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Politics

Tampa Bay Times $100 Million in Debt with an Uncertain Future, Says Tell-All Story

June 12, 2018 - 4:30pm
Jim Bleyer labels the Times building "Mismanagement, Inc."
Jim Bleyer labels the Times building "Mismanagement, Inc."

Jim Bleyer painted a grim picture of a debt-ridden, fast-sinking and wildly unethical Tampa Bay Times Tuesday on his blog site, Tampa Bay Beat.

Under the headline "Debt-Ridden Tampa Bay Times Duping Employees, Subscribers, Advertisers, Suppliers," Bleyer irreverently pulls the covers off much of the agony the state's largest newspaper has been going through behind closed doors.

In June 2017 Paul Tash, the Times' $550,000-a-year chairman and CEO was upfront in an editorial about the Times' underwater burden. "... A group of local investors is stepping forward with a loan of $12 million, part of a larger refinancing by the Times company," he wrote. But apparently now the situation is much worse.

Paul Tash
Paul Tash

Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, claims the Times' pension plan is in jeopardy, its assets mortgaged and bankruptcy looms as it struggles with a total indebtedness believed to be in excess of $100 million. And he produces figures to prove it.

"Times employees have a regular payroll deduction for pension benefits, but it could very well be funneled into financing current operations instead of its intended purpose," he suggests. The Times has denied Bleyer's pension assertion.

"Any employee sufficiently deranged to want to continue employment at the Times should require an examination of its books," Bleyer writes. "Hell -- subscribers, advertisers, suppliers and any entity that has advanced money to the Times should demand to see the results of a forensic audit ..."

The author wryly turns the knife by including in his story a video of "The Underwater Song." The video is reproduced on this page.

Bleyer gets down to numbers when he launches into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal agency that placed liens totaling $70 million against The Times Publishing Company.

The PBGC obtains revenue from four sources, Bleyer shows:

  • Insurance premiums paid by sponsors of defined benefit pension plans;

  • Assets held by the pension plans it takes over;

  • Recoveries of unfunded pension liabilities from plan sponsors’ bankruptcy estates; and

  • Investment income.

Here's a list of those PBGC liens against the Times:

—Oct. 15, 2015 totaling $7,610,616.

—Jan. 15, 2016 totaling $2,888,797.

—Oct. 15, 2016 totaling $10,904,192.

—Jan. 15, 2017 totaling $3,496,356.

—Apr. 15, 2017 totaling $30,476,992.

—Oct. 15, 2017 totaling $15,369,170.

"The subterfuge, paper shuffling and co-mingling of funds are mind-boggling," Bleyer writes.

On June 28, 2017, Crystal Financial signed a Satisfaction of Mortgage, releasing Poynter Institute, the Times' parent company, from a 2013 loan totaling $28 million. The mortgage security released was the Poynter Institute property and the parcels of land comprising the Times printing plant.

But, then, on the same day, Encina Business Credit LLC signed a lien subordination agreement with PBGC on Encina’s $20 million loan. The agreement identifies that as of Jan. 15, 2017, the Times has an outstanding lien from PBGC for $59,615,990.

So, what you have is a subordination agreement written to basically replace the same subordinated lien that Crystal had with the Times. And for those who don't know, Encina is a lender of last resort, "one step above Tony Soprano’s loan sharking operation," Bleyer says.

In answer to Sunshine State News' questions about the story content, Times Communications and Grants Director Sherri Day replied by email. 

"The falsehoods in this piece are too numerous to count so we will respond to one. The only retirement deductions from our employees' paychecks go directly to their 401k accounts at Vanguard, where they can look up their balances any time they like."

Kelly McBride at Poynter failed to return SSN's Tuesday morning call. 
 
Tash has been insisting publicly that the Times is profitable, even after the group of influential local businessmen offered the paper a stopgap bailout in 2017.

Bleyer scoffs at the paper's ethics, noting the local businessmen who came up with the cash -- the ones who have been identified, anyway -- "have been elevated to godlike status" in the paper.

"One investor, Kiran Patel, was the Times “Floridian of the Year” in 2017," he writes. "Out of 20 million residents, Patel was deemed to be the shining star. But in May of last year, two of his businesses paid more than $30 million in a settlement with the federal government after accusations of artificially inflating costs for health care."

Bleyer cites another investor, Jeff Vinik, who "has really gotten his money’s worth.  In past trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission on both ethical and legal grounds, Vinik tried to bleed taxpayers on a shady Museum of Science and Industry relocation."

The writer says Vinik's "ineptly named downtown project, 'Water Street Tampa,' is in serious trouble.  Insiders say it will be 10 years before it reaches fruition, if at all.  But as far as the Times is concerned, the $200 million and counting in taxpayer funding to support Vinik’s “vision” is money well spent."

In the meantime, Bleyer points out, Tash is "living like a Russian oligarch" -- having "sold his posh $1.6 million, Snell Isle waterfront digs and acquired even more lavish quarters, a $1.8 million condo at Vinoy Place in downtown St. Petersburg" and "in late 2016, he reportedly sold that condo for $2.15 million, and is now renting a comparable crib on Beach Drive in St. Pete."

Bleyer promises follow-up stories "on the Times/Poynter slide into bankruptcy."

 

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

 


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I Didn't Think the Tampa Bay Times Could Stoop This Low

Comments

The Times does not have deduction out of there paychecks for there Pension. THAT IS FALSE

Simple reason... it's Pinellas and the "bay"... NOT Tampa and Hillsborough.

news flash, the Trib already went broke and was bought by the TBT over a year ago, hence the name change to TBT Einstein...

With the false reporting at the Tampa Bay Times, is it any real wonder they are failing?

With the general dumbing-down of America that's been going on for some time ... and with Florida being 40th among the states in effectiveness of public education ... who needs newspapers here, anyway? Let all the dunderheads in the area get their daily dose of Faux News from their "smart"phones! Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle!

TBT in debt....Florida taxpayers are going to get hit with $30,000,000 for excess funds paid to clean up after Irma. We (Monroe County) had a pre-storm contract with Ashbritt to remove debris - Ricky barged in and the DOT grossly overpaid 2 firms (both contributors to Scott or GOP), limited who could bid, and screwed existing contractors. Debris clean up on Big Pine took forever because the truckers preferred the better paid DOT work along the highway. Read the TBT today...paying $969 per appliance to the favored vs. $60 to the county contracted Ash Britt. How is that not gouging?

Although if true, this would be terrible actions by this business entity towards their employees. However, tell me what print entity is not in trouble financially as the hordes move to digital media and sadly, talk radio and reality news tv?. This is more of a partisan hit piece than anything, take it exactly for what it is...

Definitely a partisan "hit piece", as you say, by an author who's totally incapable of producing anything better!

What is the purpose of writing this? Who is Kelly McBride and why was she required to return a call from Sunshine State News?: "Kelly McBride at Poynter failed to return SSN's Tuesday morning call."

She was not required at all. But we did think it was important not to blindside the parent company and give it a chance to respond. The company chose not to.

Where do you get your information at? You should research it a little better before you put it out there. Thanks

FAKE NEWS. The Times do not have deductions coming out of pay going toward there pension. You should be ashamed of your self. This type of reporting is despicable.

When asking the questioner may not be aware that the Tampa Bay Times (AKA The Vinik times) is owned by the Poynter Group.

When asking the questioner may not be aware that the Tampa Bay Times (AKA The Vinik times) is owned by the Poynter Group.

It would appear on its face that ERISA laws were broken aside from any other financial shenanigans being perpetrated by management. As a lay person I am amazed a business can pledge its pension fund assets for loans. This kind of sleaze reeks and criminal prosecutions are in order with jail time for the perpetrators. I feel sick about the employees at risk due to the reckless conduct by management. Sad, very sad.

It would appear on its face that ERISA laws were broken aside from any other financial shenanigans being perpetrated by management. As a lay person I am amazed a business can pledge its pension fund assets for loans. This kind of sleaze reeks and criminal prosecutions are in order with jail time for the perpetrators. I feel sick about the employees at risk due to the reckless conduct by management. Sad, very sad.

Look into what HCA did to pensions in order to pay the fine for looting Medicare.

Ocean Joe, if anyone should look into this, it should be the US Attorney having jurisdiction with their investigative prowess and subpoena power. These sleaze balls need to be sent a message with not jail time (usually under a year) but prison so they can contemplate their nefarious misdeeds.

"...And another one bites the dust,.." (The usual theme song of newsprint)

"DEATH",...WITH LOTTSA THE USUAL "HELP" FROM THE "UBIQUITUS " FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES DETERMINED TO "BALANCE" *THEIR* BOOKS !...

Wow! I was convinced this outfit in St. Pete was the "most respected paper in Florida." Lived in Florida for 40 years. The Miami Herald was "THE" real legitimate internationally recognized paper in this state until they fell apart. SP Times kind of picked it up for subscription numbers only ( marketing gurus) although they did hang on to some outstanding reporters for a while. Now, the TB paper is a typical financially strapped print outfit with a liberal bias and apparently little fuel left in their tank to compensate valuable competent journalists. Poor positions from up top hurt dedicated professionals and the public.

The devil is in the details of Executive Compensation Agreements, the mechanics and win/loss provisions of securitization and securities fraud, the priority of "claimants" in a bankruptcy proceeding", and our basic national enterprise - privatizing profit and socializing (passing on to Government and any other's) the risk of loss. Gullibility abounds. Our entire civil society now depends on some hard "Come to Jesus" sessions about the rules - for our kids and grandkids.

Maybe if they weren't a mouthpiece for the Democrat Party people might actually pay for that rag.

It would make for an interesting read to see who is Paul Tash, and how did he arrive at such opulence.

Indeed. Great story, Jim!

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