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Sale of 1,000 acres is latest turn in Mo. court battle

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–National City Bank has sold nearly 1,000 acres of Windermere Baptist Conference Center to a new company with ties to former Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Director Jim Hill, his brother Jerry Hill and Springfield businessman Bill Jester, according to public records and a Windermere press release dated March 8.

The transaction was completed in February as part of the plan reported last December to reduce Windermere’s debt by selling off land for private development.

Windermere is one of five breakaway entities from the Missouri Baptist Convention at the center of a convention legal effort seeking a declaratory judgment that the entities broke state law in creating self-perpetuating trustee boards.

According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s website, Jerry Hill filed legal papers on Feb. 16 to create a new business entity, Windermere Development Company, LLC, owned by Bill Jester. On Feb. 24, National City Bank (NCB) executed a deed conveying about 1,000 acres of Windermere land to the new company. Jester plans to build townhouses, villas, condominiums, private residences, commercial buildings and a possible retirement facility, according to a press release posted on the Windermere website, dated March 8.

NCB had obtained title to the land from the breakaway Windermere trustees in November 2005 as part of a refinancing plan. Windermere retains title to about 312 acres of developed lakefront property, now mortgaged to two California banks for $14 million.

MBC attorneys say they will seek a court order to cancel the deed and the debt as part of the legal effort to recover title to the property from the breakaway board of trustees. MBC attorneys also may seek a contempt of court citation for Windermere’s role in the re-titling, in violation the court’s temporary restraining order.

“In the end, we expect the court to declare this deed to be void because the breakaway board lacked authority to sell this land to NCB, and therefore NCB lacked authority to sell to Mr. Jester,” MBC attorney Michael Whitehead said.

Jim Hill has been in business with Jester and Jerry Hill since he resigned from the state convention in 2001, but he vigorously denies he is connected to Jester’s companies or to the Windermere transactions.

Jester founded Resource Development, Inc., or “RDI,” in 1978 and has since formed numerous other real estate-related business entities, many with the letters “RDI” in their name, including RDI Consulting, LLC, a fundraising firm. After Jim Hill resigned as MBC executive director in 2001, Jester hired him to work on RDI projects alongside brother Jerry Hill. The Windermere Wilderness Creek facility was among the projects. Jim Hill eventually became owner of one of Jester’s companies, RDI, LLC. RDI’s website still lists Jerry Hill as “senior consultant, RDI” and Jester as founder and trainer.

Jim Hill denies that his RDI is connected, legally or financially, to Jester’s RDI. A press release on the Word & Way website states: “RDI Consulting in Jefferson City is not affiliated with the Springfield firm as some news sources have indicated. Former Missouri Baptist Convention executive director Jim Hill purchased the consulting firm from Jester four years ago and currently operates it as president and chief executive officer, with no legal or financial ties to the development company.”

Another press statement, on Hill’s website at the breakaway Baptist General Convention of Missouri, denies that Windermere has ever been for sale, and says, “It is the undeveloped land, not Windermere, that the board has considered selling.”

Whitehead called the action “a shell game” and noted how Jerry Hill has set up many business entities for Jester, including RDI Consulting.

“Jim Hill has recently put his name and address on the shell, but his day-to-day work has never changed. He is still in business with Bill Jester and he is still involved in the Windermere transactions. Selling 1,000 out of 1,300 acres of ground is selling Windermere. It is double-talk to say otherwise,” Whitehead said.

“The former state executive director [Jim Hill] put himself on the Windermere board at the time of the breakaway. He was on the board when Windermere contracted with RDI to do fundraising and planning. Then he quit the MBC and went to work for RDI. RDI got paid to do fundraising and to manage construction. When that failed, RDI got paid to restructure the finances, and that resulted in Bill Jester owning five-sixths of Windermere’s land.

“Have they ever heard of the phrase conflict of interest?’” Whitehead quipped. “They will.”

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle