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Runaway bride sues former fiance

LAWRENCEVILLE - Jennifer Wilbanks is suing her former fiance, John C. Mason, saying he defrauded her by selling the rights to her "Runaway Bride" story and used the profits to buy a house in Duluth.

Wilbanks is seeking half of the $500,000 paid by Regan Media in New York to purchase the rights of the story of Wilbanks' disappearance April 26, 2005, according to a lawsuit filed Sept. 13 in Superior Court. She is also asking that a jury award her at least $250,000 in punitive damages, attorney's fees and court costs, the lawsuit said.

Wilbanks disappeared four days before her planned wedding. Hundreds of police and volunteers searched for her for three days before she called Mason from Albuquerque, N.M., claiming to have been abducted and sexually assaulted.

She later recanted, saying she fled because of unspecified personal issues, and pleaded no contest to telling police a phony story. She was sentenced to two years of probation and performed community service that included mowing the lawns of public buildings.

The lawsuit says Mason signed the agreement to sell the story "individually and as attorney-in-fact for Wilbanks" and that the money was placed in the bank account of JCM Consulting Inc. Wilbanks has also asked a judge to order the "inspection and copying ... of the accounting records, including banking records of JCM," of which Mason is the sole director, according to the lawsuit and other court records.

Court records show that Wilbanks signed a power of attorney form May 26, 2005, naming Mason as her attorney-in-fact. The lawsuit claims Mason obtained a power of attorney while Wilbanks was hospitalized and under medication.

Letters from Wilbanks' attorney, Michael L. Wetzel of Bogart, dated May 31 and June 5 say Wilbanks has also asked Mason for the furniture she bought or received from her parents "before the aborted wedding." She also asked for the wedding gifts from her family and friends.

Wilbanks and Mason broke up for good in May, about a year after her excursion to Las Vegas and New Mexico made international headlines.

The items included a washer, dryer, grill, entertainment center, breakfast table and chairs, a gold sofa, a comforter set on the master bed and a ladder that belongs to Wilbanks' father, the letter says.

Wilbanks also wanted $5,750 she contributed to a joint savings account, which was to pay for a honeymoon, the letter says.

In a letter dated July 7, Mason's attorney, James C. Watkins of Norcross, wrote Mason "is agreeable to deliver the ... items to Ms. Wilbanks, at his expense, to a destination designated by her." Court records do not show if the items have been returned.

"As you might imagine, John is anxious to close this very unfortunate chapter of his life," Watkins wrote. "The humiliation, embarrassment and aggravation, caused by Ms. Wilbanks' rather bizarre behavior, is something he is trying to put in his past."

Neither Wetzel nor Watkins returned phone messages left at their respective offices Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone in Watkins' office said he was in court Tuesday afternoon.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.