Rogers, Graves say inn in lawsuit had charitable use

AJC Exclusive: GOP leader amends disclosure forms

In documents filed Wednesday, Rogers disclosed his ownership interests in Tich Hospitality LLC for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. That company took out a loan from Bartow County Bank in 2007 to buy and renovate an inn in Calhoun. The bank is now suing Rogers and congressional candidate Tom Graves, saying the loan is in default and that they owe $2.2 million for it.

On Thursday, Rogers and Graves, both Republicans, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution there were charitable aspects to the renovation work they said was done to the inn. Officials from a Calhoun church and the Gordon County school system confirmed they have been assisting needy people there.

“At the time the property was purchased, it was essentially vacant," Rogers said. "About $1 million in renovations were made to provide a safe and clean low-cost housing opportunity in an economically depressed area."

On Tuesday, the Democratic challenger for Rogers’ Senate seat called on him to disclose more about the Calhoun inn deal. Patrick Thompson noted that Rogers did not initially identify his membership in Tich Hospitality LLC in his disclosure forms. Elected officials are required to disclose any fiduciary positions they hold and direct ownership interests in businesses when they exceed 5 percent or are valued at more than $10,000.

When the AJC questioned him Tuesday, Rogers said he believed he complied with the law by disclosing his membership in another company -- Tich Properties -- which he said is the parent company to Tich Hospitality.

“Tich Hospitality was created by Tich Properties in a subsidiary capacity, so I am confident original filings were correct,” he said in a statement e-mailed to the AJC on Thursday, “however, in an abundance of caution after speaking with counsel, I have also included the former business."

Rogers and Graves said they are not responsible for the loan debt because they are no longer members of Tich Hospitality. They said they entered into a contract in November to transfer ownership of the company and the Oglethorpe Inn to John Edens, who owns a property repossession business. Edens, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2004 and has been the target of numerous liens, said he is now responsible for the bank loan debt as part of that contract.

Both Rogers and Graves said they won’t make a copy of their contract with Edens public. And Edens said he doesn’t have a copy. The bank, meanwhile, maintains Rogers and Graves are still responsible for the debt.

Graves talked about the inn during an interview at his campaign office in Cumming on Thursday.

“We renovated this property and joined with faith-based organizations and provided homes for individuals that were really struggling,” he said. “As a result of that, lives were changed eternally because we began a mission project there as well. There would be a weekly cookout, devotional time and time to pray with and to minister to families and individuals that were struggling or hurting as a result of the challenging economy at the time.”

The inn has made rooms available for needy people referred by Belmont Baptist Church in Calhoun, said Pastor Jeff Hawkins. Also, Hawkins said, church members have fed and ministered to people staying there. Graves is a member of that church.

Officials from the Gordon County school system and the Tallatoona Community Action Partnership said they have spent federal taxpayer funds on rent for needy families to stay at the inn. The partnership spent its federal stimulus funds on rent there this year, while the school system spent federal grant funds at the inn last fall, officials said.

Also Thursday, Graves lashed out at his Republican opponent in the 9th Congressional District race, suggesting again that Lee Hawkins is responsible for publicity surrounding the bank’s lawsuit. Hawkins has denied that.

“Mr. Graves' new claim that he was running this virtual slum as a charity, and not as a money-making venture, is laughable,” Hawkins said. “He set this motel up as a for-profit business, not as a charity or not-for-profit organization. It's clear to any reasonable person that Mr. Graves has a problem telling the truth.”