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Calif. Man Settles Beach House Suit

March 29, 2006

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ A man who held an essay contest to give away his ocean-view house, but sold it instead after collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from entrants, has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a class action lawsuit, records show.

Ben Waldrep has agreed to turn over $600,000 to $650,000 from a bank account that Superior Court Judge Andria Richey froze last year, according to a letter that contest entrants received this week.

Richey barred Waldrep from accessing the account when he tried to withdraw a large amount of money days after a jury found that he had committed fraud and ordered him to repay $1.8 million in entry fees and interest to the contestants.

The remainder of the settlement will come from the sale of another house, and proceeds are expected to be $450,000 to $525,000.

Waldrep announced in 2000 that he would give his home to the person who paid a $195 entry fee and wrote the best essay on why he or she wanted to live in Manhattan Beach, an upscale seaside enclave 20 miles south of Los Angeles. But when the contest ended in July 2001, only about 1,800 people had entered.

Waldrep collected $360,000, far less than the house’s assessed value of $800,000. He sold the house in 2004 for $1.2 million.

Richey still needs to approve the deal. It also must be approved by a bankruptcy court because Waldrep declared bankruptcy late last year.

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