CINCINNATI – Liz Rogers, the embattled owner of Mahogany's at the Banks, is accusing "a single source in the city administration" of conducting a smear campaign against her and her restaurant.
Rogers says she has been getting her restaurant's finances in order, but she still hasn't worked out a plan for repaying her $300,000 loan from the city.
City records show Rogers hasn't made a full monthly payment of $3,073.13 since October, and she has repaid the city just $1,500 since then.
After 18 months, she has paid only $32,354 and still has a principal balance of $283,391.
A statement from the restaurant Wednesday said, in part:
"The restaurant is now current on almost all of its debt and has exhibited a great turnaround going into the heart of the summer, when business is brisk. The city loan, however, is in a different category.
"For the past two years, a single source in the city administration has made it his mission to put Mahagony’s out of business … His unending campaign of leaks to the press, half-truths, and misstatements has substantially hurt Mahagony’s business, thus making his statements regarding the city loan, to a large degree, a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Despite that, the statement added:
"We expect great success. Mahagony’s response to these continued attacks will be to continue to put out a great product and let the food and the dining experience speak for itself.”
Three months ago, when Rogers fell $50,000 behind in her rent payments and her landlord threatened to evict her, the city said it would give Rogers time to get current with her landlord before demanding any loan payments.
"We're still talking and working with her. Obviously, we wanted to give her a chance to work on her lease first," a city spokesperson said at the time.
Rogers caught up on her $10,000 per month rent in April, but she didn't make any payments to the city in April or May.
City spokesperson Rocky Merz says the city is to close to working out a repayment arrangement with her.
Rogers blamed an $80,000 embezzlement by a financial manager and the past harsh winter for the restaurant's troubles. Rogers filed a police report but no criminal charges have resulted from it.
Rogers made her first seven monthly loan payments on time, from January 2013 through July 2013, but only three payments after that.
She also fell behind on sales tax payments and workers compensation premiums to the state.
In a letter on Feb. 28 , Rogers' landlord, NIC Riverbank One, gave her eight days to get current on her rent or be evicted. Later, NIC allowed her to make four payments over six weeks.
The city’s loan was part of a controversial financing package to help the restaurant open at The Banks in 2012. The package consisted of a $300,000 loan and a $684,000 grant.
The loan has a 10-year term, payable monthly, with interest fixed at 4.25 percent.
As collateral, the city has a personal guaranty from Rogers and her husband, Trent.
Other collateral includes a leasehold mortgage on The Banks site; a security interest in the furniture and equipment there; and a second mortgage and security interest in her Hamilton restaurant. Further, the city is named as a beneficiary under the restaurant owners’ life insurance policies, up to the balance of the loan.