MaineToday: Connor Took Big Bucks
by Al Diamon
Rich’s riches: On April 24, MaineToday Media CEO Lisa DeSisto sent a memo to the company’s employees stating, “Travelers Casualty & Surety Company recently paid MTM $537,988.68 (minus $50,000.00 deductible) under the company’s employee theft insurance policy as a result of funds former CEO Richard Connor took from the company for unauthorized personal use during his twenty-seven months with the company.”
Connor headed MTM from June 2009 until his abrupt departure in October 2011, shortly before it was revealed that MaineToday was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Until now, no official explanation for his departure has been given.
DeSisto said Connor used about half the money to pay himself salary increases and bonuses that weren’t authorized by the company’s board of directors. He also bought an SUV, home landscaping, dental work and vacation rentals in Camden. A story published in the MaineToday newspapers said there might be further legal action as a result of the misappropriated funds. Connor is currently being sued by another publishing company he headed, Wilkes-Barre Publishing, in Pennsylvania, for $250,000 of the business’ money he allegedly used for personal expenses.
A source at MaineToday who’s familiar with the year-long process of establishing how much Connor spent inappropriately said the reason the Portland company didn’t file suit immediately is because, “it wouldn’t make sense if the person didn’t have a lot of assets.” Connor and his wife bought a house in Falmouth valued at more than $2 million, but in 2011, the ownership of that property was transferred to a trust in his wife’s name only.
The source said the examination of the company’s books showed “there was a lot more money out there, but this is what [Travelers] agreed to pay. There was significantly more money involved.” Most of that additional cash disappeared in financial transfers between MaineToday and Wilkes-Barre and have proved difficult to trace.
Lending credibility to those statements is the fact that insurance companies are notoriously reluctant to reimburse their customers for the full amount of claims. That Travelers was willing to cough up a half-million bucks would indicate MaineToday probably asked for much more.
In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Connor denied making any inappropriate fiscal moves and blamed the situation on confusion over complex transactions. “This [audit] was all instigated by me, no one else,” he said. “We had an agreement, a verbal agreement, to have accountants working for me and accountants working for the company to try to sort out a tangled set of financials that involved several newspapers.”
Connor now works for the George J. Foster Co. as CEO of Foster’s Daily Democrat, a newspaper in Dover, N.H. He told the Press Herald the position was that of a part-time consultant.
No disclaimer needed: Robert C.S. Monks is no longer a minority owner of MaineToday Media. According to informed sources close to the Portland developer, Monks has divested himself of the small share of the company he’s held since the group headed by Rich Connor bought the paper in 2009.
That may explain why the MaineToday newspapers have failed to include disclaimers about Monks’ ownership in stories published about his family’s holdings in recent months, although it doesn’t clear up why no such disclaimers appeared in the papers during Connor’s tenure.
It also doesn’t clear up MTM’s ownership picture. Hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman bought 75 percent of the operation in the period following Connor’s ouster, thereby staving off MaineToday filing for bankruptcy. Monks, HM Capital Partners of Dallas, Texas and a union representing many of the company’s workers have been identified as holding some part of the remaining 25 percent, but HM Capital has been selling off its media properties in the past year.
Sources at MaineToday declined to verify that Monks had left the company or to explain the new ownership arrangement, saying only that “everything is in flux.”
More missing than a wedding: The April 23 Lewiston Sun Journal carried a front-page story by staff writer Scott Taylor on how changes in state and federal Medicaid rules had dramatically cut funding for Saint Andre Home, a program for pregnant teens. Taylor reported the organization was struggling to maintain services at its four locations in Maine. He interviewed the executive director of the organization – and nobody else.
Which means that the reasoning behind the funding cuts was missing from his piece, as was the state Department of Health and Human Services’ plan to replace those services.
Much better was the version put out April 22 by the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, where reporter Dina Mendros got DHHS’s side of the story and provided some much needed perspective.
A quarter-century of quirky: WERU (89.9 and 99.9 FM) in Orland celebrates its 25th anniversary on May 1. The community station signed on back in 1988 from a henhouse in Blue Hill, the brainchild of Noel Paul Stookey (part of Peter, Paul and Mary), who envisioned it as an outlet for Christian programming. That idea was quickly abandoned, replaced by an eclectic mix of music and talk shows from local and national sources.
WERU has planned a series of events to mark the occasion, starting with a music sale and dance at the Belfast Boathouse on April 27.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.