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Feds: Couple refused to sell home to black radio personality, wife

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Chicago couple accused of refusing to sign sales contract
  • George Willborn and wife offered $1.7 million
  • Agent says seller told him he would prefer not to sell to African-Americans

(CNN) -- A Chicago, Illinois, couple, their real estate agent and a real estate broker face charges of violating the federal Fair Housing Act for refusing to sell a $1.8 million home to black radio personality and comedian George Willborn, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said.

The five-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot home was listed for $1.799 million by owners Daniel and Adrienne Sabbia and their real estate agent, Jeffrey Lowe, the housing agency said in a statement Tuesday.

The charge alleges the Sabbias and Lowe stalled negotiations and took the property off the market after receiving a $1.7 million offer from Willborn and his wife, Peytyn -- the highest offer the Sabbias had received in the two years the property was listed, according to HUD.

The Sabbias accepted the offer, but refused to sign the sales contract, according to the HUD complaint. Six days after the offer was accepted, the Willborns' agent asked about the issue, and Lowe told her that the "'reality" of selling the house was 'just hitting'" Adrienne Sabbia, the complaint said. The woman said she didn't believe that, since the house had been listed for two years, according to the complaint.

Lowe sent the agent a text message the following day saying he did not believe it was about race, and believed it to be a "seller vs. seller issue not a seller vs. buyer issue."

But the next day, Lowe told the Willborns' agent that the Sabbias were not signing the sales contract and taking the home off the market.

"Respondent Lowe gave complainants various reasons for why the Sabbias had decided not to sell," the complaint said, including that Adrienne Sabbia had changed her mind, that the Sabbias could not find another home, and they wanted to keep their children in their current schools.

The Sabbias told HUD investigators they refused to sign the sales contract because Adrienne Sabbia wanted the full asking price for the home.

Conrad Duncker, named as the Sabbias' attorney by the Chicago Sun-Times, did not return a call from CNN seeking comment Wednesday.

The Willborns filed an initial HUD complaint in January, amending it in March and July. The couple learned that the Willborns had filed a HUD complaint on January 29, the complaint said, and a few days later told Lowe to offer the Willborns the opportunity to buy the home with all its furnishings for $1.799 million.

"When the Willborns learned that the Sabbias only offered to sell the subject property to them after receipt of the HUD complaint, they canceled a scheduled showing and declined the offer," according to the complaint.

Lowe told investigators that while he was representing the Sabbias, Daniel Sabbia told him he would prefer not to sell the home to an African-American, but added "if it was for the right price he did not care who bought the house," the complaint said.

However, the agency "has determined that reasonable cause exists to believe that a discriminatory housing practice has occurred in this case based on race and has authorized and directed the issuance of this charge of discrimination," according to the complaint.

The charge will be heard by an administrative law judge unless a party elects to have it heard in federal district court, HUD said. If the judge finds discrimination occurred, damages may be awarded and fines may be levied. Punitive damages can also be awarded if the case is heard in district court.

Besides the Sabbias, the Lowe Group Chicago Inc. and real estate broker Prudential Rubloff Properties are also named in the complaint.

"Racial fairness is important at all income levels. Civil rights enforcement must be the effective shield against housing discrimination that in this case wealth was not," stated John Trasvina, HUD assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity.

Willborn is a radio personality who co-hosts the syndicated "Michael Baisden Show." He also has appeared as a comedian on television and in films, the complaint said.

CNN's attempts to reach Willborn were unsuccessful.

"I think it's unfortunate, sad and disgusting," Willborn told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It jolts you to your core beliefs. . . . No one has the right to dictate the American dream."

"Complainants George and Peytyn Willborn have suffered emotional distress due to respondents' discriminatory acts," the complaint says. Willborn has indicated he is less trusting of people and their actions, and "he feels respondents have denied him the American dream he worked so hard to attain. They are surprised that something like this could happen in the year 2010."

The Willborns' children "were disappointed at the loss of certain features of the house, and ... felt fear because of how they might be treated because of race," the complaint said. "The Willborns' daughter felt hurt and angry and now worries that if this happened to her parents that it may happen to her one day in her own search for housing as an adult."