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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Millers turned down 2002 deal from local investors

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rob Robinson led a group that
asked the Millers to cede majority
ownership in exchange
for a stake in a larger venture. Rob Robinson led a group that asked the Millers to cede majority ownership in exchange for a stake in a larger venture.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

In 2002, a group of local businessmen heard about Marty and Linda Millers struggles and decided to get involved, saying they wanted to help the couple get WNGT-TV, Channel 48, on solid financial footing.

David Rohrbacher, a Toledo business lawyer, and Rob Robinson, a retired National City banking executive, were among those who met with the couple and began taking steps to turn the station around.

They drafted a business plan, hired more staff, marketed the station, and even broadcast three live events a July 4 fireworks display, the Toledo Ballet s The Nutcracker, and a state-of-the-city speech by former Mayor Jack Ford.

They also hoped to take advantage of the station s Class A license and boost its signal from 11,000 watts to an FCC-approved maximum of 150,000 watts.

The group created a corporation called Phoenix Toledo Broadcasting, named for the mythical bird that rose from the ashes. They hoped to see TV 48 make a similar comeback.

After months of work and multiple thousands of dollars invested, the businessmen presented the Millers with a contract.

David Rohrbacher led a group that asked the Millers to cede majority ownership in exchange for a stake in a larger venture. David Rohrbacher led a group that asked the Millers to cede majority ownership in exchange for a stake in a larger venture.
Enlarge

The Millers refused to sign.

The deal would have required the Millers to surrender their majority ownership of WNGT, and in return they would gain a share of a corporation that planned to branch out into other television markets.

Nobody ever expected that we would get to the end of the runway and Marty would just cross his arms, Mr. Robinson said.

He said he tried to reason with the Millers, even bringing in local minority businessmen and community leaders to review the proposed contract.

The minority leaders agreed it was a good deal for the Millers, according to both Mr. Robinson and Mr. Miller.

But Mr. Miller said his personal attorney, Stephen Sadowski, advised him not to sign, saying that Mr. Miller was putting his sole asset the station s FCC license on the line.

Mr. Robinson gave Mr. Miller advice that proved prophetic: I told him that if you sign this contract, you ll be on easy street. If you don t sign it, you ll be bankrupt in five years.

The Millers never signed, and five years later they have filed for corporate bankruptcy and Mr. Miller for personal bankruptcy. The Phoenix Toledo principals said they lost $250,000 in their dealings with TV 48.

Nearly half of that came from a trust fund that Mr. Rohrbacher s late aunt had set up for him and his siblings. He said he apologized to his family about the loss but promised to eventually return the money to the trust fund.

Mr. Miller shrugged off any responsibility for the investors loss, saying the money did not go to him personally, but to Phoenix Toledo.

Mr. Robinson, Mr. Rohrbacher, and other Phoenix investors said they learned a great deal about low-power stations through their dealings with the Millers and have started a lucrative business buying and selling TV stations around the country.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.



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