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The curious case of the underwater condo
By JIM WALLS
Dec. 21, 2011 — Four years ago, a lobbyist and a state senator completed a casual real estate deal at an iconic Atlanta-area chicken restaurant.
No money appeared to change hands, according to paperwork filed later at the courthouse, suggesting the transaction was a gift worth tens of thousands of dollars. The senator for four years failed to disclose that he had acquired a downtown Atlanta condo in the deal. And the lobbyist never reported such a gift — a potentially big deal in a state that requires disclosure of gifts as trivial as a Coke or a candy bar.
Today, both parties say the paperwork was incorrect and there was nothing underhanded about the transaction. The circumstances, though, illustrate the frequently close relationships between the lobbyists and the lobbied under the Gold Dome, and the importance of fully understanding the information conveyed in public records.
The lobbyist, Christina Searles Tai, and Ronnie Chance, also a lobbyist, had shared several clients before he won a Senate seat in 2004. She also listed Chance’s public relations firm as a client and volunteered in his 2004 and 2006 political campaigns.
Tai said she wanted to get rid of the condo, a 600-square-foot unit at 300 West Peachtree St. Chance agreed to take it off her hands so he’d have a convenient place to stay when the Legislature is in session.
They got together in December 2007 at the Dwarf House in Hapeville — the original Chick-fil-a restaurant — to seal the deal. The plan, Tai said, was for her to transfer ownership of the unit to herself and Chance, then file a quitclaim deed to relinquish her interest.
“We were trying to do something simple and quick,” she said. “The bank told us that was the easiest way … to avoid closing costs.”
But the quitclaim deed was never filed,
so until last month the deed to the condo showed Chance and Tai as co-owners. And a so-called PT-61 form filed with the deed listed the “actual value” of the transaction as zero, indicating the senator paid nothing for his interest in the condo.
Those documents are wrong, Tai and Chance now say.
Both say Chance paid her $10,000 and took over the mortgage payments. “I certainly didn’t gift him anything,” Tai said.
Neither could say who filed the PT-61 form or why it didn’t show the true value of the sale. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing,” Chance said.
Chance and Tai’s paths have crossed a number of times in the intervening years. Tai has reported buying Chance a meal or beverage 10 times since then at a total cost of $432. In 2009, Chance chaired the Senate Finance Committee when it sat on a House bill to raise the tax on so-called “little cigars”; Tai at the time represented Reynolds American and other tobacco companies.
Chance freely admitted his failure to list the condo among his assets, which be blamed on an oversight. Recently, after Atlanta Unfiltered asked him about the omission, he added the condo to his amended disclosures for 2008 through 2010.
The senator also cleared up title to the condo recently, arranging for Tai to sign a quitclaim deed confirming he is sole owner of the condo. Tai filed a new PT-61, indicating the condo was sold for $109,000 and paying the $109 real estate transfer tax.
Not only was there no gift, Tai says, Chance did her a big favor in buying the condo when he did. The real estate market tanked just months after the deal and the condo’s value plummeted. Today, Fulton County tax assessors say it’s worth just $49,100.
“It,” Chance said, “is the worst investment I ever made.”