Lowell Register denies interfering with Creek Media
On the day when Register Communications employees were warned of cost-cutting measures, including temporary layoffs, a judge ordered Lowell Register to hand over checks he has admitted taking and for him to stop intercepting the company’s mail.
In early 2015, a Bibb County judge appointed a New York attorney as a receiver — someone to manage the assets of Register Communications and its subsidiaries, Radio Peach and Radio Perry — after the company failed to pay about $7.5 million in loans, property taxes and payroll taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Creek Media LLC, the new owner of Macon’s The Creek 100.9 FM station, struck a deal with the receiver in May to buy the Radio Perry and Radio Peach stations WPGA-AM, WNEX-AM and WNEX-FM, as well as property where Register Communications owned a radio tower.
They’ve been operating The Creek under a local marketing agreement until the sale is approved by a judge and the Federal Communications Commission.
Lawyers representing Creek Media filed a petition Monday alleging that Register is interfering with their business — intercepting mail, harassing employees and otherwise disrupting their operations.
Superior Court Judge Ed Ennis presided at a hearing Thursday and granted Creek Media’s request for an injunction prohibiting Register from interfering with Creek Media’s rights to operate the station before the sale is approved and while Register’s companies remain under a receiver’s control.
Register contends that the receivership is invalid and a federal bankruptcy judge’s reinstalling him and his wife, Janice, to Register Communications’ board last month gives him rights to retake control of the businesses. Register Communications has a pending Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.
Testifying Thursday, he denied harassing Creek Media employees or disrupting their business.
“That’s a lie,” he said. “I have not interfered with anything they’re doing.”
Wesley Griffith, co-owner and manager of Creek Media, testified that he’s fielded questions from current and potential advertisers about whether Register is regaining control of the radio stations. Employees are rattled, he said.
Griffith said Creek Media didn’t receive a power bill for a radio tower and was told the bill was being withheld.
Some mail for the new station, which operates on Cherry Street in downtown Macon, is still being sent to Register’s office on Forsyth Street, he said.
After calling the receiver and getting the account number for the bill, Creek Media paid the bill and prevented the station from going off the air, Griffith said.
When questioned by Ivy Cadle, an attorney representing the receiver, Register admitted intercepting mail for Register Communications at the Forsyth Street office and holding onto checks, not depositing them.
Initially, he denied knowing the location of the checks despite saying they were in his possession.
When pressed, he said they were in a briefcase in his car, but he wouldn’t say what kind of car it was until the judge told him he had to.
During the hearing, Cadle asked Ennis to hold Register in contempt for violating terms of the receivership and to instruct him not to interfere further with the operations of Radio Peach or Radio Perry.
A bookkeeper who keeps records for Register Communications, Radio Peach and Radio Perry testified that she hasn’t had checks to deposit for payroll. Two recent payroll checks bounced.
Her email account was deleted earlier this month, she said, and several cords were disconnected from her computer.
Another employee testified that Register had told her to stop collecting the mail, that he’d do it.
She said she saw him take checks from a desk drawer and several more from the mail that day.
With Register taking the checks, there are “insufficient funds” in the account the receiver has been using to pay bills, Cadle said.
Without that money and funds previously provided by Green Bull Georgia Partners LLC, the company set up to manage Register Communications, the TV stations won’t be able to continue operations, he said. Green Bull Georgia Partners no longer is funding the business’s shortfalls.
“There’s not enough money coming in to keep the lights on,” Cadle said. “Mr. Register has taken the checks that would have helped keep the lights on.”
The receiver has told employees they’ll be temporarily laid off until the company has money to continue operating, Cadle said.
Also, the receiver has requested permission from the FCC to temporarily stop TV broadcasts. That will allow for the business to preserve its FCC license and maximize the company’s value, Cadle said.
Register’s lawyer, Thomas James, said any checks Register has don’t amount to much.
“It may go dark on its own, no matter what,” James said of the TV stations. He said there’s no evidence Register has interfered with the receivership.
In ruling from the bench, Ennis said, “It must be abundantly clear to everyone in this courtroom, with the possible exception of Mr. Register, that there is still a receivership in place applicable to Radio Peach and Radio Perry, and it will be in place and it will be presumed to be valid until I say it’s not” — or another judge says it’s not.
Ennis ordered Register not to interfere with the receivership and to hand over checks to Cadle’s office by Monday.
If he doesn’t deliver the checks, he’ll face a $100 penalty for each day they’re late up to seven days. After that, the penalty will increase to $250 per day.
Register also is barred from interfering with the ability of Radio Peach and Radio Perry’s employees to do their work and from intercepting Creek Media’s mail.
The judge said Creek Media can send Register a “stay away” letter, and if he visits their Cherry Street office again, they can pursue criminal charges.
James said, “They’ve done that and Mr. Register understands that and he’s going to stay away from them.”
A hearing is likely to be held soon addressing a motion filed by Register’s attorney to end the receivership.