9th District candidate, majority leader deny bank's claims in loan dispute

CALHOUN -- The man who runs the aging, low-budget Oglethorpe Inn here jokingly calls it the Methamphetamine 6.

John Edens gave the $129-a-week motel that nickname because of the drug addicts he says live there. On Friday, Edens pointed to a list of tenants on his office wall, also identifying homeless people, alcoholics and other hard-luck cases.

Built in 1978, the inn is at the heart of a lawsuit Bartow County Bank has filed against 9th District congressional candidate Tom Graves and state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers.

The bank alleges the two Republicans owe $2.2 million on a loan that is now in default. Graves and Rogers, according to the lawsuit, guaranteed that loan so a company called Tich Hospitality LLC could buy and renovate the inn. Rogers was once a part of Tich Hospitality. Graves’ connection to the company is unclear.

The lawsuit also alleges Graves was “insolvent” in June and that he fraudulently transferred two properties -- including his residence in Ranger -- to a trust in an attempt to frustrate the bank’s efforts to collect on the debt.

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Rogers said he is not responsible for the debt because he is no longer involved with Tich Hospitality. Rogers said another company called Durrant Demarco now owns Tich Hospitality and the Oglethorpe Inn.

“I am no longer a part of the corporation," Rogers said Thursday. "It is owned by somebody else. They still own the property. Of course, they have the liability and everything.”

Edens, the innkeeper, said he signed a contract with Rogers and Graves in November to transfer ownership of Tich Hospitality and the Oglethorpe Inn to his company, Durrant Demarco. Edens said he did not ask for a copy of the contract because he trusts Rogers.

Graves and Rogers transferred the ownership of the business to Edens to limit their liability, Edens said. He said he has attempted to contact the bank about the loan debt.

“I have called them about 10 times, maybe 15. I would love to make the loan current. They won’t even talk to me,” said Edens, who wears an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle. That bracelet, he explained, is to help him prove he is not violating a restraining order obtained by his ex-wife.

Rogers and his attorney did not reply to e-mails and phone calls Friday concerning Edens' assertions.

Graves and Rogers have filed counterclaims against the bank. In court papers, they allege the bank improperly declared the loan in default after reneging on a promise to refinance it at more favorable terms. The bank, Graves and Rogers said, failed to live up to a promise to convert it to an interest-only loan with a 2.5 percent interest rate.

Graves, a former state representative, issued a statement about the lawsuit Thursday.

“This country has a judicial system in place where business disputes like this lawsuit can be successfully and fairly resolved, and I am fully confident that a satisfactory resolution will be reached once all the facts have come to light,” his statement says.

An attorney for Graves denied the bank’s allegation of fraud, asserting the properties Graves transferred were not used as collateral for the loan.

“Any transfers that were made by Mr. Graves were done completely within the confines of the law, consistent with estate planning and with no intent to defraud anyone at any time,” said Simon Bloom, Graves’ attorney.

An attorney for Bartow County Bank declined to comment.

Though he didn’t name him in the statement he issued Thursday, Graves lashed out at his Republican opponent and suggested he had something to do with the lawsuit being publicized.

Graves is running against former state Sen. Lee Hawkins to fill the unexpired term of former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who resigned to focus on his gubernatorial campaign. Regardless of who wins in their June 8 runoff, both are preparing to compete in the July 20 GOP primary for the next term in office.

Hawkins issued his own statement Friday. “It is inexcusable that Tom Graves is running to get elected to Congress and asking to manage the people of the 9th District's money when he hasn't proven he can manage his own business," he said.

Meanwhile, Edens is wondering what he has gotten himself into.

“I inherited a mess, if you want to know the truth of the matter,” he said, adding that the inn has suffered from mold, wiring and plumbing problems. “Chip and Tom made a bad decision to buy the building to begin with. This is an aging property. They thought it was better than it really was.”

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