Not many homes have a background as sordid as the Ohio mansion that Mike Tyson owned in the 1990s, long neglected.
Photographer and urban explorer Johnny Joo (last name pronounced "yo") — who specializes in abandoned buildings and was arrested taking pictures in the mansion in 2013 — recently gained access from the new owners, who are letting him document the imminent transformation of what he calls on his blog a "very odd forgotten structure." (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow.)
The new owners intend to turn the property into a church.
No, that's not an April Fool's joke. But it is a pretty remarkable resurrection for a home that seems, well, cursed.
The 25,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1980 by then-Trumbull County Commissioner Ted Vannelli, a hairstyling mogul who lost it to foreclosure (and who, a few years ago, was convicted of fraud and money laundering in "a conspiracy that resulted in one of the largest credit union collapses in history"). It's in Southington, about 45 miles southeast of Cleveland and about 25 miles northwest of Youngstown.
Tyson bought the 60-acre property at a sheriff's sale in 1989 for $300,000, and owned it throughout his three years in prison for raping an 18-year-old. But he lost it to financial difficulties in 1999, a few years after his release. He'd mounted a comeback that flamed out in 1997 when he bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear, earning himself a $3 million fine. "We started getting letters from the IRS saying they were going to take the house and all our stuff," his then-wife, Monica, told the New York Times. "He was depressed a lot about that" — which perhaps factored into his 1998 road-rage attack on two drivers that got him sent back to jail for a time in 1999.
By the time he sold the mansion for $1.3 million, he'd already moved out because township trustees refused to let him keep pet tigers on the property, according to the local Tribune Chronicle.
The buyer in 1999 was Paul Monea, a promoter of Tae Bo fitness who went to prison for tax evasion a few years later, then was eventually sent back to prison for money laundering and conspiracy after trying to sell the 43-carat Golden Eye Diamond and the mansion to drug dealers (really undercover FBI agents). One money-laundering idea he had was a webcast he'd call "Mike Tyson's House Party," in which he'd fill the mansion with young women and cameras, then charge viewers to watch. He's scheduled for release from prison in 2018.
Someone called moneypenny220 tried to sell the mansion on eBay in 2005 for $3.5 million, but it went into foreclosure.
It sold at a sheriff's sale in late 2009 to the first lien holder and only bidder, fitness club owner Ron Hemelgarn, for $600,000 (paid to himself as lien holder) and $360,000 in back taxes and fees.
Hemelgarn had had the property up for sale off and on since 2011, but sometime around this past Christmas, he decided to cut loose of the place, donating it to Living Word Sanctuary. Its founders and pastors, Nicholas Dejacimo and Mark Cohen, had been holding services at the local YWCA but now plan to create a large facility that can host weddings, Bible school and more.
Here's Joo talking about his photo tour:
And here's an interview by Joo of Pastor Dejacimo and the Living Word Sanctuary's plans: