By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CRESTVIEW HILLS - Except for the mostly empty tandem refrigerators and the semicircle driveway coated with unbroken snow, the 9,000-square-foot home of former developer Bill Erpenbeck looks as occupied as any.
A lone goldfish swims in a small glass tank in a child's upstairs bedroom. A built-in wardrobe in the master suite brims with Erpenbeck's size 44L jackets and suits. The Erpenbeck house offers ample hints of life: A magnum bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne chilling in the fridge; an Animal House videotape on a nightstand.
Erpenbeck, his wife and children are long gone, having moved to Fort Myers, Fla., in May.
Now, in the wake of his company's failure and the massive scrum for damages, the Erpenbeck home and most of its contents are being sold to pay off creditors.
The sale will take the form of separate absolute auctions March 15 - the house at noon, the contents at 2 p.m. Prospective buyers and gawkers will be able to tour the two-story, six-bedroom former Homearama house from 4 to 7 p.m. March 13. Items other than the Erpenbecks'clothing and personal effects will be auctioned at the airport Radisson Inn.
Erpenbeck, the subject of a federal bank fraud investigation and countless civil lawsuits, was dragged into bankruptcy by three subcontractors who say he personally guaranteed the obligations of the insolvent Erpenbeck Co. Bankruptcy Judge William Howard appointed Mike Baker to represent creditors' interests.
With Bill Erpenbeck refusing to provide a list of assets and debts, Baker chose to go after his most obvious asset: his Summit Lakes house, which was appraised by Kenton County for tax purposes at $1.3 million. Auctioneer Mark Euton of Semple & Associates of Williamsburg, Ohio, said Thursday that he will start the bidding at $2 million.
Semple & Associates expects to tag up to 400 items for the March 15 contents sale, including furniture, electronics and big-ticket lifestyle items.
On the list will be a Wurlitzer piano, a Duncan Phyfe dining table for 12, a custom-built pool table, a hot tub, weight station, tanning bed, two treadmills, a Honda NX250 motorcycle, a pair of gas grills, a pair of double-cockpit Daytona USA racing simulators and a stand-up safe called "Fort Knox."
The safe was empty.
If it sells for that much, four banks with mortgages on the house will share the first $1.7 million.
While claims against Erpenbeck Co. exceed $100 million, Bill Erpenbeck's financial exposure is less certain.
"We don't know who he owes or the extent of what he owes," Baker said. "There's a lot of information to be discovered, and we're not getting any cooperation from him."
Among the more distinctive smaller items will be Bill Erpenbeck's football helmet collection, mixed sets of golf clubs, a 7-foot-tall slot machine that has seen better days and a 1993 painting by Northern Kentucky artist Don Niehaus called "The Bad Dudes."
Euton, whose firm handled the sale of pizza magnate Buddy LaRosa's former house in College Hill in 1999, said the content auction will attract all kinds of buyers.
"You have a certain amount of resell people - dealers for the most part - and we'll have end users, people who will put these items into their homes," Euton said.
"I would say 98 percent of this merchandise will be bought by people from within 50 miles of this location."
Euton said the auctions will be advertised in newspapers and by direct mail. The house will be placed in real estate multiple listings, as well as on Semple's Web site, www.semplesells.com. Baker said people are already inquiring about the house.
"No one's offered a hard number," he said, "but I've received a few calls from intermediaries asking what we're going to do with the house."
Baker said the Erpenbecks will be allowed to remove purely personal items that were in the house during a news media showing Thursday. So Mrs. Erpenbeck will be able to recover her crystal-dish-imbedded wedding picture. Bill will be able to salvage the Covington Catholic High School Sports Hall of Fame plaque that he received in 2001.
The Erpenbecks' dark-paneled home office is full of such effects. Otherwise, the first-story room seems to have been devoted more to play than work. Cupboards are full of board games, desk drawers are stocked with action video games. In the middle of the desktop, in front of a computer monitor, is a handgrip-style Wingman joystick.
One business-related item did lurk in the top drawer, however - a cassette tape called Mack Clark's Becoming the Perfect Manager.
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