Friday, November 5, 2004

Bankrupt team's part-owner working to resolve legal woes



By Jennifer Edwards
Enquirer staff writer

Chuck Hildebrant, part-owner of the bankrupt Florence Freedom baseball team, has kept a low profile since several lawsuits and a federal investigation were launched against him earlier this year.

Federal authorities are probing how Hildebrant, 45, of Morrow,secured bank loans to finance construction of the Florence stadium, which overlooks Interstate 75, is about 80 percent complete and faces more than $4 million in liens.

The Freedom's owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Sept. 3, citing debts of nearly $9 million.

The Cincinnati office of the FBI had nothing new to add this week about the investigation, said Michael Brooks, supervisory special agent and chief division counsel.

Hildebrant also faces at least five lawsuits, including three filed by banks that allege he owes them $4.5 million, one suit by the city of Florence and another from two companies owned and operated by his relatives.

Hildebrant declined to comment after two recent appearances in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court for garnishment hearings related to a suit brought against him by Provident Bank.

In August, a judge ordered Warren County deputies to tag items for seizure at his Morrow home in conjunction with a lawsuit by Fifth Third Bank. Included were luxury vehicles and sports memorabilia.

Nothing was removed and the sheriff's office has not been asked to appraise items or advertise an auction, said Glenda Osner, clerical specialist for the sheriff's office.

The 5-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home is on 25 acres.

It is listed for sale with R.L. Higgins Real Estate for $999,000, according to cincymls.com.

Fifth Third lawyer Alan Statman said the bank has recovered about 75 percent of the money Hildebrant owed through the recent sale of a 20-acre parcel of Maineville commercial property owned by a Hildebrant company.

The sale was for $1.3 million, according to Warren County land records.

That went toward Hildebrant's total debt to the bank of $1.69 million, Statman said. Hildebrant owed Fifth Third $705,300 for two revolving credit loans taken out in August 2003 and October 2003 and another $987,728 for a loan taken out in July 2004.

Fifth Third called in the loans in August. Bank officials said they learned property Hildebrant used as collateral for the loan, the Maineville parcel, wasn't about to be purchased or rented as he had led them to believe, court records show.

Hildebrant's lawyer, Jack Rubenstein, said last week that his client is working to resolve all issues. He hinted that an end to Hildebrant's troubles may be in sight.

"Things are moving along and you know, hopefully, we'll have some resolution," Rubenstein said.

In 1978, Hildebrant was convicted of bank embezzlement, federal records show. Then 19, he was sentenced to three years' probation.

In 1991, he was convicted of forgery in Warren County for altering county records to purchase a car, court records show.

But relatives and friends paint a different picture, saying he and his wife, Connie, gave their all to make the baseball team a success and he has donated to various charities and agencies over the years.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com




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