Bank, key figure in loan dispute had troubles, too

AJC Exclusive

John Edens filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2004 and has been the target of numerous judgments and liens totaling more than $200,000 combined, including some from state and local tax collectors, public records show. Most of those liens have been released in recent years, court records show.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Edens said he did know about the liens and asserted his financial history does not reflect on Graves and Rogers, both Republicans. He said the two also “had every legal right” to transfer the loan debt to him.

“If you file bankruptcy, it wipes [liens] out,” Edens said. “This has no correlation to do with anything with Senator Rogers. Zero.”

Meanwhile, Rogers and Graves won’t release a copy of the contract Edens said the three signed in November. The contract, Edens and Rogers explained, gave Edens responsibility for paying off the loan, which was used to buy and renovate the Oglethorpe Inn just off I-75 in Calhoun.

Rogers said the contract also gave Edens ownership of his and Graves’ company -- Tich Hospitality LLC -- which originally took out the loan. The senator said records showing Edens applied in January for a Gordon County business license for the inn prove he owns the inn and Tich Hospitality. Edens’ name also appears on an annual registration form, which was filed for Tich Hospitality with the Georgia secretary of state’s office Wednesday.

Rogers said he is not liable for the debt on the loan because he is no longer a member of that company. He did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday about Edens’ financial past. Graves, who is running for the 9th Congressional District seat in North Georgia, is also no longer a member of Tich Hospitality, said Graves’ campaign spokeswoman.

“Tom doesn’t want to comment on someone else’s financial background,” Graves spokeswoman Kate Monaghan said about Edens.

Bartow County Bank, which granted the loan, sees things differently from Graves and Rogers. The bank is suing them, claiming they personally guaranteed the loan, that loan is now in default and they now owe $2.2 million for it.

“We have not been advised of any transfer of any ownership or any real property interest,” said Edward Hine, the bank’s attorney. “And the bank’s documents do not relieve the borrowers and the guarantors of liability simply because they have purportedly sold the assets.”

The bank has had troubles of its own, public records show. Like many banks in Georgia, it has been showing signs of strain from loan losses to real estate developers and home builders. Regulators with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. signed a “consent order” with the Cartersville bank in April that requires the bank to boost capital levels and make other improvements in its operations. About a third of the state’s nearly 300 banks face similar or more severe sanctions.

The Bartow County Bank lost about $1.5 million in the first three months of this year, according to regulatory filings. It also ended up on an unofficial list of 64 troubled Georgia banks earlier this year, based on a financial measure known as the “Texas ratio.” The ratio measures a bank’s problem loans in terms of how much capital it has available to absorb losses. Gary Fox, the bank’s president, said these troubles have nothing to do with the lawsuit against Rogers and Graves.

On Tuesday, the Democratic challenger for Rogers’ Senate seat called on him to disclose more about the Calhoun inn deal.

Democrat Patrick Thompson noted that Rogers did not identify his membership in Tich Hospitality LLC in required state 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. Rogers’ past role in Tich Hospitality is unclear.

But Rogers said in an interview Tuesday that 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. He said, however, that he would consult an attorney about the matter.

Staff writers Russell Grantham and Andria Simmons contributed to this article.

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