Botched mansion deal in Aspen sparks lawsuit |

Botched mansion deal in Aspen sparks lawsuit

ASPEN – A Red Mountain mansion is the subject of a lawsuit that accuses its owner of making improvements to the house without the proper permits, an allegation unsupported by Pitkin County building officials.

Ohio couple Theodore and Beverly Catino filed the suit Friday in Pitkin County District Court against Charlotte G. Lowder, the owner of a home at 1121 Red Mountain Drive.

The Catinos claim that Lowder has refused to refund them the $530,000 deposit they made on the home purchase after they backed out of the deal upon learning that a portion of it was constructed without a building permit and violated county zoning regulations. The Catinos had agreed to buy the home for $10.6 million, according to court documents.

Among the suit’s claims are fraud and misrepresentation, and breach of contract.

According to the suit, the couple had been shopping for an Aspen home and made an offer of the Red Mountain estate, which was marketed by Aspen real-estate broker Joshua Saslove as having seven bedrooms, six full bathrooms, three half bathrooms, and spanning 10,372 square feet.

The Catinos’ offer to buy the property was accepted by Lowder. But the deal began to head south when Catinos’ representatives met with the Pitkin County Community Development Department in April, the suit says. That’s when the reps learned that unpermitted work on the home, consisting of a bathroom and bedroom areas “and possibly other square footage,” had been done, the suit says.

After that finding, the deal collapsed, the suit says.

“On April 17, 2012, after learning that a significant portion of what the seller and Joshua (Saslove) had represented as livable heated square footage was, in fact, constructed illegally without a building permit, violated zoning regulation and the plans submitted to the county, the Catinos terminated the contract and requested the return of the earned money deposit,” the suit alleges. “Defendant has failed and refused to return the earnest money deposit.”

Community Development officials, the suit contends, said that the county would require the removal of the unpermitted work.

However, a high-ranking official with Community Development said Monday that the office had not made such demands, adding that department officials did not tell Catinos’ representatives, as alleged in the suit, that illegal work was done on the home.

“We’ve never inspected that house after we gave it a certificate of occupancy,” said Lance Clarke, assistant director of Community Development. “I remember some allegations being made by a disgruntled worker to someone at the department, but we’ve never been to the house to say what may or may not be illegal.”

The Aspen attorneys who filed the suit, Ted Gardenswartz and Leonard Oates, were not available for comment Monday.

Lowder, who lives in Auburn, Ala., does not have a listed phone number. She is the wife of Auburn University booster Bobby Lowder, whose Montgomery, Ala.-based Colonial Bank was seized by the FDIC in August 2009. It had assets of $25 billion, according to The Associated Press.

Lowder bought the home for $20 million on Dec. 1, 2006, according to the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office; that’s $9.4 million more than the amount the Catinos were poised to pay for it.

Plaintiff Theodore Catino Jr. is CEO of two Ohio-based companies – Tristar Indemnity, which provides automobile insurance coverage throughout the Midwest; and Security National Automotive Acceptance Corp. which provides financing for vehicle purchases.

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