The Rise and Fall of the Florida Agenda

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Bobby Blair had a dream. A vision. He wanted to take a small paper from Wilton Manors, the Florida Agenda, and transform it into a worldwide LGBT phenomenon. He tried. He crashed. He burned. And took a lot of people down with him in the process.

After gobbling up numerous iconic LGBT publications across the country, taking his company public, blowing through millions of dollars from investors, today there is nothing left but ashes, and hollow promises that unpaid creditors will one day be compensated.

Besides the Florida Agenda MMPW also published Frontiers in LA, Next Magazine in New York and Fun Maps. 

Multimedia Platforms Worldwide (MMPW), the parent company of the Agenda, is today nothing more than a case being postponed again and again. It’s sitting on the docket of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida, deferred again last week for another 30 days, for what the judge said will be “the last time.”

While out of business and not publishing for well over a year now, the company and its operatives, including Blair, are shielded from legal action against them by remaining under the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy safeguards.

It was this past summer, in August, when SFGN first reported that MMPW was facing sanctions in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, set into motion by a U.S. trustee’s determination that Blair’s company had failed to fulfill its numerous legal obligations to the court in its attempt to reorganize and refinance the company. 

The company has not even paid the court fees that have been due since their filing, the trustee told Judge Ralph Ray on Dec. 5 - in Federal Court. Still, the case was deferred, over the objection of the U.S. attorney, because the creditor and the defendant suggested that despite the “tortured history of this case, a settlement might now be imminent,” and it is the only thing that can forestall a “total loss to all creditors.” 

It is a loss, according to the SEC 10 filings of MMPW, assessed through June 30, 2016, of $12.7 million.

After the hearing, Bobby Blair’s counsel asked if he could shed any light on the proposed agreement; asked if he could say anything encouraging to investors who have been shut out. 

“No,” he said, “Thank you, but no comment. Stay tuned.”

Jeffrey Sternklar, the Boston based attorney for the plaintiff, also said his clients directed him not to comment. But he told Judge Ray that the cumulative losses for the creditors are in excess of $15 million at this date, “and if the case goes into Chapter 7, no one will get anything.” 

For Sternklar, and his clients White Winston, it is nothing new. He has been arguing the same for nearly a year. He told the court on January 9, 2017 that “the prospects for a MMPW reorganization are illusory,” and that the “Debtors’ efforts to roll up various media outlets proved unprofitable and infeasible” even before the bankruptcy.

This SFGN exclusive is the story of how, and likely why, those magazines imploded. 

SFGN’s investigative report illuminates and tracks the tedious proceedings, up through and including last week’s “last and final” postponement. 

This case has had a residual human and business impact in each of the places MMPW touched, from South Florida to Southern California. More than that, a bankruptcy this large has caused damage to the LGBT community in America and to prospective media investors all over the country.

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Bobby Blair. Courtesy of Sharon Ford, YouTube.

 

The Rise and Fall of the Florida Agenda and its Progeny

Bankrupt. What does that mean? “Chapter 11 Bankruptcy is an American legal tool provided to businesses which enables them to save their company,” explains Black’s Law Dictionary. 

“Rather than just shut down and close your doors, it gives them an opportunity to keep their employees working and businesses operating while the company pays down its debts to creditors in smaller amounts than due over a longer period of time,” added George Castrataro, a prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney with a significant bankruptcy practice.

On October 4, 2016, with less than $50,000 in cash on hand, MMPW filed papers in the United States Southern District Bankruptcy Court listing at the time a staggering $6 million in debt, half the amount they had actually admitted to in public SEC 10 filing three months before. They asked to be placed into Chapter 11 protection, and were.

When their court pleadings were filed it stunned their employees. They had spent the summer promising even more expansion. Scores of local gay businesses and private investors suddenly faced a huge, unanticipated, financial hit. 

Columbia Fun Maps Publisher, 74-year-old Alan Beck, a large contributor to MMPW, was out a half million dollars. Local photographer Dennis Dean was burned for $1,000, Miss Kitty Meow for $2,000, and even a local gay freelancer, Gregg Shapiro, was out $850.

Having branded themselves as the “leading LGBTQ media publishers in America,” MMPW was publishing market wire press releases promoting and advertising themselves nationwide. While Blair promoted MMPW as a worldwide company the truth was Florida Agenda only published 5,000 copies a week in South Florida while Next published 15,000 in NY, a far cry from the global LGBT media leader he billed the company to be. 

The company’s founder Bobby Blair though continued to brand and promote a failing product up until the last minute and even after. 

After filing his bankruptcy proceedings with the Southern District, Blair argued his company was a viable business entity on the cusp of success, vehemently protesting through his lawyers that MMPW was unjustly driven against their will into a bankruptcy they did not want.

Last August however, the U.S. government filed pleadings stating otherwise, telling the court that Bobby Blair has not lifted a finger to reorganize the company or pay anyone back. The only exception was in a petition last November where Blair asked that some of his own back pay and that of his major staffers be released so they could orchestrate such a plan. The money came and went. The plan, not at all.

Last fall, Blair’s lawyers promised the court they could create a plan to resuscitate their multiple publications, arguing they had been forced involuntarily into bankruptcy when an unethical lender wrongly maneuvered a Boston District Court to place a freeze on all their assets, unfairly shutting down their revenue streams, and crippling their ability to operate.

Attorney George Castrataro challenges that notion: 

“The truth is a chapter 11 plan for MMPW was doomed to failure from the beginning. Based on their initial pleadings, it was transparently clear that they did not have the finances or wherewithal to effectively reorganize and pay back anyone. Now, over a year later, they still have not” he said.

Castrataro also pointed out, as did counsel for White Winston, that you have to not only propose a plan, but prove up that it is likely to succeed. 

White Winston, the lender who initiated the seizure of assets claim in Massachusetts, concurred with Castrataro’s analysis. From the outset, their court pleadings argued nothing “could or would save MMPW,” but rather its condition was “terminal.” Its lawyers stated no plan could ever work, but they needed to get to “first base” with White Winston in order to put anything in place.

“They have to settle with us first,” lawyer Sternklar said. But they have not still, though new promises were made last week.

 “With its offices shut down, employees let go, and publications not printed,” they argued earlier this year, “it is unlikely any new lender would infuse the operation with funds to start up the company again.” Their predictions have proven to be prescient and true. 

“The only hope at this point for all creditors not to be totally wiped out,” Sternklar told the court, “is that we reach a settlement, which we hope may be imminent.”

“It needs to be,” Judge Ray replied last Wednesday. “At the next hearing I am either dismissing the petition or appointing a trustee.” 

The hearing will be set in January of 2018; some 15 months after the publications shut down and the corporation went dark.

How the Dream Began

The road to bankruptcy for MMPW was paved well before it defaulted on a $1.8 million-dollar loan from White Winston in September of 2016.

Bobby Blair, its founder, spoke to SFGN earlier this fall, just before Labor Day, in 2017; a year after the loan defaulted and he lost his enterprise.

 “My vision to build a global LGBT media company was no easy undertaking. The cost to do so for any company is tens of millions of dollars if you want to provide the digital content quality and reach of a Huffington Post kind of company for our LGBT community along with including my vision of a digital video network featuring original programming and purchased video content,” Blair said. 

One of the major players in the rise of MMPW was Tim Hart, whose TBG Holdings on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, helped facilitate MMPW’s dream, at one point becoming an officer of the company.

With superb marketing skills at taking small companies public, Hart introduced Blair to prospective investors. 

“We secured a plateau for him and introduced him to financiers that had the wherewithal to fuel his vision of an international LGBTQ media company with a presence in print nationally and online globally,” Hart said. 

Hart added: “We did our job well. We took a small local company and helped structure it-  transitioning it to a publicly traded one. We laid out a runway and gave him a $3 million platform. He could have soared, but he had no clue how to run with it, so instead he crashed and burned.”

Hart and his TBG Holdings company lost out on hard money, too. On the bankruptcy petitions Blair signed and filed, Hart is listed as a creditor owing $300,000.

Many of his clients were stung as well. Hart pulled out of the operation.

Bobby Blair publicized his company’s viability with a host of never-ending well-hyped empty press releases, with companies now also listed as unsecured creditors.

One national LGBT marketing representative, who asked to remain anonymous, said “From the outset, the MMPW announcements were false boasts and misleading proclamations improperly misrepresenting the position of MMPW in the LGBTQ marketplace, along with its stature, status, and influence in the gay media market.”

At one point MMPW had boasted their two-year-old company had “over 4 million unique online visitors annually, representing 7.5 million readers.” 

Members of the National LGBT Media Association, which is made up of legacy papers including the Washington Blade, Bay Windows, and Philadelphia Gay News, scoffed at the assertions. None of MMPW’s publications were ever a part of the established LGBT media group. (SFGN also belongs to the association)

Nevertheless, Blair continued his marketing and expansion. Leaving TRG Holdings behind by early 2016, Blair financed his expansion and largesse by securing new and multiple loans to acquire various publications in financial flux, from Frontiers in LA to Next in NY. All the acquisitions were celebrated online as if it were the coming of a new age and day in LGBT media.

MMPW even went public, taking its operation to the NY Stock Exchange. Local and national investors were courted to buy shares. Writers and staffers were openly offered pieces of the company. It traded shares on NASDAQ, and was promoted in the penny market exchanges. Even though the shares had little market value in the beginning, it was part of the marketing that financed the expansion and lure of MMPW to prospective investors. 

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Bobby Blair. Courtesy of Sharon Ford, YouTube.

MMPW’s business model included more than print publications. It included the WiRLD digital portal website, designed to expand the online media presence of LA’s Frontiers Magazine, promising to offer tokens and loyalty discounts to frequent readers “at LGBT venues everywhere.” National press releases on Marketwire touted the company and its multi-faceted LGBT presence.

But WiRLD, like MMPW, crashed to earth before it ever took off. “It was hope, or so we thought,” said investor Alan Beck. “But it turned out to be hype.”

The hype for the WiRLD marketing campaign included a full-page article in the February 24, 2016 edition of the Florida Agenda proclaiming that an offshoot of the WiRLD digital portal would be the relaunch of a local HIV related nonprofit Blair supervised.

Under the umbrella of the WiRLD Foundation, Blair announced MMPW would “create a worldwide foundation to support homeless LGBT youth that was going to be the charitable arm of our digital brand.”

The project, which promised also a 15-member board of directors, never materialized. Despite holding fundraisers under its name, including recurring events in Wilton Manors, such as tea dance cruises and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ at the Manor, no tax records were ever filed with the IRS for the WiRLD Foundation, nor provided to SFGN, which requested them from MMPW attorneys. 

With a digital promotion of he and his team ringing the NY Stock Exchange market bell, Bobby Blair vigorously promoted the dream, even on a Times Square electronic billboard. 

Monies used to acquire new entities came by distributing millions of penny stock shares of MMPW, while simultaneously attempting to land new loans from more investors to fuel a continuing expansion.

Blair attempted to create a cross-country platform to capture what he advertised was the “burgeoning 8.7 trillion-dollar LGBTQ market.” Yes, trillion. His company sought to lock it up. 

Even one of Blair’s top staffers, publisher Kevin Hopper was misled by the numbers. He lost out on over $12,000 in back pay.

 “Bobby Blair and MMP management assured the entire staff that we had secured a loan and it was to be paid out mid-September 2016,” Hopper said. “I spent that summer continuing to work with our employees and vendors with the full understanding everyone would get paid in September.” It did not happen.

Hopper noted that “after reading the bankruptcy documents months later, I was mortified to discover the date we were given for payment was actually the date they knew they were going to default on the loan. “ 

The entire staff was fooled and disarmed by the sudden bankruptcy, but not Blair or the principals. Court records reviewed after the business demise revealed they had in fact consulted with their attorneys about a potential bankruptcy filing months before.

“It was a pump and dump from the start. Blair got to pump, but he never got the cash payout he hoped for to cut and run,” one employee said. “And all the loans and lies finally caught up with him. That’s why he is in bankruptcy court and I am out thousands of dollars in back pay.”

Blair brought in national figures such as retired gay major league baseball player Billy Bean, to market his venture. He made videos of himself showcasing his amateur tennis background and affiliation with Billie Jean King. Elaine Lancaster, an internationally known drag queen, became their “worldwide” spokesperson.

The company even underwrote a book and video documentary of Blair himself, publicizing his own life story. Though never a political figure or an activist, the film, “Hiding Behind the Baselines,” revealed Blair’s struggles as a young gay man in professional sports. Testimonies from Billie Jean King personalize the product.

“We were a evolving company with nearly 4 million dollars a year in revenue and growing,” Blair said. “We were establishing and growing with a solid North American footprint. We simply needed the appropriate financial partners at that time to see our business plan forward.”

“The partners and plan were more than in place,” claimed Tim Hart. “But Blair and the team he put together was clueless and in over his head. We did our job. We are still in business. He ought to ask how he did his.”

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Multimedia Platforms' CEO, Bobby Blair, at NASDAQ Closing Bell during LGBT Week; OTCQB: MMPW. Courtesy of Sharon Ford, YouTube.

The Disappointment and Demise

Alan Beck is a businessman who grew up selling and kicking his way through the streets of New York. He had spent decades creating Columbia Fun Maps, the citywide pocket size directories promoting LGBT venues in scores of cities across the globe.

Beck met Blair in South Florida, and Blair sought to bring the Fun Maps under his umbrella. Perhaps the largest creditor listed in the MMPW bankruptcy, Alan Beck now admits, “I bought into the Kool-Aid that Bobby Blair was selling.”

As a result, Beck sold all his assets and his company to MMPW. MMPW used the glossy maps to herald in their rising presence, to secure new loans, and enhance their outreach. Meanwhile, while marketing Fun Maps as their own, MMPW was breaching the terms of their payback to Beck. They defaulted almost immediately on their promises of payment.

Michael Turner, the publisher of Frontiers Magazine in LA, claimed he too became a victim of Bobby Blair. He sold his company as well to Blair, under what he claims now are false promises and lies.

SEC filings indeed establish that while MMPW acquired Frontiers Magazine, it also failed to meet its financial and legal obligations to Turner.

Turner was supposed to stay on with MMPW as the MMPW president of digital media, creating the WiRLD Foundation websites. It did not last.

 “We were flat out misled. It was Blair and Multimedia Platforms that did not have access to the capital they represented to us prior to their acquisition,” Turner said. “While we had a talented team to partner with them, it turns out they brought to the table an acquisition plan that had little cash and lacked the capital needed for growth.”

Blair called the purchase of Frontiers “the first of his two biggest mistakes.” He explained: “I supported the purchase of Frontiers Magazine. We should have never purchased the company. We inherited a company nearly a million dollars in debt and payables and the publication lost a ton of money every month. We were not financed at that time for such a financial burden.”

Turner labeled Blair’s explanation as “false, untrue, and grossly misstated. We were never a million dollars in debt. Blair is covering up his own failings.”

Turner accused Blair of “running MMPW like a rogue operation. Several of us were completely left in the dark without financial and operational reports, probably because they did not exist.”

Because of the misrepresentations, Turner resigned from the company in April of 2016, and he has now filed in the bankruptcy proceedings against MMPW a proof of claim in the amount of $484,755.55.

Of Frontiers, the magazine Turner sold to Blair, he now laments that “an iconic publication, an institution, that documented the history of the Southern California gay community since 1981, may be simply put in a drawer and left to rot.”

His words were echoed by the VP of New Frontiers Holdings, Tristan Schukraft, who also served as the company’s marketing director: “The company was so poorly managed under Bobby Blair’s leadership… he created operational inefficiencies, increased expenses, and there were grossly unethical, if not illegal activities, too.”

Schukraft explained, for example, instances where MMPW altered tax filings of employees without their knowledge. He said Blair “lacked any moral compass.”

“What can I say,” Turner said. “I was disgusted to learn how certain people manipulated and used others, victims like Alan Beck, as a source for their own money even when the company was sinking.”

Beck acknowledged he used his own personal American Express card to pay Blair’s personal debts for cars, restaurants, and apartments. He understands today he is unlikely to see those funds ever again.

But he is not without some fire, already having hired an attorney to potentially sue those who have wronged him. Once removed from bankruptcy protections, Blair would become a target.

Beck was more astonished to see that Blair went on Facebook, as recently as Halloween weekend, to pay homage to all his ‘close friends’ and business partners, suggesting he was about to launch a new national digital publication shortly. 

“None of us can believe what we are reading,” Beck said.

Meanwhile, Blair traces the demise of MMPW at least in part upon his own miscalculation, stating “I never should have surrendered my role in the company or allowed it to move out west.”

While that is what he told SFGN last month, it is clearly not what he represented to others a year ago, celebrating his own promotion and the international global promise of MMPW in multiple self-promotional press releases, online editorials and in print, in all of his publications.

Tim Hart agreed at least in part with Blair’s analysis: “Blair foolishly ‘bought into Hollywood.’ Moving their operations never made any sense, and it is what precipitated their downfall.”

Still, said Hart, the prudent financial counselor, “No matter where you are, you cannot spend more than you make. Bobby Blair turned out to be a horrible manager of the money he took in.”

When it came time to turn to White Winston, its potential lenders for financing, they were presented with the glamor, the gold, and everything but the truth. Thus, while MMPW secured a loan, its purported misrepresentations accelerated the ultimate demise and destruction of its company. Less than 90 days after getting their first installment from White Winston, their entire operation was out of business, never to publish again.

The underwriters for White Winston discovered they were being misled almost immediately after agreeing to undertake a series of loans to help MMPW. White Winston went from lender to plaintiff almost overnight.

White Winston and its lawyers have refused to discuss the case with SFGN. But they have plenty to say in their pleadings and court documents filed steadily from Boston to South Florida. This story tracks those judicial records. 

In court last week, while stating a new “settlement plan” is “imminent”, and “our only hope,” their lawyers admitted to the court that the litigation history of this case was “tortured and contentious.” Indeed, the record confirms the same, with lawyers filing motions to hold the others in contempt of court. 

Chicago Contributing Writer LGBT Media

The Beginnings

Based on the written and published financial representations of MMPW executives, in their stock documents and filings, White Winston agreed in the summer of 2016 to become a major financier of MMPW.

The court exhibits show they provided a “master credit facility loan,” conditioned upon MMPW assigning, securing and collateralizing all their assets with White Winston.

The loan mandated timely and corresponding guarantees insuring that the borrowed monies would be paid back promptly and on schedule, with severe consequences for failing to do so. It was MMPW’s alleged breach of the promises on that note which became the fuel for the bankruptcy.

In both its state and federal court filings, White Winston claimed it uncovered evidence right after making the loan that it was secured fraudulently. They accused Blair of having misrepresented MMPW’s standings, earnings and worth. Additionally, they claimed, MMPW instantly failed in meeting its legal duties and obligations to the lender.

Today, Blair claims to have had no part whatsoever in the deal, because it happened after he resigned as the CEO, which he explains was his “second biggest mistake.” 

“I was convinced by a few it was best for a new team that had Hollywood digital experience and in their past had successfully grown emerging digital companies successfully to step down as CEO,” Blair said. “Losing belief and confidence in myself at this critical time proved to be the biggest mistake of my professional life.”

It is Blair’s contention today that the new CEO and CFO “negotiated every piece of the credit facility agreement with White Winston” and “that within weeks of signing became our financial demise. I never had one conversation or one email with them.” He says he would have never negotiated “such a bad deal.”

White Winston’s legal pleadings scoff at Blair’s assertions.

The loan was made, delivered and accepted by MMPW in July of 2016, with the first payment being due on September 1, 2016. MMPW failed to make it. White Winston sued at once. They charged in their pleadings repeatedly that Blair was singularly responsible for “gross mismanagement,” “gross misconduct,” and “fraud.”

One of the initial allegations is telling. For example, as proof, White Winston explained one of the immediate duties of MMPW after the loan was made was to collect and gather their sales revenues into secure accounts, or “lockboxes,” for White Winston to guarantee their future payments.

Based on the outlined revenues MMPW promised the lender it was taking in on a weekly basis, that account should have had over $100,000 by the time the first note payment was due on September 1. But there was less than $10,000 in the account, and MMPW instead defaulted.

However, the first default would be only one of many more suspicious factors White Winston would allege in its court pleadings. They argued that MMPW had been knowingly dishonest and duplicitous in securing the loan, accusing them of multiple fraudulent acts.

White Winston wasted no time when they determined they were swindled. They immediately went to court in Boston, provided for in the contract as the venue for a breach of their loan. They sought and summarily won an emergency injunction and a restraining order freezing and seizing all the assets of MMPW. 

Bobby Blair did not even have an attorney appear for him at the hearing. White Winston even noted that MMPW “took no action in the Massachusetts litigation to assert their alleged defenses.”

With the handwriting on the wall, MMPW instead sought Chapter 11 relief in federal bankruptcy court in South Florida.  “The purpose of doing that,” explained attorney George Castrataro, “is to attempt to preempt the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts court, and allow all proceedings and rulings to emerge from the bankruptcy court down here.” 

The legal maneuver was not successful. It failed. Instead the Massachusetts court granted White Winston the relief they sought. MMPW suddenly found any and all of its limited assets frozen.

MMPW then turned to the South Florida bankruptcy court for relief. Given an opportunity to reorganize, and allowed to pay down their debts over time, they argued they could be up and running in short order. This is the legal threshold a court needs for the company to present a legitimate good faith plan to retool and pay back creditors. 

Three months after the litigation ensued, the bankruptcy court provided MMPW with emergency relief to acquire limited financing to start up again. But White Winston was back in court by January of 2017, arguing that “MMPW has not used the proceeds of that financing as promised to resume publication.”

Still, in early of 2017, the court approved a settlement agreement that failed to materialize. Now nearly a year has passed, and according to both parties, a new one may be on the table. In the interim, there has been no Agenda, Frontiers, or Next. No WiRLD digital site or homeless foundation. Just endless court dates and postponements.

The Legal Claims of Allegations of Fraud and Mismanagement

Within two months of MMPW filing for bankruptcy protection, their creditors, White Winston was alleging that Blair had defrauded not only its company, but the Bankruptcy court as well. Specifically, they accused Blair of intentionally delaying the litigation from proceeding on course, by failing to present any feasible reorganization plan on a timely basis, as required by law.

Accusing him of continuing ‘gross mismanagement and misconduct,’ the pleadings alleged Blair failed to take the most basic steps to reorganize its company or pay back anyone. His lawyers filed pleadings denying all the allegations.

A review of the many motions filed by White Winston shine a light into the ongoing nature and operations of MMPW, with serious allegations of inexcusable misconduct. The attorney for MMPW, Michael Sesse of Fort Lauderdale, vigorously fought all the allegations, challenging and contesting any wrongdoing in pleading after pleading.

Since the case eventually reached a preliminary settlement, neither of the parties received a complete judicial resolution of either of their claims by the court. Sesse, however, did receive compensation of over $100,000 in attorney’s fees, perhaps the only party so far who came out making money in this bankruptcy. These were funds legitimately awarded by the court through a proper application for the same.

The pleadings after the bankruptcy was filed also reflect that a court approved attempt at corporate restructuring through a California company fell through. A settlement was approved in March of 2017, but it collapsed too. No reorganization ever came about.

 “That was our best hope,” said Jamie Forsythe, once the MMPW general manager for its East coast operations “but it never materialized. Once again, any hopes we had were dashed and denied.”

Given the hostile and accusatory nature of the pleadings, and the counter petitions, it is remarkable any proposed settlement or resolution of the case ever took place, but it did. Before that however, the parties filed notices that revealed who accused whom of what. This story records what they each alleged.

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Bobby Blair and Alan Beck in 2015 announced the acquisition by Multimedia Platforms of FunMaps. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

MMPW Accused of Not Disclosing Tax Liabilities

White Winston first charged MMPW of securing its loan through bold faced lies. Primarily, they allege that MMPW secured the funds while purposely hiding and knowingly concealing its true debt, including at least $164,000 in federal and payroll tax obligations to the IRS. 

The lender stated MMPW’s “representations and warranties were false when made.” Specifically, White Winston stated, “had the debtors truthfully reported to the lenders the extent of their outstanding tax obligations, the plaintiffs would not have entered into the loan.”

Additionally, they say, MMPW, secured the loan by falsely representing that “it had paid or made arrangement for the payment of all taxes, assessments, and governmental charges and levies thereon, including any interest and penalties, to the extent the same have become due.”

It was not true. At the time of the loan, MMPW owed taxes in four different states. Even Next Magazine had outstanding tax obligations of $34,000 from 2015, as did all their other publications.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. White Winston also accused MMPW of misrepresenting its stock filings to the SEC, hiding their true earnings, failing to disclose certain lawsuits, and shielding staff mismanagement and incompetence which compromised the company’s actual net worth.

White Winston said they were tricked into hurriedly advancing a loan to MMPW to help them satisfy other notes they had pending to prevent a default on another note Blair’s company had coming due.

White Winston claimed they were willing to do so based on MMPW’s publicly filed federal SEC stock filings, known as 10-K and 10-Q affidavits. They later alleged those documents were materially misleading and perjurious. These are documents that bear Bobby Blair’s signature as the president of the company.

MMPW Accused of Hiding Funds from Lender

Additionally, instead of immediately paying back loan monies to White Winston under the terms of the note, they alleged MMPW engaged in ‘knowing and intentional fraud’ by hiding the paybacks in secret accounts they did not know about or could not access, a material breach of the loan. Specifically, they alleged Blair used these monies- due the lenders under the terms of the note-  to pay off his personal debts, including his apartment in LA, and travel across the country. 

Alan Beck said this was not unusual for Blair. He even convinced Beck to let him to charge expenses on Beck’s personal American Express card.

A man who has read all the pleadings, and helped Blair get started, Tim Hart said today: “None of these allegations surprise me. Bobby was in over his head. You have to manage money wisely not wildly.”

For his part, MMPW, through its counsel, and Blair, as its sole officer, fought the allegations with pleadings of their own, standing their ground and arguing the foreclosure on the note was premature and improper. They claimed the legal action was without merit, interfering and interrupting what was on the cusp of becoming a successful global media enterprise.

MMPW argued that the Boston court had no right to seize their assets, that they had filed the bankruptcy on a timely basis, and the lender’s action was illegal and premature, essentially crippling MMPW.  But each pleading filed by White Winston punctured another huge hole in Blair’s claims.

MMPW Accused of Hiding Litigation

For example, at page 40 of their 10 Q filing for the SEC, MMPW certified under oath “that we are currently not involved in any litigation…” and “that there is no action, suit, proceeding or inquiry before any court or government agency… to the knowledge of the executive officers…threatened against or affecting our company. In which we believe an adverse decision could have a material adverse effect.” 

When Blair swore to those documents, there were at least three pending actions against MMPW in multiple locations. There is documentation showing that MMPW was not unaware of these pending legal actions.

First, their former managing editor, Daniel Hicks, had sued Blair and MMPW in U.S. District Court to recover overtime wages. Eventually, he won a settlement of $12,000.

In Broward Circuit Court, Peter Clark and the Hot Spots Media Group had filed a suit for breach of a non-compete agreement against Blair personally and MMPW corporately. That was apparently not disclosed to the lenders or on its SEC filing either.

MMPW also had failed to disclose that long time Frontiers staffer on the West Coast, journalist Karen Ocahm, had made a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the grounds of age discrimination.

In March of 2017, she filed a suit in United States District Court. In October, Blair asked the court to release the proceeds of an insurance policy to help defray the costs of the claim. It is still pending, and the court allowed the insurance company the leeway the defendants sought to defend the case.

MMPW Accused of Staff Mismanagement

White Winston’s allegations of MMPW’s fraud also runs to misrepresentations the company made as to its staff and management. They alleged that MMPW knowingly lied and attempted to conceal the incompetence and truth at every turn.

One example is enormously illustrative. After the lenders tendered their first payment to MMPW, they sent a representative to LA to meet with Peter Frank, the newly touted CFO of MMPW, who had replaced Blair in the role last summer. 

After a cross country flight, the lenders were told by staffers that Frank was ‘ill’ and out of the office indefinitely ‘with meningitis.” But the court pleadings say otherwise, and the staffers at Frontiers acknowledge they knew the truth.

White Winston noted in court documents that Frank was hardly “ill,” as MMPW had asserted. In truth, the CFO, they alleged, had gone on a ‘drug binge,’ ‘was intoxicated,’ and absent without leave or notice to the lenders.

Their lawyers were furious, and claimed their clients had been deceived. They wrote ‘Had his condition and health been disclosed to us, we never would have followed through with the loan. It was purposely concealed,’ they alleged, both before and after the loan was made.

Blair, however, denied any knowledge of the fraud himself, issuing a press release to that effect, claiming he was going to hurry back and “take matters into his own hands.” But Forsyth told SFGN, “we all knew what was going on, and Blair never came back in.” 

“The company did try to bring in a prominent businessman, Robert Weiss, but by then it was too little, too late. It was too far gone,” Tim Hart said. 

Weiss resigned in short order, leaving Blair with the shattered remnants of an insolvent company with obligations and loans it could not meet. Bankruptcy became inevitable.

The Government Steps In

After months of contentious litigation and countervailing motions by both parties, a tentative settlement was reached. It was premised on a new reorganization plan being presented by June 1, 2017. Like the restructuring of the note and the resuscitation of the publishing enterprise, it never happened. Now the U.S. government, through a trustee, is asking the bankruptcy case to be dismissed with prejudice.

Back in August, a U.S. trustee, Damaris Rosich-Schwartz, filed paperwork asking U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Ralph Ray to formally terminate the reorganization, accusing Blair of failing to do even the most fundamental tasks required, from monthly reporting to paying her fees. As of yesterday, they still had not been paid. 

The judge expressed impatience with the failure, but continued the case for thirty more days to give the parties yet another chance at settlement. It was over the objection of the U.S. trustee. 

If an agreement is not reached, then Rosich-Schwartz will go into court next month and argue her motion. The court pleadings assert that Bobby Blair is guilty of a series of “unexcused failures” to comply with “the basics of Chapter 11 protection.” 

If a trustee is appointed on the case, it could spell a lot of trouble for Blair.  Local attorney Castrataro noted, “once a trustee is appointed by the court, it exposes Bobby to an extraordinary amount of scrutiny. A trustee for the creditors will be charged with looking at every dollar taken out of MMPW for the past four years.”

“At this stage of the game,” Castrataro said, “if a trustee is appointed, they would be duty bound to notify the Department of Justice if their offices became aware of the potential of illegal activity.”

Castrataro added that “If the company was insolvent or its managers indulged itself in inappropriate distributions, the trustee can also demand the funds be returned from even innocent parties. Under Chapter 11, you can self-administer a reorganization. But under chapter 7, the trustee polices every action.”

White Winston first started asking for the case to be converted to Chapter 7 in January of 2017, insisting that any reorganization was not only “illusory,” but that “there is no prospect that the business can survive in a dormant state.” At the very least, they wanted a trustee appointed. 

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Fort Lauderdale Courthouse. Courtesy of the Southern District of Florida.

The Human Pain: Creditors Never Paid

Nearly a year has now passed, and none of the secured and unsecured creditors have been paid back. While local investor Alan Beck took the biggest hit at $458,084, he was not alone in his losses. The non-priority unsecured claim holders represent 221 businesses and individuals, totaling a cumulative debt of $4.5 million.

Creditors with secured claims, the first likely to get paid if any assets are collected, total nearly $1.4 million. The second list, priority secured claims, total $220,000. This time, MMPW did not conceal their IRS liability for payroll taxes, more than $213,000.

After that, there are taxes due the State of California for $4,903 and the State of New York for $1,099 Back due taxes are also owed to Florida for $$1,232 and North Carolina, $708.

The list of losses extends to their corporate officers, management, staff, and startup lenders, along with accounting firms, law firms, publishers, consultants, and anyone who bought into taking the company public and selling its stock.

Though he received $200,000 down for selling Frontiers to Blair, that was a small part of a cash and stock deal for Michael Turner. His paper is now out of business, his digital presence gone, his shares of stock worthless and the balance on his note as an unsecured creditor $250,000.

Many local employees have been hard hit, and have hardly recovered. The general manager for East Coast operations of MMPW, Jamie Forsythe, had taken the proceeds of an accident settlement case, and loaned them $25,000 in November of 2015 on a short-term note, to help pay for the launching of the WiRLD website. Now an unsecured creditor, who was never paid back a dime, he likely won’t get a penny.

The only refunds on monies due employees came about last November when the bankruptcy court released some funds to pay a week’s worth of wages to senior staff, due to them before the bankruptcy. 

“But most of us were owed four or more weeks back pay,” said Forsythe, who was separately owed over $4,000 in back pay.

The week MMPW filed for bankruptcy, publisher Kevin Hopper was expecting a commission check of $3,500 and intending to take a European vacation. Instead, he was listed for $14,438.00 in back pay.

Now living in Brooklyn, New York and operating his own new digital marketing company, NYX media, it irks Hopper that Blair was promoting online as recently as last week a new 2018 initiative to launch an LGBT national publication. 

“There are still people hurt from what he did in the past. It speaks for itself,” he said.

The overwhelming number of creditors, who provided services, and investors who put up capital, have not been paid back anything since the chapter 11 filing last October. With the U.S. government now calling for chapter 7 closure, it is likely all the rest will see nothing.

“I took a big hit,” Alan Beck admitted. “But it wasn’t just me. So many people were hurt, and it was by malfeasance and greed. That is what hurts the most.” The records bear him out.

Forum Publishing in Deerfield Beach, which resorted to publishing the Agenda on a cash only basis, is on the hook for $8,190. One of the creditors, Buddy Tuchman of the PCA Printing is listed as due the amount of $2,195. They both did better than California Offset Printers in Castaic, Calif, and Circle Press in New York City, out $30,075 and $36,293 respectively.

Even the small Storage Post business on NW 19th Street in Fort Lauderdale, which stocked inventory for MMPW, is out $652. Minuteman Press, a small franchise operation on 4th avenue in Lauderdale, is owed $392. R & M Services in Fort Lauderdale is due $4,000. AutoNation repossessed their red Ford Transit used for deliveries, and took a loss of $3,200.

Tim Hart’s local accounting company, R3 Accounting, which shared office space with the MMPW publications, also provided administrative and bookkeeping services for all the MMPW Publications. It does not matter today. They are unsecured creditors in the amount of $30,000. 

“It’s a thorn in our side,” Hart admitted.

Other people that are owed money include: 

  • David Nagelberg of La Jolla, Calif – $350,000
  • Terry King of Indian Trail, North Carolina – $100,000
  • Ronald and Beverly Harris of Delray Beach – $55,000
  • Jack Zwick of Southfield, MI – $50,000
  • Harry Newton of New York City – $50,000
  • Arthur Luxembourg of Brooklyn, NY, – $50,000
  • Armatis Shabani of Los Angeles – $50,000
  • Donald and Gale Mitzner, of Boca Raton – $30,000
  • Patrick Berkley of Fort Lauderdale – $4,000
  • Adriana Cortez of Fort Lauderdale – $2,500

The list of casualties is cross-continental and staggering.

All the company’s financial information is not open to the public, only the court filings. Those filings list the investors and the outraged.

Salesforce, the Texas-based company which provides lead and accounting services for media entities, also has an unsecured claim of $8,112. American Express in Fort Lauderdale had faith in MMPW. Their card is owed $28,589. 

MMPW somehow managed to leave Mazdigital.com, a NY media company and content provider, with a debt of $5,690 and Complete Business Solutions in Philadelphia with an obligation of $101,111. Point Capital in Englewood, New Jersey, a funding vehicle and investment portal for small companies, is owed $100,000.

Meanwhile, many small-time freelance writers were also jilted out of money from each of Blair’s publications. Mikey Rox is owed $1,375. Billy Masters, is owed $600.

The two women who run Q Syndicate out of Detroit, which provides editorial content for LGBT publications across the country is owed $525. Across the continent, Outfest, the immensely popular gay and lesbian film nonprofit film festival, has lost $3,750.

Overall, MMPW’s debtor’s petition acknowledged when they filed their bankruptcy last October they owed 35 employees the total sum of $138,529. Interestingly, Bobby Blair claimed part of his own salary as a debt. He claimed to be owed $18,356 dollars for services rendered and not paid.

Since payroll employees get first dibs at any assets, if there are any left, Blair, who was paying himself $250,000 a year, would get paid before any of the unsecured creditors. But realistically, at this point, he is more likely to be on the receiving end of new lawsuits than court ordered disbursements.

“Without the protection of the bankruptcy court, Blair could be facing lawsuits and claims for many years to come,” Castrataro said. “But it is unlikely that the millions of dollars of unsecured creditors owed money by MMPW will ever collect anything.”

SFGN MMP

Was Bankruptcy Inevitable?

The last quarterly SEC filing of MMPW and its stock was published on June 30, 2016. It outlined the company’s enormous debt and the extent of its multiple loans. Many of the people and businesses who took a leap of faith and invested in Multimedia did so in the face of even earlier SEC filings and stock advisors that warned against it. 

At page 8 of their 10 Q filing, MMPW in fact published that the company had “recognized a net revenue of $1,459,168 and a net loss of $4,698,799” for the preceding 12 months. 

Additionally, the company acknowledged it was operating with a “negative working capital of $5,518,237 as of June 30, 2016.”  The picture was not pretty.

According to their SEC filing last June, “there is no assurance that the company will be successful in raising additional capital or that such additional funds will be available.” 

Consequently, MMPW certified that “in view of these conditions, the ability of the company to continue as a going concern is now in doubt. Its valuation could be altered should the company be unable to continue as a going concern.”

The statement was prophetic. The White Winston loan of $1.7 million was going to be their short-term salvation. When that collapsed through foreclosure, so did MMPW.

With at least $6 million of hard debt, its employees discharged, its offices empty, the publications shut down and there being no assets to speak of, the ‘normal course of businesses for Multimedia Platforms Worldwide, Inc., is now being conducted in the Southern District of Florida’s Bankruptcy Court, Case No. 16-23603-RBR.

Asked whether he had any regrets or apologies to anyone over the company’s demise, and the crushing losses hundreds of investors faced, Bobby Blair provided SFGN with a lengthy statement, which concludes as follows: “It’s heartbreaking MMP after nearly a decade of blood, sweat and tears has ended the way it has. My number one goal was to serve our community in a way that gave our community members a voice to make a difference.  I am deeply saddened my investors lost their money and will be forever grateful for their support.”

“I want to thank all our supporters and former staff across the United States and Canada where we published magazines, maps, our south Florida newspaper and our digital content for their hard work and relentless dedication,” Blair stated. “I have great hopes to see my LGBT media become reality one day again. I hope to include all my investors who lost their money on MMP.”

Despite presently promoting a tennis website and selling real estate, Blair, as noted, has talked on Facebook recently about starting a new digital LGBT platform.

The final edition of the MMPW global dream is likely to be delivered by a U.S. bankruptcy court judge early next month in Fort Lauderdale. It may be ruin or redemption. 

Blair did not say whether he would be in court to hear it personally. He said “I gave it all I had. I thank everyone who supported me.”

“Someone should be there,” Alan Beck said. “Someone has to stand and answer for the gross mismanagement, and tell us where all the money went.” 

 


Here is a list of local people and businesses that MMPW owes money to. This list does not include all of the people and businesses out of state.

 

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