Nathan Deal and his wife, Sandra, owned 90 percent of a failed sporting goods store started by his daughter and son-in-law by the time it closed, according to documents released by the state ethics commission through an open records request.
The ownership by the Deals in the Habersham County venture is greater than they had previously acknowledged. The financial woes of the business became an issue during Deal's 2010 campaign for governor.
During the race, Deal downplayed his involvement in Wilder Outdoors, which went out of business in March 2009. Deal — who with his wife co-signed for $2.3 million in loans that launched the store — said at the time that he was simply a father helping a child. The Deals also invested another $2 million in Wilder.
But Deal's actual ownership stake in the store had been in question. His 2007 personal financial disclosure, when he was a member of Congress, declared him a 50 percent partner in the venture. But a 2009 bankruptcy filing by Deal's son-in-law, Clint Wilder, and daughter, Carrie Deal Wilder, said the Wilders were 100 percent shareholders. Nathan Deal's name appeared nowhere on the bankruptcy documents which were filed in the midst of the gubernatorial race.
In a June 12, 2012 letter, Deal lawyer Oliver Weidner said in 2007 Nathan and Sandra Deal each owned 45 percent of the company's shares, up from 40 percent each when the business began a year earlier. That letter emerged as part of an investigative file made public by the state ethics commission. The panel had been investigating several campaign allegations against Deal.
Deal's lawyer, Randy Evans, said Friday that Deal's shares in Wilder grew as his loan obligation did. But he said Deal played no leadership role in the company. He is not listed as a corporate officer on documents.
"He was a passive investor," Evans said.
The failed sporting goods store left Deal and his wife on the hook for millions of dollars in debt after Carrie and Clint Wilder declared bankruptcy in July 2009. Nathan Deal drained his retirement accounts to pay down the debt and also put his home in Gainesville on the market to pay down the debt.
In 2011 Deal sold the Wilder property to the owner of an adult video and novelty stores for $750,000. Steven A. Diamond of Santa Maria, Calif. plans a pawnshop for the site. The proceeds from the sale are being used to pay d0wn the debt, which is now at about $600,000.
In his tax returns for 2006, 2007 and 2009, Deal claimed business losses totaling about $308,000. Evans said most of those losses came from the failure of Wilder.
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