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Ex-MBC executive director’s firm tries to buy Windermere

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–A legal investigation has revealed that Windermere Baptist Conference Center was on the verge of foreclosure last fall and a failed attempt to purchase Windermere real estate was made by Resource Development, Inc. (RDI), a Springfield, Mo., company with ties to James (Jim) Hill, his brother Jerald Hill and Springfield businessman William Jester.

Investigation into multi-million-dollar bank loans, real estate deeds, bond sales and timber operations continued as the trial judge on Jan. 4 extended the temporary restraining order against Windermere until Jan. 18, the next status hearing for lawyers representing the Missouri Baptist Convention.

The convention is seeking to regain Windermere from trustees who changed the conference center’s charter to make themselves independent of the Missouri convention’s trustee selection process. The convention, contending that state law has been violated, also is seeking to regain four other convention entities where the trustees also made their boards self-perpetuating.

After a Jan. 4 conference call with Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown III, MBC attorney Michael Whitehead provided a preliminary report to the Missouri convention’s executive board regarding his investigation and the facts he has discovered since the temporary restraining order was first entered on Dec. 19.

Whitehead said bank officials had confirmed that Windermere sought to avoid foreclosure last year by considering a land sale to Resource Development, Inc. The company failed to obtain the financing intended to purchase the land, so the land was deeded over to National City Bank (NCB) as part of an elaborate refinancing plan.

Under the plan, 1,000 acres of Windermere land was conveyed by special warranty deed to NCB, Whitehead reported. NCB apparently reduced Windermere’s loan balance from about $21 million to $14 million. Then two California banks loaned Windermere the money to pay off the NCB note, in an arrangement brokered in part by California Plan of Church Finance, Inc., a church bond firm related to the California Baptist Foundation. The new lenders and Reliance Trust Company of Atlanta, as trustee, recorded a future advance deed of trust against Windermere’s remaining real estate, securing the $14 million loan, and also securing future advances of up to $30 million. The promissory notes to the California banks apparently have a one-year term, expiring on Nov. 15. At that time, the $14 million dollar loan, plus interest, must be refinanced or paid down with proceeds from the sale of church bonds.

James Hill, the Missouri convention’s former executive director, is the president and CEO of RDI Consulting, a firm also with ties to the Jester family. James Hill’s brother, Jerald, is an attorney for the Jesters’ businesses.

James Hill also is the executive director of the small breakaway Baptist General Convention of Missouri, formed in reaction to the election of convention officers of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Details of the failed Jester-Hill sale were not yet available, Whitehead said.

“Depositions of various parties have been scheduled but not yet completed,” Whitehead told The Pathway, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s newsjournal. “We have subpoenaed Mr. Jester, Jerald Hill and their companies for their depositions on Jan. 12, but we expect there will be delays and objections before we actually get them completed. We will advise the court of our progress at the next status conference on Jan. 18. Meanwhile, the temporary restraining order remains in effect,” which prohibits any further sale of Windermere property.

Whitehead said one bank lawyer told him that RDI may still be trying to buy Windermere land if they can find alternate financing.

“We will take whatever steps we must to expose this plan to the light of day and to ask Judge Brown to stop it,” Whitehead said.

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