By: Tom Duggan – July, 2012
Last month, Colonel Sam Poulten of Chelmsford became majority shareholder of Merrimack Valley Radio Corporation which controls 980 WCAP radio in Lowell.
The station’s former majority shareholder, Clark Smidt of Andover had filed a court action against Poulten to take full control of the operations of the station early last year.
Poulten filed his own court action asking the court to order “injunctive relief” and court papers to show that Smidt had been negligent in paying the station’s taxes, including property taxes to the City of Lowell totaling over $36,000. Court documents also show that a restraining order was granted by a judge against Smidt for allegedly making threats at the station. Something that was never covered by the Lowell Sun.
The two finally agreed to settle their dispute out of court, resulting in Smidt selling his shares to Poulten.
But back in April, when Poulten was not the majority shareholder in WCAP radio, and while he was still trying to wrestle control of the station from his partner (Smidt), The Lowell Sun’s Chris Scott told his readers that it was Poulten who owed the back taxes for the station, something that Poulten said damaged his and the station’s reputation.
CHRIS SCOTT’S COLUMN
“In April, Poulten infuriated city officials.” Chris Scott wrote in the Sun.
“The Law Department agreed not to place liens against the station’s transmitter site on Totman Road in Pawtucketville in its April 26 tax lien auction because Poulten told them he was scheduled to close on the deal to buy out station co-owner Clark Smidt.”
Scott never bothered to inform his readers that, at the time, Poulten was not responsible for the station’s delinquent property taxes as the minority partner.
And when Poulten called the City of Lowell to inform them that he would pay the taxes at the closing of the sale of Clark Smidt’s shares in the station, Scott continued to misinform his readers using quotes allegedly made by City Solicitor, Christine O’Connor.
Scott wrote: “On April 12, 2012 Mr. Poulten contacted the city and represented that he had a closing scheduled for April 23, 2012,” Solicitor Christine O’Connor said in an email. “He further represented that immediately following the closing the total amount of delinquent taxes would be paid in full to the City. On the day of the scheduled closing, he contacted a member of the Law Department and reported that the closing was running a bit late, but that it was moving forward and that he would be appearing at City Hall later that day with the money owed. That did not occur.”
There’s a reason it didn’t occur. Poulten said Thursday the closing never happened. His lawyer, Scott Bratton, apparently had surgery. Poulten said it will now happen sometime in May.
Needless to say, O’Connor wasn’t too pleased when she learned Thursday that the closing didn’t happen.
“He was afforded an opportunity, what he does with it is up to him,” O’Connor said. “Our security is not lost. The only thing lost is his credibility.”
LOWELL SUN, CREDIBILITY LOST?
“The city solicitor seemingly went out of her way to take a whack at someone who made a promise that was kept,” Poulten said. “…at least if the quote in the Sun was accurate. Then compounding it by a Lowell Sun employee, a competitor I remind you, who didn’t get the story right.”
“A check for full amount of delinquent taxes that Mr. Smidt hadn’t paid was cut at the closing table by the closing attorney James Flood. I kept my word but that’s not the way the solicitor or the Sun made it seem. They acted as if I had control of the closing date and I was misleading them, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
He had to send over proof that he had a closing scheduled and apparently the day of closing he indicated it was moving forward and he was going to be in later that day with a check. Again he was given an opportunity and he never contacted us that day to let us know that the closing didn’t go through.
But he hadn’t come in and paid that day in fact we had not heard from him again after that point.
“Quite simply,” Poulten continued. “When I became aware that there were delinquent taxes owed by Mr. Smidt, I spoke with the City. At the time I wasn’t even the controlling partner, and it wasn’t I who was responsible for the tax bill, it was Mr. Smidt. I was trying to be a good citizen. I wanted to communicate to the city officials that this was something I was going to take care of once I was legally able to. The initial closing was delayed because Mr. Smidt wasn’t ready and that’s why the April payment was never made. I didn’t own the station yet.”
Poulten said he told the city that control of station was about to change hands, and although the former partner, Mr. Smidt didn’t feel he should have to pay the taxes, “I wanted to honor the tax bill and pay directly after the closing.”
“The city solicitor had no business commenting to the radio stations competitor. She wasn’t just talking about any business in Lowell, she was talking about a business that was major competitor and I have no idea why she did that. I was shocked and disappointed, it was very unprofessional. No other business that owed taxes was highlighted or mentioned publicly. And by the way, those other businesses that owed taxes when the story was written, still owe and their bills had to be sent to auction.”
Poulten said Scott walked a fine line in misinforming his readers.
“When The Sun reported that taxes were paid, he [Chris Scott] began his story with city officials were “infuriated” that Poulten promised to pay the taxes at the closing, which I did.
I can’t imagine what city officials would be ‘infuriated’ that a local business promised to pay the taxes, but Mr. Scott never named the alleged ‘city officials’ he referred to.”
“It was partially true what he wrote, but it was not accurate, not completely. When the Sun called me I told them I had every intention to pay Smidt’s delinquent tax bill and that as a good citizen I didn’t see the need to send the tax bill to auction. If they did that the city would not get the entire amount.”
That was never reported.
“As far as I was concerned there was no need to pay less than 100 cents on a dollar. I wasn’t going to pay any less than what was owed. Somehow that made me a bad guy, the way the Lowell Sun reported it. The idea of the city bundling my tax bill with others, and selling it at discount would have only made them, maybe 80 cents on the dollar. And by the way, at the auction that we weren’t a part of, nobody bid. Not one person bid on any of those other delinquent tax bills. It was not a money maker for the city. So, they weren’t doing me any favors by holding our tax bill back from auction. They actually made more money by waiting until I was legally able to pay the bill.”
Poulten said that he had always had a great relationship with city officials in Lowell and that “the statements of one employee should not reflect on the rest of the officials who are doing things right.”
“This isn’t about City of Lowell doing anything wrong I want to make that very clear. It was one employee of the city, the City Solicitor, not being discreet and making statements that she had no business making. It’s also about Chris Scott of the Sun saying Sam Poulten was responsible for paying the taxes when the fact of the matter is, it was my former partner Clar
k Smidt who was responsible for paying the taxes, not the person Chris Scott named in his column.”
CITY SOLICITOR O’CONNOR’S REACTION
Lowell City Solicitor Christine O’Connor told the Valley Patriot that the incident was the result of lack of communication.
“On that quote about lost credibility: I don’t know exactly if that is word for word what I said, but certainly he [Poulten] was afforded an opportunity. What I explained to them [The Sun] was, Mr. Poulten was afforded what everyone else was. This is not a case where someone got preferential treatment because they own a radio station, the opportunity that Mr. Poulten was afforded was no different than anyone else in a similar circumstance.
If there’s a scheduled real estate closing and that closing is happening near the auction date, we will take people in that category off the auction list. The idea behind it was to get money back to the city where it belongs. If there’s some way of that happening short of auction we don’t want to be in a position where people can pay but because of our actions we interrupt that process.
So, what I told the Sun was, no preferential treatment was given to him. [Editor’s note: that was never reported by Chris Scott of the Sun]
As far as the portion of the article about my being upset, not to contradict the article, but my point in all of this was that we were not sitting around saying darn that Poulten, we’re mad at him.
My point was, if someone makes representations and then doesn’t follow through the city is not losing any collateral. So, that part of what was in the newspaper was accurate. By giving Poulten an opportunity to satisfy the taxes we are not putting the city position in jeopardy. And he wasn’t being treated differently than anyone else, which seemed to be their concern.
He had to send over proof that he had a closing scheduled and apparently the day of closing he indicated it was moving forward and he was going to be in later that day with a check. Now, it may very well be that the closing didn’t go forward and that there was nothing he could do about it. But not having heard from Mr. Poulten afterwards, you can see how it could be viewed as representations made and not carried through”.
CONFUSION ON THE TAX BILL ADDRESS
“One of the things that was confusing to me was that one of the year’s delinquent tax bills that was being attributed to me was billed to North East Radio, which was the company headed by Mr. Cohen who formerly owned the radio station. Adding to that confusion was that all the tax bills were sent to Smidt’s home in Andover instead of the radio station at 243 Central St in Lowell, where all the other bills like utility bills were sent.
I mean, I can only speculate as to why the bills were sent to his house. The only different between Andover and Lowell is I am not in Andover so maybe this was done so I wouldn’t see the bill. But all of that is water under the bridge.
I wish Clark all the best in his future endeavors and I am glad we were able to settle our court cases amicably and outside the courtroom. I also want to thank Lowell Attorney Scott Bratton who went above and beyond to help me get this issue settled he is a real phenomenal criminal attorney.”
Poulten said that the sale of WCAP involved restructuring his former partner’s debt and expressed his gratitude to Lowell Five Bank.
“I have to give a big thank you to a Lowell bank that really ‘gets it’ and that’s the Lowell Five Cents Savings Bank. They refinanced the Merrimack Valley Radio loan at a very favorable interest rate, and an excellent aromatization schedule to reorganize the station’s debt. This allowed us to pay all our back taxes and still have a monthly payment less than we had before all this began. That is really a bank that knows how to sponsor a small business.
I encourage anyone with small business in the Valley to meet with a commercial banker at Lowell Five because our guess is that they will be given the same great service as we were. Lowell Five Bank came through for me they really stepped up to the plate. They say ‘it starts with a conversation’ and I say it ends with a closing.