By: Mark Fitzgerald
70-year-old former newspaper owner and his wife file
Chapter 11 claiming debts totaling more than $7 million sp.
JOHN MCGOFF ? THE 70-year-old former newspaper empire builder whose extensive holdings once included the now-defunct Sacramento Union and still include minority shares in two Michigan dailies ? has filed for personal bankruptcy protection.
In a Chapter 11 filing, McGoff and his wife Margaret said they have debts of more than $7 million.
McGoff’s personal fortune was devastated by a newspaper sale during the go-go late 1980s that went disastrously wrong. In a $100 million deal in 1987 with Adams Publishing Co., McGoff sold two Michigan dailies, the Macomb Daily of Mt. Clemens and the Daily Tribune of Royal Oak, plus 15 Observer weeklies in the Detroit suburbs. Adams Publishing was a newcomer to the newspaper business and proved inept as the industry turned downward.
By 1992, while McGoff still was owed $16 million on the sale, Adams stopped making payments and a Chicago financial institution foreclosed on the newspapers’ mortgage.
“That was the first domino to fall,” McGoff’s attorney, Joseph K. Cox, said in a telephone interview. “It’s pretty hard to see such wealth just pass through your hands ? and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.”
As a result of the foreclosure, McGoff and his wife own a 15% share in Independent Newspapers Inc., the current owners of the Macomb Daily and Daily Tribune of Royal Oak.
That stake will not be affected by the bankruptcy filing, attorney Cox said.
Most of the McGoffs’ $7 million debt is owed to Comerica Bank on loans for several investment ventures. McGoff defaulted on those payments after Adams stopped making its own payments.
Cox said the McGoffs will draw up a plan with a creditors committee within the next 90 days. They intend to get out of bankruptcy as quickly as possible, he said.
The bankruptcy filing is yet another chapter in John McGoff’s colorful career. During the 1970s, he built a media empire that grew from a single radio station to numerous broadcast properties, seven dailies and 25 weeklies.
At the beginning of the 1980s, however, McGoff was dogged by a five-year federal investigation that culminated in 1986 with the formal charge that he had secretly accepted $11 million from the South African government to buy the defunct Washington Star as part of a worldwide propaganda campaign for what was then an apartheid regime.
McGoff denied the charges, and the case never went to trial. A court ruled that the statute of limitation on the accusation had run out.