Combs defends lawsuits involving business dealings

Statehouse candidate says he paid all debts owed by real estate firm

Courtney Combs, a former state lawmaker and candidate for Ohio’s 51st House District, has found himself in court several times since leaving office at the end of 2011, including a lawsuit against his real estate company for a nearly $630,000 balance on a bank loan it defaulted on in 2012, according to Butler County Common Pleas Court documents reviewed by this newspaper.

Bobcor, a real estate company co-owned by Combs and Hamilton businessman Robert M. Brown, was held in default in February 2012 on a First Financial Bank loan taken out in 2009, according to multiple court filings. Combs was also accused by the bank in its civil lawsuit of “fraudulent conveyance” for transferring eight properties he owned to his wife just weeks after a six-figure judgment against him.

Combs, a former Butler County commissioner and state representative, is challenging incumbent Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, for Ohio’s 51st House District seat in the March 15 primary. He has already been endorsed by the Butler County Republican Party in the race.

Combs told the Journal-News in an exclusive interview that his legal issues are not a reflection on him personally or his ability to lead in the Statehouse, and if it hurts his bid for a return trip to Columbus, then so be it.

He said he’s been involved with many business deals, including “over a dozen partnerships that all have been successful.” Bobcor, however, was one “that just went bad,” he said.

“It is embarrassing,” Combs acknowledged.

Bank sues Combs’ firm for loan default

According to Butler County Common Pleas Court records, Combs and Brown were civilly sued in January 2012 by First Financial Bank.

The bank claimed the business partners defaulted on the nearly $630,000 balance of a loan issued in March 2009, according to court records. According to February 2013 court records, Combs was projected to owe in excess of $685,000, which included post-judgment interest.

Combs told the Journal-News he personally wrote a $700,000 check to cover the default amount.

Court records indicate the money was to build out Columbia Woods, a single-family subdivision, and Crowne Villas, a condominium subdivision — both in the city of Hamilton. According to Hamilton city officials, Columbia Woods Section 3 was approved in 2004 and is about a third built out. Crown Villas is a 2-family condo subdivision approved in 2006 and is about half-built.

According to the Butler County Auditor's office, both subdivisions are owned by 311 Nilles LLC, which is a limited liability corporation Combs formed in July 2015.

Combs: ‘I foolishly…decided to fight it’

Combs said he felt he only was obligated to pay half, but First Financial came to him for the whole amount.

“I offered the bank to pay half it, and they said, ‘No, you’ve got to pay all of it,’” said Combs. “I foolishly, now, decided to fight it.”

Eventually Combs made the bank whole, and court documents in November 2013 show he was released of the debt obligation.

Combs said his attorney advised him that he was stuck to foot the whole Bobcor obligation, “or else they’re going to start foreclosing on your stuff.”

He said he wrote the check for the entire debt.

“If I had to do it over, I would have wrote the check and be done with it,” Combs said. “But I honestly thought in my mind they would take half.”

Brown was contacted by the Journal-News for comment but could not be reached.

His attorney Lawrence Fiehrer told the Journal-News via email that Brown accepted an offer of settlement proposed by First Financial.

“Mr. Combs received varying offers which would not require a $700,000 payout,” Fiehrer wrote. “Again, he made a bad decision, which he has admitted. The case was not defendable. At no time was he acting as a partner in Bobcor, but rather, individually on behalf of he and his wife.”

Before the case was resolved, First Financial filed another complaint. According to the Sept. 20, 2012, filing, First Financial Bank alleged Combs transferred eight properties — collectively valued in excess of $1.4 million at the time — to his wife. The bank alleges in that court filing the transfer was a "fraudulent conveyance." The document also asserted Combs had $20,000 remaining on a $60,000 loan.

Combs said that matter, which is also resolved according to court documents, was just coincidence as he and his wife were in the middle of estate planning. He said that estate planning preceded the initial complaint.

“My accountant and my attorney both were working on estate planning,” said Combs, adding it was a tax benefit based on his accountant’s recommendation. “During that time, we didn’t transfer all properties, we transferred some properties into her name.”

According to the court document, on Feb. 28, 2012, just weeks after First Financial secured its six-figure judgment, Combs “transferred certain real property” his wife. On the deed it was written “in consideration of love and affection.”

A settlement agreement was reached after court documents in this case indicated Combs' home was scheduled to go to a sheriff's sale, and the plaza he owns in Fairfield was already in receivership.

Bobcor partnership sours

Combs said his partnership with Brown soured after the court case, and in May 2015 a civil suit was jointly filed by Brown and Combs to dissolve Bobcor, which began in 1987. A bench trial has been rescheduled multiple times, and is now set for Aug. 10.

“I paid all the debt for Bobcor,” said Combs about this case. “I wrote the check.”

Fiehrer, Brown’s attorney, said at this time, both settlements have confidentiality with First Financial Bank, although there may be disclosure in the pending Bobcor litigation.

More legal issues

Just this past October, Fairfield-based Cincinnati Financial — the district’s largest employer and Butler County’s second-largest — filed a civil suit in Fairfield Municipal Court after Combs allegedly “on several occasions” had “negligently” allowed water to flow out of his unit in the Wedgewood South Condominiums on Mack Road into a neighboring unit, according to court records.

According to the civil complaint, the insurance company is seeking more than $9,800, which equal the damages caused to a client of the insurance company that lived below Combs condo unit.

“In each instance (Combs) failed to take necessary action to make adequate repairs to the water supply,” according to the court filing. Additionally, the court filing indicates Combs failed to comply with the Wedgewood South Condominiums’ policy where he was “required to ‘take immediate steps to stop the leak and mitigate damages to units and the common area, including calling a plumber.’”

Combs said it was a matter for his insurance company to handle, which he said they did, but Cincinnati Financial is attempting to reclaim the money his insurance company paid. The complaint says Combs “failed to comply with the condominium policy, failed to take immediate actions and failed to contact a plumber, proximately causing (the) plaintiff’s damages.”

Combs said he received notification of the October-filed complaint on Feb. 1, according to a postmarked envelope he showed to the Journal-News. The last court filing was receipt that Combs received the letter.