Sunday, July 25, 2004

Home sale to sever final link to Epling

By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

This butterfly mural adorns the ceiling of the master bedroom in the Richwood home built by the late embezzler Ron Epling.
For sale: The Richwood home built by the late Ron Epling , who stole millions of dollars from the city of Florence.
UNION - Though the expansive house is empty, Billie Epling's personal touches are everywhere:

A butterfly mural on the master-bedroom ceiling, window treatments with embroidered butterflies, gold walls with raised butterflies in the guest bathroom.

"I love my butterflies," Epling said this week. "You can't take that away from me."

For nearly two years, Epling lived in the Triple Crown home surrounded by her butterflies.

Now they belong to the city of Florence.

Ron Epling, Billie's husband who died last year, stole millions from the city while serving as its finance director. His widow gave up the house to settle a lawsuit Florence filed seeking it.

Now Florence wants to sell the $700,000 home - which prosecutors say was purchased with city money - in hopes of recovering some of the stolen funds.

Today, the city will hold an open house in advance of accepting bids for the 4,579-square-foot waterfront home.

"I am sure it's going to be a curiosity to a lot of people," said Mayor Diane Whalen, who had not toured the house. "But I hope there are some qualified buyers who are interested."

The idea of strangers walking through the dream home she had painted with murals of grape vines, butterflies, and clothes drying in the breeze does not upset Epling.

"It's really OK," she said. "I'm just glad it's over, and I want to move forward."

The sale of the house, Whalen said, also will allow the city to move forward from the scandal uncovered in December 2002.

"It's just a reminder that we are still, just now, getting our money back," Whalen said. "It's a symbol of everything that went wrong."

Ron Epling never lived in the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath ranch with a walkout basement. He and Billie filed for divorce in 2000, nearly a year before construction began.

But federal affidavits filed in the case said Epling paid $400,000 in cash for the $688,000 home.

Though city attorneys never pinpointed how much of Florence's money Ron Epling spent on the home, it was "a very substantial portion of the cost," attorney Hugh Skees said.

• What: Open house at Billie K. Epling's former home
• When: Today, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
• Where: 1014 Reigh Count Court in Triple Crown
• To bid: The city clerk will receive sealed bids until 5 p.m. Aug. 18. For information call (859) 647-8177.
Epling also bought his girlfriend, Cheryl Hatter, a $170,000 home in Delhi Township. The city also got proceeds from the sale of that house.

Billie Epling moved into the Triple Crown home in September 2002 just months before her husband's thefts were uncovered.

In February 2003, Ron Epling pleaded guilty to 35 counts of theft totaling $2.8 million. Prosecutors maintained the amount was closer to $4.9 million. Epling died last year while serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Florence filed a lawsuit against Billie Epling seeking her husband's assets including the house, a condo in Triple Crown, several cars, bank accounts and a chain of hair salons.

Billie Epling agreed to pay the city $745,000 for its claim to the hair salons and to sell the city the house for $1.

The settlement allowed her to keep the condo.

Billie Epling moved out of the Triple Crown house in May. The house is so new that this week the builder was still completing the final touches.

"She put a lot of herself in the house and you can tell," said Mike Varner, who painted the home for Epling and was working on the home this week.

One bedroom is painted purple with a mural of grape vines, flowers, and a lattice painted on the closet doors and bay window.

A downstairs bedroom features a mural of a gazebo scene with hummingbirds, butterflies, worms, turtles, meadows and the sky.

In the laundry room, bloomers, a corset, elbow-length gloves and stockings hang on a painted clothesline.

"That's strictly Billie," Varner said.

Butterflies became Billie Epling's signature when she joined Parents without Partners after her first divorce, she said this week. When she edited the group's newsletter, she signed her name "Billie K." with a hand-drawn butterfly.

"I wanted people to associate something with me," she said.

The house features a three-car garage, finished basement, great room, library, and dining room. It also has a large craft room with eight electrical outlets.

Outside on the covered deck, Epling had the ceiling painted light blue after reading an article about the color being used in New Orleans.

"It had to be blue," Varner said, "to keep away the evil spirits and bugs."


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