Star Tribune intrigues two big-name investors

Hmmmm, so at long, long last, Glen Taylor and Vance Opperman pop up together as bidders for a minority stake in the Star Tribune. Interesting. (Opperman has been rumored for as long as the the Strib’s financials have been in free fall.) The Strib’s own story — still the only story as the sun rises — written by David Phelps, makes a point of saying: “Opperman, 66, and Taylor, 68, intend to be ‘longterm’ shareholders, that they might seek to obtain additional shares at a later date and that they might ask the existing Star Tribune board to increase in size by up to two seats, presumably for themselves.” I think we can bet on that.

You can “withdraw” $98,000 in cash from a casino? Like a bank? Who knew? The Strib’s Paul Walsh has the story of the Prior Lake title insurance company owner who siphoned off $470,000 in title fees and dumped most of it at Mystic Lake. The story hints at the mess that may be lurking in all the real estate that had no title work done, but I’d like to hear more about the part where the woman”withdrew $98,000 in cash from Mystic Lake Casino. The withdrawals were made either at ATMs in the casino or by writing checks to ‘cash” and endorsed by the casino.” Obviously the casino knew she was good for it … right?

OK fine, we admit an unhealthy obsession with Denny Hecker and his whole “Death of a Salesman”-meets-Dudley Moore farce storyline. Clearly though, the Tale of Hecker is one of the best personal dramas Minnesota has produced in recent years, if only because Hecker won’t stop talking. If you missed it, by all means dial up the PiPress’ long “Special Report, Part 1,” assembled by Nicole Garrison-sprenger, Jason Hoppin and MaryJo Webster. In it Hecker attempts to explain his career and how you live really large on borrowed money. By the time the number of Hecker businesses slides past the 200 mark, you are as glazed-eyed as investigators trying to unravel the mess. But cutting to the bottom line, the piece includes this germane question: “But the sheer complexity of Hecker’s businesses might be a red flag for the investigators looking for signs of fraud. ‘Why would you need so many entities? Is there a business purpose for that?’ asked Diane Matson, a trained forensic accountant and associate professor at the University of St. Thomas.” We, of course, will withhold comment on that.

A fresh story has Hecker selling off a Brainerd dealership and getting paid almost $700,000 in “consulting” fees, with most of the proceeds landing not in his pocket … you know, for fresh sushi on the private jet to Aspen … but with the bankruptcy court trustee trying to pay off creditors. Webster, again, files the story. The sweet spot is this: “Hecker will be paid $25,000 upon execution of the purchase agreement and $225,000 at the time of the closing, tentatively scheduled for Friday. He will then get monthly payments over four years, totaling $125,000 per year, and a $25,000 payment at the end of the four years. The agreement also provides Hecker with the use of two vehicles from the dealership, a $500 monthly gas allowance for the first year, and health insurance up to $750 per month.” You read that right, even Denny Hecker, in his diminished state, is worried about covering his health insurance tab.

There was a spark of excitement
when word went around Tuesday about a “$25 sale” by Southwest Airlines. As is usually the case, the devil is in the airfare details, so much so that as the website gather.com points out, the $25 fare only applies to one way of a round trip. Dang. So much for flying everyone to see your mother-in-law in Lima, Ohio.

The business with the EPA trying to regulate cleaner-burning fuel in ocean-going and Great Lakes going ships
might seem as arcane and niggling as a snail darter, until you get up to speed on the amount of crud belched into the air by the big boats. The Associated Press reports on Tuesday’s deal to exempt from proposed federal statutes 13 Great Lakes companies (55 ships) hauling coal and such. This echoes a startling 2007 piece in The Wall Street Journal that asserted: “Ships release more sulfur dioxide, a sooty pollutant associated with acid rain, than all of the world’s cars, trucks and buses combined, according to a March study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. That study also found that ships produced an estimated 27% of the world’s smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions in 2005. Only six countries in the world emitted more greenhouse gases — which trap heat in the atmosphere, warming the globe — than was produced collectively in 2001 by all ships larger than 100 tons, according to the study and United Nations statistics.” That is serious belching.

The same day Sarah Palin will be on “Oprah,” her possible future contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Minnesota’s own Gov. Tim Pawlenty, will be speechifying to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in D.C. The Gov sent out a mailing to the NRSC’s mailing list. Choice piece of verbiage: “America is successful in large part because we are the freest people the world has ever known. These freedoms are now being threatened by the rapid expansion of our government led by liberal Democrats in Washington.” This from Talking Points Memo.

The governor also was featured prominently in another lefty venue last night. Rachel Maddow (scroll down to “Elephants in the room”) did a succinct job of laying out the vital particulars in that congressional race in upstate New York where such uber-conservative “organizers” as former House Majority Leader and Tea Party lever-puller Dick Armey and Republican presidential hope-to-bes are throwing in with a “Conservative Party” guy — who doesn’t even live in the district — against a moderate Republican (too wussy) and a Democrat. Among the national-size “hope-to-bes” burnishing their hard right bona fides? That’s right. The always, um, sensible, Tim Pawlenty, who has endorsed the waaay righty over the party endorsed moderate.

In the spirit of fairness and balance, the governor also lent his face and deep thoughts to Greta Van Susteren on FoxNews last night. Rightfully spooked by the prospect of having to devote any of his remaining time in office to getting Minnesota out of a national health care system, (i.e. the “opt-out” idea of the public option), Pawlenty was emphatic at what he sees as the perils of looming Sweden-ness, saying: “[W]hat we know for sure is this. Government-run health care is a bad idea. I hope it gets killed. But now they’re offering up the opt-out as an alternative. The Democrats are. And I think it’s going to end up being a sham because there are reports that I’m getting, at least, from Republican sources that the opt-out is going to require you to pay the money ahead of time … so if that’s the way, it gets proposed, it’s really impossible or impractical. And it’s really a sham. It’s a masquerade and it’s something that’s very, very, I think, disingenuous and very cynical.” There are quite a few, um, liquid phrases there. Like “what we know for sure,” “reports that I’m getting,” “from Republican sources,” “impossible and impractical” … and, of course, “disingenuous.”

If you’ve been wondering where your car is, you might check the bottom of the Mississippi down by La Crosse. By all means, check if you were driving an Acura. According to the La Crosse Tribune, it seems Acura-loving (or maybe it’s “hating”) thieves have dumped at least a couple … that divers have stumbled on so far. “The latest find came Saturday morning, when divers came across a submerged two-door 1996 red Acura Integra on its roof in the river, said La Crosse Area Underwater Search and Rescue Team Commander Erwin Chavarri. It was almost the same spot off the dock at Sportsman’s Landing on the Minnesota side where divers had discovered a black, four-door Acura Sept. 29.” There’s a “cash for lunkers” joke in there somewhere.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 10/28/2009 - 01:25 pm.

    Re: EPA and Great Lakes shipping, Minnpost’s own Cynthia Dizikes did a fine job covering the story, too:

    http://www.minnpost.com/cynthiadizikes/2009/10/27/12916/oberstar_obey_team_up_to_push_fuel_exemption_for_great_lake_freight_vessels

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