Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Team takes another strike


Hamilton sues Freedom over utility bill at field

By Jennifer Edwards and Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writers

HAMILTON - In another indication of financial woes facing the Florence Freedom minor league baseball team and its owners, the city of Hamilton filed a lawsuit saying the baseball group has not paid an old utility bill.

The suit names the team, the team's ownership group - Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball LLC - and part-owner Chuck Hildebrant and his wife, Connie Hildebrant. The lawsuit contends they still owe the city for $3,591.12 in unpaid utilities from last summer, when the team played at Hamilton's Foundation Field before their stadium was built in Florence.

The Freedom's stadium is now about 80 percent built, but work was halted when contractors said they weren't being paid. The team has been playing in the stadium under a temporary certificate of occupancy.

But on Monday, that permit expired and Chief Boone County Building Inspector Jim Key said he did not issue the team another temporary permit.

Key said he sent the team a letter stating that the group violated its building permit and has 15 days to correct several deficiencies at the Champion Window Field. If those items are not corrected in 15 days, Key said he will turn the matter over to the county attorney, who could file a criminal complaint against the team.

Monday's developments come just days after federal authorities said they are investigating Chuck Hildebrant. Authorities have said that probe appears to be focusing on how he secured funding to build the estimated $7 million to $8 million stadium.

Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee said Monday evening that the team applied for an extension on the temporary permit Monday.

"That's getting taken care of," said Lee, who took over management of the team last month.

Also on Monday, a posting on the team's Web site was soliciting investors for the baseball team. Those interested in investing in the team were asked to call Chuck Hildebrant's lawyer.

In the Hamilton suit, filed Friday in Hamilton Municipal Court, the city asks for the money plus interest and court costs.

Hamilton Mayor Don Ryan said he believes the bill is for use of the field's night lights. He referred questions to City Manager Mike Samoviski, who said the lawsuit was filed after repeated attempts to collect the money failed.

Hildebrant, 45, and his wife have not returned repeated calls and could not be reached at their Warren County home.

Chuck Hildebrant's lawyer, Ray Stewart of Covington, also did not return phone calls to his office and cell phone Monday.

Dennis Buckley, attorney for the baseball group, said Monday he was unaware of the Hamilton lawsuit and could not comment.Hildebrant is a 20 percent owner in the baseball group, which owns and operates the team. That group and the city of Florence signed a lease last year saying the city would rent the group the land to build a stadium.

The baseball group is scheduled today to make its lease payment on the land, which is $197,617.

The lease further specifies that all owners of the baseball group are responsible for payment. Buckley declined to say Monday if that payment would be made.

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E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com or bkelly@enquirer.com




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