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Bank takes back Geppi mansion at auction

The Baltimore County mansion known as Cliffeholme, built in the mid-19th century and owned by businessman Stephen A. Geppi, was bought back at a foreclosure sale Thursday by the mortgage lender.

A trustee for lender Bank of America bid $2.8 million for the nearly 14,000-square-foot residence on 9 acres in Green Spring Valley. Geppi and his wife, Melinda, who bought the property in 2004 for $4.8 million, defaulted on the loan in February 2009 and owed $3.2 million on the mortgage, according to court documents. The Geppis had put the home on the market in January 2008 after moving to another home.

Geppi, head of Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., publisher of Baltimore Magazine and investor in the Baltimore Orioles, did not attend the auction on the steps of the Baltimore County Courts Building. He could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Auctioneer Ron West of Harvey West Auctioneers opened the bidding at $3.7 million. But despite some potential buyers in the crowed of onlookers, a bank trustee made the only offer. West said that several people had registered for the sale and had come prepared with the required $25,000 deposit.

A trustee for the bank, John S. Burson, said he could not comment on individual foreclosure cases.

The English Revival home on Stewart Road has been described as one of the most historically and architecturally significant homes in the Baltimore area. The estate was built in 1848 by James Howard, son of Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard, and later expanded and modified. The listing describes modern updates including a home theater and master bedroom suite with gym.

"Who could have foretold how substantial" the decline would be in the housing market, asked Karen Hubble Bisbee, an associate broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage who handles historic properties.

"Steve Geppi is a very smart guy and an unbelievable contributor to this community," she said. "It's very sad to see what happened to him, whatever the reason."

Geppi has faced other real estate-related financial troubles in the past couple of years, with a $16.4 million judgment against him awarded to PNC Bank in January 2009.

Documents in Baltimore County Circuit Court show that several limited-liability companies in which Geppi was an investor borrowed $18.6 million in December 2006 to acquire waterfront properties for development in Maine, and that Geppi signed a personal guaranty on the note. The borrowers defaulted in October 2008.

An attorney for PNC Bank, Barry C. Greenberg, declined to comment on the case.

Last May, the Maryland Stadium Authority agreed to reduce the rent paid by Geppi's Entertainment Museum for its space in Camden Station at Camden Yards after the museum struggled. More recently, Baltimore County Circuit Court ordered payment on a $3 million loan to Geppi in February 2009, which went into default in January.

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