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Bankruptcy Filing Haunts Challenger to Maggart

In 2005, Courtney Rogers’ life savings were gone.

The oil distributorship business her husband bought with a friend months before the 9/11 attacks had failed. Business debts were piling up. And the couple was filing for bankruptcy.

And even though it stemmed from the failure of her husband’s company, Rogers is being sucked back into that difficult chapter in their lives now that she’s running for state political office. Rogers is waging a dark horse campaign to unseat one of the House’s leading Republicans, GOP Caucus Leader Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville.

Michael Rogers’ company — BSR Petroleum Distributors Inc. — consumed $55,000 of the Rogers family’s savings as profit margins shrunk following the terrorist attacks, forcing the pair to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Rogers and her campaign said.

“There was nothing we could do. We fought it off for a few years, we emptied our savings. But the margins never came back,” said Rogers.

Rogers and her husband filed for bankruptcy in March of 2005, according to court records. The couple listed liabilities of more than $930,000, with most of those debts, nearly $730,000, tied to his company. Their legal obligation to pay their debt was gone three months later, and their assets were liquidated.

“I don’t know that we’d do anything different because no one could foresee that,” she said of her husband buying Pulaski-based Chiles Oil Inc., and launching their business six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The revelation of Rogers’ bankruptcy is the newest twist in the Aug. 2 primary race for District 45 in Sumner County between the two conservative Republicans. A handful of interest groups are flooding Rogers with support in an effort to unseat the politically powerful Maggart as payback for leading the charge against issues they hold dear, including the National Rifle Association, which so far has plugged more than $75,000 into the race.

Rogers has not filed a disclosure of the bankruptcy with the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

It’s unclear whether she is in violation of election law, which requires candidates running for election to fill out paperwork listing “any adjudication of bankruptcy or discharge received in any United States district court within five years of the date of this report.” Omitting information could result in a fine up to $10,000.

Although the court issued the Rogerses their bankruptcy in 2005, it took court officials until 2008 to close their case, well within the five-year window.

The issue would only get vetted if Maggart or someone else filed a formal ethics complaint against Rogers.

Maggart declined to comment directly on whether she would do so. When asked, Maggart said she is “focused on getting my message out there about me, about what I’ve done as a state representative.”

Maggart ran a business of her own which closed down in 2008. She was the owner of Best Buy Carpet and Flooring Inc., in Madison, a company she closed when she couldn’t find a warehouse with a showroom she wanted to relocate to closer to home, she said.

Maggart dismissed any comparison of her own business closing and that of Rogers’ husband, calling them “very different.”

“My opponent, she campaigned on the idea of government staying out of her life, yet she didn’t mind asking government to stand between her and her creditors,” Maggart said.

Officials won’t comment on whether the Tennessee Ethics Commission has received a complaint on Rogers’ situation.

Although the bankruptcy was filed and discharged in 2005, the TEC doesn’t have a set definition of whether the ongoing filings since then qualify as “adjudication,” said Becky Bradley, the commission’s ethics specialist.

“It just has not come up before,” she said, adding that the commission would likely have to work with the Attorney General’s office to come up with a definition.

The commission keeps the content and number of filed ethics complaints secret. TEC has publicly considered five complaints since it was founded in 2006 and has thrown the rest out, according to Bradley. None resulted in a finding of an ethics violation.

But a Nashville bankruptcy attorney questioned whether the chain of events in Rogers’ case met the five-year test.

The late closing of the case had nothing to do with the actual ruling and liquidation, which was finished by 2005, says Edgar Rothschild, who was not involved in the case and reviewed the documents at the request of TNReport.

“I see nothing unusual about the fact that it was opened in 2005 and not closed until 2008,” he said. “The fact that the trustee took so long moving his paperwork along and disposing of the assets had nothing to do with the debtors. There is nothing in the report which indicated that the debtors did anything questionable.”