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Wednesday, January 24, 2018
HomeAlaska NewsRogoff response: I owe him nothing

Rogoff response: I owe him nothing

Screen shot from USA Today, photo labled handout.

Screen shot from USA Today, photo labeled ‘handout.’

ROGOFF SAYS THE NAPKIN CONTRACT IS REAL, BUT UNENFORCEABLE

Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff’s response to the complaint by her business partner can be summed up: “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”

For every event she admits happened, there are a dozen alleged occurrences she rebutts.

Hawkins

Tony Hopfinger

Tony Hopfinger, Exhibit A

The lawsuit in question was filed June 15, 2016 by the founder of the online upstart news entity, the Alaska Dispatch. That would be one Tony Hopfinger, who, along with his ex-wife Amanda Coyne, threw in his lot with billionaire adventuress Alice Rogoff, and who now feels quite badly used.

Hopfinger is our Exhibit A for someone who was outmatched by an Outsider who came to Alaska to conquer.

It’s happened before. If true that she didn’t pay for her share of the publishing business, then Rogoff is just the latest version of a monied opportunist who found a chump in Alaska to strip clean.

Rogoff bought a 90 percent share of the online-only Dispatch, poured a lot of resources and influence into it, and then proceeded to purchase the Anchorage Daily News. She subsequently merged the operations over the course of several months.

She was busy, perhaps too busy to take care of the details. Too busy to finish up conversations with her business partner, Hopfinger, who evidently did not realize he was getting stiffed on his contract and being driven out. It’s difficult to see things clearly in the fog of war.

President of the Republic of Iceland His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, and Publisher of the Alaskan Dispatch Alice Rogoff, at the opening session of the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum on 12 November 2015.

President of the Republic of Iceland His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, and Publisher of the Alaska Dispatch Alice Rogoff, at the opening session of the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum on November 12, 2015.

Theirs was an asymmetrical power arrangement from the beginning. Hopfinger and Coyne had the talent and subject expertise, and Rogoff had all the power and the money.

Hopfinger and Coyne were splitting up, both were exhausted from launching the Dispatch, and neither had the particular business experience to be swimming in this particular shark tank.

Hopfinger would not be interviewed for this story. But a grief counselor might say that during the 2012-2014 timeframe the Hopfinger and Coyne stress level was, on a scale of 1-10, at a 9.

There was a lot of dying going on, including the death of a marriage, the death of Hopfinger’s mother, and the death of the upstart enterprise that got swallowed by hungry Rogoff.

A careful reader of the Rogoff legal response, dated July 13, might get the sense that Hopfinger kept trying to get the media mogul to sit down with him and finalize everything, but she had no intention of doing so.

She had time to organize Arctic conferences around the globe. She just had no time for pipsqueak editors.

Rogoff met with the president of Iceland on Nov. 12, 2015, but she didn’t show up at a meeting with Hopfinger that she had committed to on Nov. 20.

Earlier that fall, Rogoff  attended a glitzy state dinner at the White House with her husband, David Rubenstein, managing director and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, to honor China’s President Xi and Madame Peng Liyuan. She just could not be bothered with  Hopfinger.

She had President Obama over to her house for dinner during August. There were so many galas to attend, including the 38th Annual Kennedy Center Honors Gala in early December.

By that time, it appears she was managing Hopfinger out of the business. He was a nuisance to her and she had no time for him.

 

In an earlier interview with Charles Wohlforth, who is now a columnist for the Alaska Dispatch, Rogoff describes her relationship with Hopfinger and Coyne as a marriage, one that had commitments.
“That’s a big part of the commitment that Tony and Amanda and I made to one another when we got married, so to speak,” she says in this YouTube video.

As with so many divorces, this one will come down to what he says, and she says. And lawyers — let’s not forget the lawyers.

WHAT NAPKIN? OH, THAT  NAPKIN

The Rogoff response is rife with nuanced interpretation. She admits “the parties worked on a draft agreement. Defendants specifically deny that any enforceable oral agreement was ever reached.”

Her defense against Hopfinger’s accusation centers around the bar napkin contract, which she admits she signed in 2014, but which she now says is unenforceable.

Rogoff aso admits that Hopfinger and Coyne founded the Dispatch. They worked with Alice and sold her a 90 percent share. At some point Coyne and Hopfinger’s decaying marriage became so strained that Coyne left, and accepted a $5,000 buyout from Rogoff.

This left Hopfinger with 5 percent of an enterprise that he could not have grown without Rogoff, but the billionaire also could not have grown without him, the founder and journalistic force behind it. She had no credibility without him, until she purchsed the Anchorage Daily News and no longer needed Hopfinger.

According to Rogoff’s response, she created AK Publishing as a financial tool to purchase the Anchorage Daily News, and it appears she rolled the Alaska Dispatch into that entity, in an arrangement that might have been poorly understood or not even known by Hopfinger, who was busy having his marriage fall apart and trying to keep up with the business deals Rogoff was putting together on the side.

But she has a real legal challenge saying the napkin is not a contract. And yet, she soldiers on:

Straight out of the movies, Exhibit A is a contract on a bar napkin, signed by Alice Rogoff.

Straight out of the movies, the other Exhibit A is a contract on a bar napkin, signed by Alice Rogoff.

“Defendants also specifically deny that the napkin contains the requisite formality or content to be enforceable. Defendants further specifically deny that this napkin was related exclusively to the purchase of Hopfinger’s 5 percent interest in ADP (Alaska Dispatch Publishing)….Defendants admit that Rogoff handed the above-referenced napkin to Hopfinger…”

Essentially this is: “We had a contract, yeah, but you can’t make me honor it.”

Item 35 of the defense has a time-warping mistake that has Hopfinger confronting Rogoff in the parking lot of the Alaska Railroad this coming December:

“December 2, 2016….[He] stated that he was quitting. Defendants also admit that Hopfinger concluded the conversation by saying ‘fuck you; I’ll see you in court.’ Defendants also specifically deny that Hopfinger continued to perform his duties for ADN after this confrontation.”

The remainder of the Rogoff defense can be summed up this way: “Defendants deny the remaining allegations…”

Rogoff’s defense rests upon this claim: “With regard to the breach of contract claim against Rogoff, there was never any agreement, written or oral, that bound Rogoff personally.”

And that’s the sum of it: An exceedingly wealthy adventuress with lawyers on retainer seized control of a news operation, drove out the owner, and then refused to pay him for his share by saying, in essence, “You can’t make me.”

She may be right about that part.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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