The publisher and owner of Arctic Today – which bills itself as the unrivaled source for “international news and perspective on a changing Arctic” – has been accused of fraud in a complaint filed with the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage.
The complaint stems from former Washington, D.C. socialite Alice Rogoff’s earlier maneuvers as the publisher and owner of the failing Alaska Dispatch News newspaper and companion website, ADN.com, which she took into bankruptcy last August.
A contractor who had been working to finish a new printing plant for the Dispatch contends in a complaint filed Thursday that “Rogoff, her agents and the debtor committed fraud and/or unfair business practices when they retained M&M (Wiring Services Inc.) to perform almost a million dollars in work to the Arctic Partners building…knowing that the debtor was losing nearly half a million dollars a month and could not pay what it owed M&M.”
The debtor, in this case, is ADN, which was at the time owned by AK Publishing LLC, which was owned by The Moon and the Stars LLC, which is owned by Rogoff. Rogoff owns more limited liability companies than most Alaskans own boots.
The M&M complaint accompanies a claim of $1.5 million against Rogoff’s old media empire to cover unpaid bills, interest, attorney fees and more. What assets the ADN holds are the subject of another legal argument in the Bankruptcy Court.
Neither Rogoff nor Arctic Today responded for a request for comment on the lastest actions in the Bankrupty Court.
Rogoff took out a personal loan of $13 million to help finance the $34 million purchase of the Anchorage Daily News from The McClatchy Company in 2014. The ADN subsequently spent about $2 million to make payments on that loan.
An attorney for creditors owed about $2 million is arguing that money legally belongs to the company and should be pulled back from the bank. Attorneys for Rogoff have argued that even if it is, she’s entitled to most of the cash as partial repayment on the $16.6 million she “loaned” ADN to keep afloat the 49th state’s biggest ever journalism failure.
That claim, too, is being challenged given Rogoff’s history of unwillingness to run her newspaper as a business.
The M&M filing calls Rogoff’s entire operation a “shell game.”
The ADN was sold in September to the Fairbanks-based Binkley Company LLC, and the name was not long after changed back from Rogoff’s Alaska Dispatch News to the old Anchorage Daily News. The Binkley Company since then has been trying to distance itself from Rogoff and right a struggling newspaper and online news operation once losing $125,000 per week.
The prior owner would appear to have had her focus more on social and political influence than on business when she bought the ADN for an exorbitant price. She repeatedly ignored cost-cutting suggestions from company Vice-President Tony Hopfinger, who feared an eventual ADN meltdown if something wasn’t done to get the newspaper in the black.
Hopfinger was the co-founder of AlaskaDispatch.com, an online news operation in which Rogoff bought a 90 percent interest in 2010. It provided her entre into Alaska journalism.
Costs did not seem to be much of a concern for Rogoff at the time. She was still the wife of billionaire financier David Rubenstein and supported by a marital agreement that paid her a reported $5 million per year to live in Alaska. The couple is now divorced.
Hopfinger and Rogoff, once close business partners, are estranged, and in court fighting over $900,000 of $1 million Rogoff promised Hopfinger for his remaining interest in AlaskaDispatch.com, but never paid.
Rogoff agrees she scribbled out a promise to pay on a cocktail napkin, but she argues the deal is unenforceable. She believes Hopfinger deserted her. He was supposed to stay in Alaska to make her newspaper a success even if she refused to accept his advice on how to stem the economic bleeding.
Money, money, money
“From the time of the purchase, I was willing to operate ADN at an operating loss to both maintain robust journalism in Alaska, and as an investment in the future of the company,” she testified in Bankruptcy Court. “This included purchasing a new primary printing press, new print and online publishing systems, and development of new revenue streams.”
As part of the purchase of the newspaper from McClatchy, Rogoff sold to GCI – an Anchorage cable, telecommunications and TV news company – the old ADN offices and printing plant on Northway Drive. GCI paid her $15 million, $500,000 of it in the form of prepaid advertising, and they gave her a deal on rent to keep the ADN printing press running temporarily in the GCI building.
The thought was the printing operation would be out of the GCI building in a year or so. But Rogoff couldn’t decide on a transition plan. She concluded building a printing plant was too expensive, but vetoed attempts by Hopfinger to find a contractor to print the paper.
Eventually she bought a cheap, used press in the Midwest, shipped it north and tried to set it up in an old oilfield warehouse in an industrial area on the south end of Anchorage’s midtown. Problem after problem popped up, and Rogoff kept printing at GCI.
The Arctic Boulevard plant never printed a single edition of the newspaper. The GCI press kept rolling until the Binkley purchase. One of the first things they did after obtaining the newspaper for $1 million out of bankruptcy court was contract with Wick Communications to print the paper in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, a suburb north of Anchorage.
Rogoff’s net worth at this time is unknown, but she is believed by many to have received a settlement worth $100 million or more, possibly significantly more, when she divorced Rubenstein in December. He is worth close to $3 billion, and Rogoff always told friends she intended to get the half she thought she was due.
M&M wants some of her money. It contends Rogoff misled the company when it was hired to wire the building for the press she’d bought to put into the warehouse on Arctic. In so doing, the company contends, Rogoff violated the Alaska Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act.
“The act,” the complaint says, “applies not only to consumers, but also competitors and commercial transactions and its intent is to protect against a party making false and misleading statements and business practices. Rogoff, her agents and the debtor (ADN) made false and misleading statements – that it had the money to pay M&M, that M&M would be paid, among other misrepresentations, deceptions, false pretenses, false promises, concealment of material facts, etc.”
The M&M filing also hints the company might be looking at going after more people than just Rogoff.
Where unfair or deceptive trade practices are involved, it notes, anyone who “had actual knowledge that the corporate entity or one of its agents, employees or attorneys engaged in the unfair or deceptive act or practice; was recklessly indifferent to whether corporate entity’s agents, employees or attorneys were committing an unfair or deceptive act or practice; or knew that it was highly probable….and intentionally avoided the truth, then Rogoff and her agents are personally liable for the injured party’s damages.”
The bankruptcy filing goes on to argue that Rogoff clearly knew what was going on.
“In fact,” it says, “Rogoff’s intentional failure or even here negligence as an officer/owner to learn of and prevent fraudulent or deceitful conduct can create liability.”
Due to Rogoff’s action, M&M owner Mark Miller says his company lost almost $450,000 it paid out in wages to workers on the printing plant project and for materials and other costs.
Miller has been an angry man since finding out last year that the millionairess who’d hired his company for a big project was about to leave him holding the bag. Rogoff, however, quickly moved on.
When she left the ADN in bankruptcy, the Campbell Lake resident somehow managed to take with her the website “Arctic Now.” The Arctic focused, news operation was built and staffed by the ADN as Rogoff’s pet project.
She has harbored an Arctic passion since her father, the late Mortimer Rogoff, helped pioneer the satellite navigation system that guided the first and only, ice-breaker-equipped oil tanker , the SS Manhattan, through the Northwest Passage in 1969.
As the majority owner of AlaskaDispatch.com, Rogoff hosted several “Arctic Imperative Summits” at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. They allowed her to hobnob with dignitaries and Arctic interested businesses from around the world at AlaskaDispatch expense.
In 2013, she joined former of Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, and former Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist and others in forming Arctic Circle, an international organization to promote discussion of Arctic development. Rogoff heads the Circle’s advisory board.
The Circle hosts an annual assembly in Reykjavik in October. It is a little off-season bonanza for Iceland tourism. The Anchorage Dispatch News under Rogoff’s ownership hosted a Circle summit on Arctic shipping and ports in Anchorage in 2015.
Since giving up the ADN, Rogoff has used Arctic Now and later Arctic Today as her platform to continue in a role as the voice of Alaska on the global Arctic stage.
Her biography for a spring lecture at American University in Washington, D.C. offers this:
“If global warming has a ground zero, Alice Rogoff believes it is Alaska. Global warming is happening twice as fast in Alaska as in the lower 48 states. Glaciers are melting at record speeds, the sea level is rising, and coastlines are retreating, causing villages perched on the ocean’s edges to become flooded and uninhabitable. In addition, expanded shipping channels are opening and China is announcing plans to build a Polar Silk Road. Rogoff, who has been active in Alaskan affairs for nearly a quarter century, will describe why polar issues have become her—and our—urgent priority.
“Alice Rogoff is an American publisher, business executive, philanthropist, and arts patron. She has been assistant to the director of the OMB and to the chairman of The Washington Post. After serving as CFO of U.S. News and World Report, she became active in publishing in Alaska. Rogoff is a licensed pilot who travels widely in Alaska. She is a graduate of Connecticut College and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.”