The US Fidelis bankruptcy estate has received the first bid for the over-the-top Lake Saint Louis mansion that came to symbolize the excesses of the Wentzville company's owners, the brothers Darain and Cory Atkinson.
A motion recording the $4.75 million bid from 5 Lakeview Acquisition Group LLC was filed in bankruptcy court at about 5 p.m. today. The house, which cost at least $26.7 million to build, currently is listed for sale for $14.9 million.
The house - although occupied until recently by Darain Atkinson and his wife, Mia - is not finished, said David Warfield, a lawyer for a committee of unsecured US Fidelis creditors.
"There's a lot of work to be done, and it's not finished - at least not in the way that was envisioned," Warfield said, noting that an indoor pool and basketball court are not yet finished.
For buyers, those shortcomings might be overcome by the fact that the purchase price includes any furnishings that the Atkinsons left in the house. Warfield said two boats, five mopeds and a tractor used at another Atkinson property will be thrown in to the sale for good measure.
If the court signs off on the motion filed today, others will have until Dec. 6 to make competing bids of at least $5 million. Only those who bid before the deadline will have the opportunity to increase their bids at an auction on Dec. 7.
The massive structure is often referred to as "the big house" by lawyers involved in the US Fidelis bankruptcy, so as to distinguish from the other enviable, but smaller, luxury homes built for the Atkinsons.
Images of the big house frequently were used by news media - from this newspaper to NBC's Today Show - to illustrate the success of Wentzville-based US Fidelis, which once led the nation in the sale of extended auto-service contracts.
The company imploded late last year amid allegations of consumer fraud and plundering by its owners.
Little is known about the company making the initial bid. The court filing announcing its bid does not identify the company's principals. According to state business records, the firm was created last month. Its registered agent is Brian E. McGovern, a lawyer at the Chesterfield firm McCarthy Leonard & Kaemmerer.
McGovern did not immediately respond to an interview request.
Bankruptcy records indicate the house at 5 Lakeview Court cost at least $26.7 million to build. Although intended to be the home of Darain and Mia Atkinson, US Fidelis paid much of the construction costs.
According to US Fidelis' bankruptcy filing, the company recorded at least 331 payments totaling about $7.2 million on expenses related to the compound's construction.
Those payments were part of a string of fraudulent transfers designed to put US Fidelis assets out of reach from the company's creditors, according to the independent management team that has run US Fidelis since its March 1 filing for bankruptcy.
St. Charles County building records say the house measures 20,752-square feet. An online real-estate listing on the selling agent's site sets the size of the house as 32,767 square feet and also as 40,000 square feet. Using any of these figures, the mansion is the county's largest, and by a big margin: The next biggest house measures about 15,000 square feet.
In an interview last year, Darain Atkinson said he wanted the house to be large enough to accomodate charitable fundraisers he planned to host.
Amenities include a beauty parlor, bowling alley, observation tower, eight-car garage and -- according to the online listing -- a "porte cochere," or a roof-covered driveway that allows visitors arriving by carriage or car to enter the house without getting wet during the rain.
The assessor's office in St. Charles County sets the property's market value at about $6.9 million, and the 2010 tax bill on the property was $80,744.
The management team sued the Atkinson brothers to recover $101 million, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Charles Rendlen III approved a settlement last month.
As part of the deal, the Atkinsons agreed to give back to their company about $10.5 million -- plus luxury homes, cars, boats and other assets expected to fetch at least $10 million more. After those assets are liquidated, proceeds will be used to pay US Fidelis creditors, including thousands of consumers.
Although the settlement required the Atkinsons to turn over other valuable real estate, including a oceanfront vacation home in the Cayman Islands, the Lake Saint Louis house could end up being the most valuable property involved in the settlement, which lawyers closed on Monday.
(Not all the companies that did work on the house were paid. The motion filed today says that the Lake Saint Louis house would be sold free and clear of all liens. Contractors involved in the mansion's construction have filed at least 20 mechanic's liens on the property totalling about $1.7 million.)
The bankruptcy estate also is gearing up to sell the Atkinsons' personal possessions not including in the house sale, including a trove of jewelry and luxury goods. On Wednesday, Rendlen told lawyers that he would allow US Fidelis to sell some of the Atkinsons' former belongings -- those valued at less than $50,000 -- without getting permission from the court.)