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Nigerian Chief Sues Disbarred, Outgoing Atlanta Council Member

After real estate closing five years ago, Willis released $600K from escrow account; investor wants money back after foreclosure

, Daily Report

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H. Lamar Willis and a local developer are being sued in Fulton County State Court by a Nigerian national.
H. Lamar Willis and a local developer are being sued in Fulton County State Court by a Nigerian national.

Outgoing Atlanta City Council member H. Lamar Willis, who was defeated in last month's election after being stripped of his law license in October, has been accused of improperly disbursing $600,000 from his escrow account as part of a real estate deal five years ago.

The suit, filed Dec. 20 in Fulton County State Court by a Nigerian national, Chief Ajibowu Owoade, names Willis and his Willis Law Group, along with a developer, Tony Escandari, and his now-defunct Duluth firm, Lily Development Inc. (The suit spells the developer's name as Escanderi.)

The six-page suit said that Willis was holding the money, which was "only to be released after the parties had a guarantee that the mortgage holding bank would not foreclose or otherwise exercise any right to the property superior to that obtained by the infusion of the escrow funds."

"A formal closing was a condition precedent to the release of the escrow funds," it said. "The escrow funds were released by Defendant Willis and Defendant Law Group to defendants Escanderi and Lily in contravention of the conditions precedent."

On Monday, Willis said he was baffled by the filing of the action, which he was unaware of until contacted by the Daily Report.

"The thing is, I had advised the chief not to do this deal to begin with. Contrary to my advice, he said he wanted to continue with it. I said 'fine.' We proceeded with the closing, and I was directed to disburse the funds, which I did."

Willis said he continued to work with Owoade for several months on other matters and that he never heard anything about the property being foreclosed.

"The reality is that I can't guarantee that a mortgage lender would not foreclose in perpetuity," said Willis. "I can tell you I didn't get any of that $600,000," Willis said.

The suit was filed by Scott Bonder and Joseph White of Fried and Bonder; Bonder said he was not authorized ot discuss the case, and the only phone number the Daily Report could find for Escandari was disconnected.

Willis said Owoade contacted him in 2008 on a referral and asked him to step in "at the 11th hour" to help with the deal.

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