Rodney P. Hunt was running one of the country’s most successful black-owned government contracting firms in 2003 when he began building the ultimate symbol of his ascent: A riverfront McLean mansion so big, Hunt once joked, that he worried he’d “need walkie-talkies just to communicate” with his son.
Now, in a stunning reversal of fortune for a man who loved recounting how he went from mowing lawns in Fort Washington to signing billion-dollar government contracts, Hunt’s $23.1 million trophy house is facing foreclosure.
The as-seen-on-MTV estate in one of Washington’s most exclusive — and expensive — neighborhoods is scheduled to be sold at auction on Sept. 27, in what would be one of the biggest foreclosures in the region’s history.
The looming public auction on the steps of the Arlington County Courthouse has former associates and neighbors wondering what happened to Hunt, the co-founder of RS Information Systems who was once among Washington’s highest-profile African American entrepreneurs.
Northern Virginia Magazine estimated Hunt’s net worth at $265 million in 2007, the year he sold RSIS to Wyle, a California aerospace engineering company. Now Bank of America says Hunt is in default on a $9.4 million loan on his 20,000-plus-square-foot house on a Potomac River bluff. According to court and land records, Hunt also owes more than $10 million on unpaid loans and bad business investments; creditors have filed a series of lawsuits to claim Hunt’s assets.
Multiple efforts to contact Hunt — by phone, e-mail, text message, certified mail, through his largely dormant Rodney P. Hunt Family Foundation and through intermediaries — were unsuccessful. Attorneys attempting to reach the beleaguered 51-year-old entrepreneur on other financial matters said that it’s not clear where he’s been living. In addition to the sprawling estate here, Hunt also has property in Texas, where the charismatic, 6-foot-7-inch former chief executive has been trying to launch a career as a hip-hop music and fashion impresario.
One recent morning, there were six cars in the parking-lot-size driveway at the McLean mansion. One appeared to be the same 1993 Nissan Maxima that Hunt’s son, Bradley, showed off while giving MTV a tour of the property for an episode of “Teen Cribs.”
The call box at the security fence did not ring the house; instead, as planes approaching Reagan National Airport buzzed high overhead, a phone-company message blared from the box, announcing that the number had been temporarily disconnected.
Hunt launched RS Information Systems in 1992 by landing a $5,000 contract with the General Services Administration.
The next year, his wife, Leila, was killed in a car crash, leaving Hunt to raise their 14-month-old son on his own. He considered giving up on RSIS, he told a gathering of black business executives many years later, but decided not to. It became a test, he said, of his focus and fortitude.
RSIS became a huge success as Hunt juggled his work with being a single father. Certified as a minority-owned small business, the technology company began winning computer-networking contracts throughout the federal government and military, eventually becoming a mainstay of the Inc. 500 list, which measures revenue growth. At its peak in 2005, RSIS, which provided information technology, systems engineering, scientific support and management consulting, was generating $363 million in revenue and employing about 1,700 people.
“I’d like to be the Robert Johnson of government IT,” Hunt told Minority Business Entrepreneur, referring to the billionaire media mogul who co-founded Black Entertainment Television. “I’d love to be the first African American-owned firm to do a billion dollars worth of services with the federal government.”
In 2005, RSIS partnered with 1 Source Consulting of Montgomery County to win a $1 billion Energy Department IT support contract — a staggering achievement.
But in a subsequent interview with Inc., 1 Source Consulting owner William Teel recounted that Hunt’s firm had been unable to secure its share of a $25 million line of credit that was necessary to finalize the contract. Teel had to scramble to make up the difference, he told Inc. Teel did not respond to messages seeking comment.
While Hunt reveled in his successes, he had a tendency to exaggerate their scope, according to former associates and an examination of his resume.
He has long claimed dual bachelor of science degrees in operations research and industrial engineering from Cornell and George Washington universities. He even boasted of the achievement five years ago at a Cornell Black Graduate Business Association symposium. But registrars at Cornell and George Washington say that although Hunt attended both schools, he was not awarded a degree from either of them.
In that same Cornell speech, Hunt, who’d been part of a failed effort to buy the Washington Nationals, said the baseball team’s owners brought him in “to be a special consultant” on diversity issues. “I own a percentage of the team,” Hunt added.
Lara Potter, vice president for communications for the Nationals, said Hunt has no ownership stake in the team and doesn’t have a formal consulting role with the organization, either.
Oft-repeated claims that Hunt played minor-league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals organization for several years — three or six, depending on the telling — also don’t check out, according to John Vuch, the Cardinals’ farm director. “We don’t have any record of anyone by that name playing for us,” he said.
Hunt frequently recounted how he launched his first company when he was 13 or 14, mowing lawns around Fort Washington. His business grew so quickly that he began hiring friends as contract mowers, he said, and his mother made him save every penny.
“By the time I was 17, I had half a million dollars in the bank,” he said in the Cornell speech.
“By the end of our third summer, I can remember the bank statement: $1,000,016.11,” he told Minority Business Entrepreneur. “It was the most incredible thing.”
In 2003, with RSIS flying high, Hunt set out to build a monument to what he’d achieved.
He bought adjoining parcels along the Potomac for $5.3 million and signed a contract with Decker Development to build his dream palace. It took three years to finish the Mediterranean-style manse with sweeping views, his-and-her gyms, a movie theater, an indoor basketball court, an outdoor kitchen, two pools, a two-lane bowling alley, 10 fireplaces and a 15-car underground garage.
It added up to more than 20,000 square feet of living space, according to the foreclosure auction listing, though Hunt claimed it was much larger.
“I have ultimately built a 52,000-square-foot house,” Hunt said in his Cornell speech. There was just one thing missing from the mansion, he suggested: “If we had a store, we’d never have to leave home.”
In the “Teen Cribs” episode, which aired on MTV in early 2010, Bradley Hunt, now 20, pointed to a dining room chair and said it was the one Barack Obama had used at a fundraiser at the house. In 2008, Hunt donated $4,600 to Obama and $26,200 to the Democratic National Committee.
But a spokeswoman for Obama’s reelection campaign said she couldn’t find any record that Hunt had hosted a fundraiser for him in 2008 or 2009. A spokesman for the DNC did not respond to requests for comment. Bradley Hunt also did not respond to repeated efforts to reach him by e-mail and through Twitter.
Earlier this year, despite his financial difficulties, Rodney Hunt gave $2,500 to Obama’s reelection campaign and $30,000 to the DNC, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political giving.
Hunt’s property is pricey even by Washington’s wealthy standards: This spring, Washingtonian magazine ranked it third among the region’s most expensive homes, behind only the abodes of AOL co-founders Jim Kimsey and Steve Case, both of whom live just upriver, on Chain Bridge Road.
“It’s not often that $23 million houses come up,” said David K. Lowry, an executive vice president at Tranzon Fox, which has been aggressively marketing the foreclosure auction.
It could make for an extraordinary scene on the courthouse steps, where would-be owners of Hunt’s house will have to present a $100,000 certified check just to participate in the bidding.
It’s the most expensive property in the Washington area to enter the foreclosure process since the housing market collapsed in 2007, according to RealtyTrac data. Even if it sells for a price closer to what Bank of America is attempting to collect — roughly $9.4 million — its sale would set a record for this region.
But Hunt could forestall foreclosure by working out a plan with his lender or by filing for bankruptcy, which would delay the sale.
The property sits along a small access road, sandwiched between a set of townhouses and a hideaway house owned by the Embassy of Qatar. Neighbors said they saw the Hunts infrequently, and when they were there, it was often to throw parties.
In an online video of a party hosted by Bradley Hunt — an aspiring rap artist who uses the nom de mike Kid Named Breezy — for his 19th birthday, girls in bikinis shake their backsides to hip-hop beats before Bradley is thrown into the pool. (The outdoor one.)
The elder Hunt sticks around for the festivities, delivering a birthday speech in which he compares his son to Jesus, calling him “the Chosen One.”
The house on Chain Bridge Road was not only the backdrop for Hunt’s lavish lifestyle, it also helped finance it: Over the past nine years, he used the house repeatedly as collateral for multimillion-dollar loans and lines of credit, according to county land records.
Hunt announced the sale of RSIS in late 2007 for an undisclosed figure. However, he had already begun his next chapter. He bought the Run N’ Shoot Athletic Center in District Heights and changed the name to Capital Sports Complex.
But the business didn’t prove to be a moneymaker and was evicted several months ago after not paying rent for more than a year. In April, Hunt’s former landlord, Bethesda-based Saul Centers, won a $1.5 million judgment against Hunt, joining a long list of creditors.
Among them is Rapid Funding of Washington, which won a $5.2 million judgment against Hunt after he and some partners fell months behind repaying a loan for a planned Eastern Shore development. The creditor’s attorneys have filed a series of lawsuits to claim Hunt’s assets.
There were other signs of trouble, too. Hunt was arrested in September 2006 in Arlington County for possession of marijuana, court records show. The charges were dropped. In 2009, Hunt was arrested by Houston police for possession of cocaine and ecstasy, according to court records that also show the charges were dismissed.
Just before the sale of RSIS, Hunt started to spend more time in Texas, first in Austin and later Houston. By then, he was seeing a former RSIS employee named Judith Wasserman, whom he began to introduce as his fiancee. The couple applied for a marriage license in 2008, county records show, but it’s unclear whether they married. The pair bought several pieces of property together in Austin and around Houston.
Wasserman called Hunt “the most generous person she ever met” but declined to comment further, citing ongoing legal proceedings.
Hunt lavished on Wasserman expensive clothing and jewelry purchased at St. Thomas Boutique, a high-end shop in Austin, according to court documents.
In 2006, boutique co-owner Riley Estebes de Silva helped the couple make a splashy debut on the Austin social scene. Hunt and Wasserman were listed as sponsors of a charity fashion show to raise money for the Austin Museum of Art.
Hunt personally negotiated the appearance of Lizzie Jagger, a daughter of the Rolling Stones’ frontman. Jagger’s fee was $75,000, which Hunt agreed in writing to pay but didn’t, leaving Estebes de Silva to foot the bill, according to a lawsuit Estebes de Silva later filed.
In court filings, the shop owner said Hunt also stopped reimbursing him for clothing, jewelry and other purchases and owed him $340,500. The suit was later settled, and Estebes de Silva declined to comment.
Hunt moved on to Houston, where he tried to remake himself into a P. Diddy-style hip-hop music and fashion mogul, in part to help his son Bradley’s music career.
He set up Currency Clothing, a fashion label, and designed a gold high-top sneaker. He went into business with Johnny Dang, a Vietnamese immigrant who calls himself the King of Bling. Dang specializes in massive, jewel-encrusted pendants and grills — or dental jewelry — for rap artists and other celebrities, including Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte. Hunt had Dang custom-make him several super-size diamond-covered rings, including one with a retail value of $185,000. Hunt still owes money to Dang, according to court records. Dang declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Hunt’s real baby was RPH Entertainment, a music label with his initials, whose gold crestlike logo consists of a crown and a pair of wings above the slogan “The World Is Ours.” Dang introduced him to various rap artists around Houston, and RPH began representing some of them.
Most of the artists were struggling and obscure, with the exception of Milton Powell, who performs as Big Pokey. To promote the artists, RPH released a compilation called “Money, Cars, Clothes, and Hoes.”
Just as he had in Austin, Hunt made a big splash, throwing parties at the Hotel Derek, which was listed as his address on his 2009 drug arrest record. But his artists didn’t see their careers take off.
“They just knew how to do parties. They were running around spending a lot of money. They signed a lot of artists, but didn’t do anything,” said Ronnie Thomas, a veteran manager who now represents Big Pokey.
Back in Washington, many of Hunt’s neighbors and former associates had no idea what he was up to. Then, a few weeks ago, as the auction advertisement began to circulate, they learned that his house was being foreclosed on.
It was a sad, strange twist to Hunt’s rags-to-riches rise. Then again, as Hunt observed in his Cornell speech: “In building wealth, one of the things I learned . . . is that you never know what’s going to happen in the business world.”
Jennifer Jenkins, Julie Tate, Thomas Heath and Dan Eggen contributed to this report.