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Doctor sues Lake Norman charter boat operator

A Cornelius doctor has sued Lake Norman charter boat operator Cliff Champion, accusing him of failing to repay a loan of about $350,000.

Champion used the money to buy the 2003 wide-body Summerset house boat named N Too Deep, Dr. Mike Miltich says in his lawsuit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court.

Miltich told the Observer on Wednesday that he went to repossess the boat on Dec. 13 at All Seasons Marina on Langtree Road in southern Iredell County. Miltich said Champion happened to be there and pleaded with him not to take the boat until Champion hosted his stepson’s wedding on it the next day.

Miltich, who is a secured lienholder on the boat, said he agreed to hold off repossessing N Too Deep until the day after the wedding so as not to disappoint Champion’s wife on her son’s big day.

But two hours after Miltich confronted him that Friday, Champion drove to the federal courthouse in Charlotte and filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, meaning Miltich could no longer seize the boat without a court order, said Miltich’s attorney, Michael Elliott of Huntersville.

Miltich had a legal right to seize the boat on Dec. 13 under the federal Uniform Commercial Code, Elliott said.

Champion on Wednesday declined to say why he filed for bankruptcy or answer questions about the lawsuit. He said his lawyers are working to resolve the case.

A hearing on Champion’s bankruptcy filing was scheduled for Tuesday, but a judge agreed to postpone the hearing to give Champion’s attorney more time to prepare their case, Elliott said.

Elliott said he plans to file a motion with the court requesting that N Too Deep be taken out of the bankruptcy proceedings so Miltich can repossess the boat. A hearing on the motion could be held by month’s end, he said.

A judge hasn’t yet heard Miltich’s lawsuit, although an assistant clerk of court ordered Champion not to move the boat until the case is resolved, court records show.

Champion’s two-level charter boat can accommodate up to 140 guests and 10 staff members. The boat is 18 feet wide and 86.8 feet long.

Miltich, an ear, nose and throat surgeon with Charlotte EENT Associates, said he agreed to loan Champion the money in 2009 after he received an email from an acquaintance saying Champion “is a good guy and can anybody help him” with a loan for the boat. Miltich said he agreed to the loan after meeting Champion and his then-fiancee.

Miltich said at one point over the years he even agreed to reduce Champion’s interest payments from the original 12 percent that Champion offered to pay him, down to 8 percent. Miltich, who ran unsuccessfully for the Cornelius Board of Commissioners last year, said Champion owes him $3,000 a month in interest alone.

An Iredell County District Court judge, meanwhile, is scheduled on Feb. 3 to hear a complaint filed by the Lake Norman Marine Commission that Champion has operated N Too Deep without a permit. Champion faces up to a $500 fine. He was originally scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 7 but couldn’t attend because he was recuperating from surgery to remove a kidney stone, Champion said.

The case is the first time the commission has filed a complaint against a charter boat operator since enacting its charter boat ordinance in 2002, Executive Director Ron Shoultz has said.

Champion has told reporters he hosts only family and friends on the boat.

Shoultz said the commission lacked the proof to file a complaint against Champion until it obtained a copy of a contract he signed with a woman who wanted to host a wedding reception on his boat. The commission also obtained a copy of the $500 check that Champion took as payment, Shoultz said.

Correspondent Bill Kiser and Staff Researcher Maria David contributed.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak
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