Saturday, February 22, 2003

Mansion for sale

Erpenbeck's soul isn't at home


This is your life, Bill Erpenbeck. And this is us rummaging through it, trying to find your soul.

Could it be in your tanning bed? On one of your treadmills? In your home movie theater with its eight leather recliners? Or maybe your soul liked to lounge in the master-bath whirlpool, between the two TV sets mounted on the wall.

Wherever it is, I couldn't find it this week as I traipsed through your castle in Crestview Hills. We journalists were escorted by an auctioneer, who will be selling your real estate and its contents on March 15.

The house is appraised at $1.3 million for tax purposes, but there will be no minimum starting bid. Houses usually retain some sense of their owner's character. Yours is different. Even filled with expensive furniture and knickknacks, it feels indifferent. Empty. As fake as the plastic plants spilling from the custom-built shelves.

This must be the way of the rich and unscrupulous. You live large by cheating innocent people, so of course your home has no soul.

It's a fun place to visit, though.

A lot of `stuff'

A reporter said it best as he opened drawers in the Erpenbeck kitchen. "I feel like a vulture, but not really," he mumbled.

Erpenbeck deserves scrutiny. Once head of a large development company, he's now under investigation for bank fraud. He and his company are accused of taking millions of dollars that homebuyers had designated for paying off bank loans.

Subcontractors also lost big. A bankruptcy trustee has arranged the sale of Erpenbeck's home to pay off creditors.

Meanwhile, the man and his family are making do in a Florida condo.

They left last May with ample opportunity to return for housecleaning. Nevertheless, the Northern Kentucky manse is still filled with clothes, personal papers, trophies and kids' homework. Even Erpenbeck's jumbled sock drawer looks intact.

The basement was his personal Jillian's. There's a custom-built pool table, air hockey, arcade-style video games, popcorn cart, elaborate bar and 13-seat movie theater complete with ticket booth.

I can just see Erpenbeck - generous Peter Pan - pouring drinks for friends. In a photo, he's throwing a pitch at a Reds game. Big grin. Too many secrets behind it.

For all its air of phony bonhomie, the Erpenbeck home contains a poignant suggestion of the cost of those secrets.

Three children lived here. One of the boys' rooms is still plastered with girlie posters and sports memorabilia. There are CDs and personal snapshots. The closet is appropriately messy.

Hanging in the girl's room are hand-colored drawings of her name, surrounded by peppy phrases like, "They all want you!"

During his high-rolling days, Bill Erpenbeck gave his family a lot of stuff. But what else?

The mansion doesn't say.

For more information on the March 15 sale and March 13 preview, call auctioneer Mark Euton at (513) 724-1133 or visit Web site.

E-mail or 859-578-5584.

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