes, were not immediately returned. A lawyer for the creditors declined to comment.

A message left for an attorney for the limited liability company that bought the home was not immediately returned. Howard is listed as the LLC’s principal and its mailing address is the same as a Los Angeles business management company for celebrities and other ultra-wealthy people where Howard’s family foundation is also based.

The listing agent for the home declined to name the buyer, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Sued for repayment

Mason, a former Gwinnett commission chairman who remains an influential force in the county’s business and political realms, had been accused in two lawsuits of failing to repay a total of about $26 million in loans he guaranteed to three banks.

Companies tied to homebuilder Lennar bought the rights to two judgments against Mason or entities he controlled and took legal action to collect. In one lawsuit, the plaintiff accused the developer of fraudulently transferring $137 million in cash and assets to relatives and companies connected to him and his family.

In an unusual step, the plaintiff in that case, Edgefield Holdings, filed suit against Mason’s wife, associates and companies Mason controlled seeking repayment.

Barnes, Mason’s attorney, strongly denied anything improper in an interview last year.

The Edgefield suit sought to collect $1 million on a loan that originated from United Community Bank and a $5 million debt from a loan by the failed Georgian Bank, where Mason was once an investor and major client.

Struggling banks and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., in cases where it has taken over the affairs of a dead bank, sometimes sell loans and judgments they don’t have the time or money to collect. The buyers, such as Edgefield, then pursue the debts.

Another entity related to Edgefield for years pursued a separate case concerning about $20 million in debt Mason and a partner accrued for a planned residential project near the Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia.

In each case, Mason personally guaranteed repayment of loans — a common move to secure financing. When the loans defaulted, their assets were on the hook.

‘Wiped out’ in collapse

Barnes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year that Mason “had substantial, if not all of his wealth, wiped out” following the economic collapse.

At the time, Barnes said the contested asset transfers were part of long-standing estate planning.

Rose Hill, which a listing agent for the property said was never lived in by its owner, had been for sale for a few years. It was once listed for $14 million before a buyer last month scooped it up for a new list price of $8.8 million.

Property records showed a Mason entity, Lone Pine Inc. acquired the property where Rose Hill was built in 2004 and a year later Mason requested building permits to add on to the property. It later changed hands a few times between entities linked to Mason, and a subsidiary of Lennar placed a lien on the property in 2012 to try to collect on past due debts.

The lien was lifted March 2.

Betsy Akers, the listing agent with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, said the sale of the home was completed Aug. 23.

“The buyer was the perfect match for the property,” she said. “He loved the details and quality of the property.”