Newspaper Exec Ordered to Pay $5 Million in Damages

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(AP) A newspaper executive has been ordered to pay $5.1 million in damages to his former employer, Heartland Publications, after he acknowledged borrowing $1.7 million while he was the chain’s chief executive officer.

James M. McGinnis, 56, whose last known address was in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was president and CEO of Heartland Publications LLC, until being replaced in February. He previously was a co-owner of Superior, Wis.-based Murphy McGinnis Media, which published 17 newspapers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Heartland publishes 19 newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Duval County Circuit Judge Jack M. Schemer granted Heartland’s motion for a summary judgment in its lawsuit against McGinnis earlier this month. The newspaper chain said it has asked for McGinnis to repay the money, but he had not.

“There are no genuine issues of material fact to dispute that James McGinnis committed theft … by taking $1,713,342 from Heartland’s accounts for his own personal use and benefit,” the judge wrote.

In accordance with Florida law, Schemer ordered McGinnis to pay Heartland more than $5.1, which is triple the amount he took.

Stephen Busey, an attorney representing Heartland, which is based in Ponte Vedra Beach, said Heartland has recovered about $1 million from a theft insurance policy, but added that his client is serious in collecting the money it is owed.

Busey also said that the FBI had requested the files in the Heartland case, although the FBI refuses to confirm or deny that an investigation has been launched.

McGinnis’ gold 1998 Jaguar XJ8 has been seized by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and will be sold to the highest bidder on July 15.

McGinnis does not have a published telephone number and a call to his attorney, Michael Berry, was not immediately returned Monday.

McGinnis, in an affidavit filed in the case, said it was his intent just to borrow the money.

“I have acknowledged borrowing from the plaintiff the $1.7 million, which the subject of this lawsuit. My intent at the time was to only to borrow the money and repay it to Heartland as soon as possible.”

McGinnis said that he was expecting a substantial bonus from Heartland and thought the company would waive some or all of the repayment in lieu of a bonus.

Before joining Heartland in May 2004, McGinnis had more than 30 years’ experience in the newspaper industry by either owning or managing more than 80 community newspapers or shoppers in 22 states.

In addition to McGinnis, investors in Heartland are Wachovia Capital Partners, the principal investing arm of Wachovia Corp., of Charlotte, N.C., and the Wicks Group, a New York-based private equity fund.



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