Bankruptcy judge puts Aces in Chapter 7

Posted: Friday, July 12, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A federal bankruptcy judge has decided that any sale of the Anchorage Aces should be done by a bankruptcy trustee.

Judge Donald MacDonald on Thursday converted the hockey team's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case to Chapter 7. That means Mike Cusack Jr., the sole owner of the Anchorage Aces since 1996, won't have a say in the future of the hockey team.

In explaining his decision, Judge Donald MacDonald cited his belief Cusack has grossly mismanaged the team.

''We need someone the creditors can trust,'' MacDonald said.

Cusack, 35, said he was disappointed by the ruling, but will do whatever is asked of him.

''I've been working very hard to find a buyer that would pay all the creditors and it looks like we might have succeeded,'' Cusack said. ''I'm willing to facilitate the trustee in any way I can.''

Aces Professional Hockey Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May with a debt of more than $2 million owed to more than 100 creditors, including 11 players from last year's team.

Chapter 11 allows the company to continue operating while it works out its money problems, while Chapter 7 liquidates the company to pay off its debts.

Since the filing, two separate groups have offered to buy the team and keep it in Anchorage.

Initial offers from a group headed by Dan Coffey and Terry Parks of Dollar Rent-A-Car and Express Lube were rejected by Cusack. Bill Artus, Cusack's attorney, said the offer from the Coffey-Parks group was for about $1.2 million.

On Wednesday, Cusack said he accepted an offer from a group led by Duncan Harrison, owner of Alaskan Automotive Distributing. The offer, for slightly less than $1.9 million, was submitted to the court prior to Thursday's hearing. Questions about how much money is guaranteed and the identity of the group's other members arose at the hearing.

Now, it appears both offers will be considered by a Chapter 7 trustee.

The task of a Chapter 7 trustee is to sell troubled businesses' assets as quickly as possible. But that work comes at a cost. Artus, while unsuccessfully arguing that the case remain in Chapter 11 with Cusack in control, said he was told by U.S. Trustee Barbara Franklin that the fee for a Chapter 7 trustee could reach $79,000. The money would come from the team's purchase price.

''That's money that could pay creditors' claims,'' Artus said.

West Coast Hockey League asked for the appointment of a trustee.

''The league's main concern is that a new owner is in place as soon as possible,'' said Michael Mills, who represented the seven-team league. ''Mr. Cusack has not established a good track record of moving things along.''

Time is running out. Aug. 1 marks the deadline for the Aces to make contract offers to 12 players they protected the rights to last month. If no offers are extended by then, the players will be free to sign with other WCHL teams.

Any sale will need the approval of the court and the league.

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