It may be a rough summer in the Alice Rogoff household. At the very least, it will be a different summer than the one she had in 2015, when President Barack Obama came to dinner to her Campbell Lake home.
Life is tumultuous in and around the empire of the woman who advised Gov. Bill Walker on the merits of borrowing against the Alaska Permanent Fund and other state funds.
She advised using the Fund as collateral, investing the borrowed money at a higher rate, and spinning off profits for Alaska: “…by prudently using financial leverage to restructure our wealth, we can double the Alaska Permanent Fund and other state cash assets every 10 or 12 years.”
Rogoff’s husband, billionaire David Rubenstein, manages a small portion of the Permanent Fund through his Carlyle Group investment company, so that leveraging plan would work well for her and her share of the family fortune.
This summer, Rogoff faces several big personal and professional challenges:
CRASHGATE: July 3 will be the one-year anniversary since Rogoff, owner of the Alaska Dispatch News, clipped a tree and crash-landed her float plane into the waters of Halibut Cove, and had to swim from the wreckage.
The National Transportation Safety Board report on that incident should be out soon. It is undergoing internal review and editing, we are told by the NTSB.
Reports from the agency normally take 12-18 months to be released.
Rogoff retained her pilot’s license for land, but not for water. She left the scene and the public has not had a full accounting of her whereabouts for several days after the accident.
HOPFINGER SUIT: On July 11, Rogoff will be in court — or her lawyers will, at least. They’ll face off against her former business partner and founder of the Alaska Dispatch, Tony Hopfinger, who is also the former husband and partner of Amanda Coyne, now a senior adviser to Sen. Dan Sullivan. Coyne was part of the original Dispatch digital startup.
Hopfinger and Rogoff were partners in the Dispatch, but when the relationship soured, Tony moved on, with a paper napkin promise from her that she would pay him $1 million for his share over the course of 10 years. That didn’t happen.
Last year in July, Hopfinger sued because Rogoff stopped payments after the first installment. There appears to be $900,000 outstanding in debt owed, according to a bar napkin upon which their contract was scribbled, just 10 days after she had purchased the newspaper from McClatchy. There may be legal fees and other damages — all that is under discussion in court.
WIRED FOR LITIGATION: Hopfinger is not the only one waiting for payment. M&M Wiring has brought a claim against a company that involves the Dispatch allegedly not paying a nearly $459,000 bill for work done on a building Rogoff leased for her new printing press.
Rogoff purchased the new press 18 months ago but has yet to make operational and it may need a lot more money than she has on hand.
Last year, the Dispatch leased the building from Arctic Partners LLC. Rogoff planned to move her entire newspaper operations there, including the reporting, marketing and administration, we are told by sources close to the newspaper.
The nondescript building at 5900 Arctic Blvd. needed extensive upgrades to become a functioning newspaper plant and offices, including major enhancements to the electrical system.
The Dispatch contracted with M&M Wiring to do that electrical work, the scope of which grew over time beyond the original work order, according to the complaint filed with in Anchorage Superior Court.
Ed McCoy, an employee of the Dispatch (known as Santa Claus by those who work with him), acted as the representative for both the newspaper and for Arctic Partners in getting the work done, the complaint says. At some point, McCoy was no longer the point of contact, but Adam Cook, one of Rogoff’s lawyers, was.
“Mr. Cook seems to have assumed the role of Dispatch’s project manager for the Project since he was directing the sequencing of contractor work, evaluating contractor bids, evaluating the project budget and directing contractors, including M&M…” the complaint says.
On Dec. 29, 2016, the Dispatch terminated M&M from the project entirely, the complaint claims.
It also claims that Arctic Partners LLC was aware that M&M wasn’t being paid for the work it was doing to get the building ready for the Dispatch.
With the electrical work halted, the final bill was about $958,800, some of which was paid. Nearly half — $454,479 — is said to still be owed, according to the claim. Plus 10 percent interest, which was part of the contract signed by McCoy.
As a way to get its money, M&M put a lien on the building. That case has now been assigned a judge, Eric A. Aarseth. Calls to M&M’s attorney went unreturned.
Meanwhile, Alice had taken possession of the press and installed it on concrete that may not have been strong enough to support the weight and vibration of a major press operation. City permits indicate that there was a problem with the concrete and work over the winter slowed to a crawl.
Reinforcement of that concrete may require the press to be removed from the building, according to newspaper veterans.
With the new building not operational, Rogoff is still leasing printing press space from GCI, to whom she sold the previous ADN building. Her main newspaper office is on C Street in Midtown Anchorage.
WHERE IS IT ALL GOING? Newspaper observers wonder if the Dispatch is worth a fraction of the $33 million Rogoff is believed to have paid McClatchy on April 8, 2014.
After all, she doesn’t own the real estate. She has a press at GCI’s building in Airport Heights. She has another nonfunctional press possibly resting on inadequate concrete in an industrial building that is still substandard. That building is tangled in a lawsuit. A contractor says she owes nearly half a million dollars. A former business partner will see her in court in three weeks over $900,000 he says is due.
In the summer of 2015, the menu at the Rogoff table was fit for a president: Cold-smoked king salmon lox, razor clams, Mat-Su lettuce, Koyukuk moose hunted by Alice, and berries picked by Alice.
This summer, there are no convoys of black government limousines driving to the Rogoff mansion. There are no Secret Service agents leaning on shiny cars or a dashing president seated for photos in the cockpit of her private plane at her Campbell Lake dock.
Her floatplane is totalled. Her float plane license surrendered. Her newspaper is an Alaska-sized headache that to all outward appearances is bleeding cash.
The summer of 2017 will be about how to satisfy contractors and landlords, whether she has to pay her former business partner, and whether she can keep Alaska’s largest newspaper running during one of the worst economic downturns in Alaska history.
There is irony in the fact that the anti-growth, anti-industry policies her newspaper promotes are contributing to its economic headwinds. We imagine that is probably lost on her.