ALBANY — Except for some legal details and the dispensation of funds, the drawn-out saga of the 2724 Ledo Road Seasons Christian Care retirement center appears to be all but finished.
Bankruptcy Court Judge Austin Carter ruled Tuesday that a recent online auction of three properties owned by Lamad Ministries, which was started in the late 1980s by William Eidenire, would stand, essentially releasing Eidenire and his son, Eric, from more than $2.5 million in debt that had accrued on the Seasons Christian property, on a planned extended-care facility in Dawson and on a radio station owned by the ministry.
The auction brought in $4,142,050, money that will be used to pay the secured debt owed by Lamad, primarily to Colony Bank. For some 100 elderly residents and the families of former residents who invested tens of thousands of dollars in the ministry, the ruling was a little less clear. Some 162 unsecured claims totalling $9.7 million were filed by individuals and/or estates seeking return of refundable deposits, ministry deposits and unsecured loans.
Albany attorney Walter Kelley, who was appointed as corporate counsel to represent the interests of Lamad Ministries in the bankruptcy hearing, said Wednesday that he expects “around $1 million” of the auction funding to be left after secured debts are paid. That money will be distributed “on a pro rata basis” to residents and estate executors who have made claims against Lamad.
“Nothing will be final until the real estate purchases close, but I would expect the people who have made claims will get a 5 percent-8 percent return on those claims,” Kelley said. “I know that’s not what these residents — most of them elderly people who put their life savings into Seasons Christian — want to hear, but I truly think we did what was in everyone’s best interest.
“It’s like Austin Carter said at Tuesday’s hearing: ‘The alternative (to the auction) was (creditor Colony Bank) getting the property and the residents being assured of no return.’”
Kelley said the purchaser of the Seasons Christian property, Mike Bowden, indicated in a letter to Patrick Flynn, who served as attorney for a number of Seasons Christian residents during the bankruptcy hearings, that he intends to rehab the 148 units at the senior center as apartments. Kelley said Bowden had indicated he would contact current residents at Seasons Christian and offer them an opportunity to rent the upgraded apartments.
“(Independent financial consultant) Will Sims said he thinks the top rental for those kinds of apartments in this market is $850 (a month),” Kelley said. “He thinks — and I agree — that the local market couldn’t bear more than that.”
Bowden’s $3,905,000 bid on the Seasons Christian property was one of 31 made during the online auction. The property is listed on tax rolls at an audited value of $12 million.
Sreenivas Sappati registered the high bid on the Dawson property, which was valued at what Kelley called “an inflated” $1.1 million. Sappati’s bid was for $162,250. Don Bridges had the top bid for the Lamad radio station — $74,800 — but Kelley said that deal must be approved by the FCC.
Sims and Mark Manley with Moultrie-based Rowell Auctions testified on Lamad’s behalf during the bankruptcy hearing, offering evidence that sufficient attempts had been made to market the properties that were auctioned.
“Mark showed them that the marketing went from national publications like the Wall Street Journal to the local Albany Herald,” Kelley said. “He also testified as to how many times he’d shown the property to interested prospective buyers.”
Betty S. Hall, who filed a refundable deposit claim of $69,783.21, testified on behalf of the residents, arguing that the auction total was insufficient to offer adequate return on their investments.
“The court was really empathetic toward Ms. Hall, and I certainly felt for her,” Kelly said.
With the ruling, the Eidenire family is relieved of the secured debt that had plagued the Lamad holdings. As the ministry’s corporate counsel, Kelley said he’d been told by William Eidenire that Lamad had paid in excess of $3 million in deposits over the years to residents whose housing units were re-marketed. The senior center started having troubles marketing the units when the recession hit in the late 2000s.
“When the economy went to hell, there were no new buyers,” the attorney said. “And for potential buyers, there was a barrage of negative publicity stirred up by some residents, both externally in the newspaper and internally as well. One resident filed complaints with the Department of Labor, the insurance commissioner and the fire marshal. The ministry spent a lot of money fighting those claims, plus during that time it was fighting Dougherty County in court to secure nonprofit status.”
Kelley said he expects the case of one resident who had filed suit personally against William Eidenire and against the ministry to continue, noting that the bankruptcy did not stop the personal suit.
Flynn was out of his office and unavailable for comment Wednesday. A call to Eric Eidenire’s phone number was answered by a recording that said the number had been “changed, disconnected or was no longer in service.”