EAST ST. LOUIS – Declaration of bankruptcy by four AM radio stations has halted an investigation of their possible control by shock jock Bob Romanik, who calls himself the Grim Reaper of radio.
A judge in Washington stayed proceedings on Entertainment Media Trust’s licenses on Sept. 12, a day after the trust filed a petition in bankruptcy court.
Lawyers who requested the stay for the trust suggested surrender, with references to involuntary transfers, liquidation, and subsequent license applications.
“In other words, in this instance a stay may better position this matter to be resolved expeditiously than a continuation of the proceeding without delay,” the lawyer for the trust wrote.
The Federal Communications Commission and St. Clair County board chairman Mark Kern oppose renewal of the licenses.
They suspect the trust conceals Romanik’s control.
He has represented for nine years that others control the stations, which he can’t control because he is a convicted felon, having served time for bank fraud and obstruction of justice.
Entertainment Media Trust acquired the stations from 2006 to 2010, with Romanik’s son Stephen Romanik officially controlling the trust as beneficiary.
Belleville lawyer Dennis Watkins officially shared control as trustee.
Kern petitioned the communications commission to deny renewal of the licenses in 2012, as an individual rather than a public official.
Watkins responded by calling Kern “an aggrieved party with a personal vendetta against Robert Romanik for his exercise of free speech.”
He accused Kern of character assassination on a person who was not a trust employee, “much less a secret controlling influence on the stations.”
Watkins wrote that Romanik formed the trust in 2006, as a vehicle to benefit his son.
“As such, Bob Romanik’s prior convictions and personal dealings are irrelevant to this inquiry,” Watkins wrote.
He wrote that Stephen Romanik incorporated Insane Broadcasting in 2006.
“It is engaged in the daily operation of the stations and production of much of the stations’ programming,” Watkins wrote.
He wrote that no love was lost between Kern and Romanik.
“However, bad blood is not a legal justification for the commission to deny a license renewal application,” he wrote.
“To be frank, Bob Romanik simply is an outsized personality and a natural promoter who enjoys having a radio show and supporting, in that small way, his son’s business.”
Stephen Romanik died in 2015.
Watkins proposed to transfer the trust’s beneficial interest to Katrina Sanders, who shares a Belleville address with Romanik.
Kern, whose petition to deny renewal remained pending, petitioned to deny it due to the change in beneficiaries.
“Mr. Kern doesn’t like criticism, and is trying to silence Robert Romanik from criticizing him,” Watkins responded.
This June, the commissioners announced that they referred Entertainment Media Trust to an administrative law judge for a hearing.
They stated that they found significant evidence for Romanik’s control.
They stated that he established the trust and provided all funds for acquisition of the stations, but was not listed as a party in license applications. They stated that he identified himself as a radio station owner, assigned the trust’s interests to his girlfriend, and negotiated a marketing agreement.
They also stated that the trust instrument didn’t contain provisions insulating him from ownership, as commission rules require.
On Aug. 20, the commission asked the trust for documents about communications among Bob Romanik, Stephen Romanik, Watkins, and Sanders.
On Aug. 30, on behalf of the trust, Davina Shaskin of Arlington, Va., moved to extend the time for responses.
Shaskin sent a letter to administrative law judge Jane Hinckley Halprin on Sept. 3, advising her that this proceeding forced the trust to consider bankruptcy.
“It is meeting with bankruptcy counsel today to evaluate its options,” Shaskin wrote.
Halprin granted a short extension, and Shaskin filed responses on Sept. 10.
On many requests, she wrote that there were no documents because none of the communications were rendered in writing.
On a request for all payments the trust made to Insane Broadcasting, she wrote that no documents were available.
She pledged to produce such documents as soon as they might be obtained.
She made the same pledge about Insane Broadcasting’s reimbursement of the trust’s repairs and improvements.
She objected to a request for documents showing Insane Broadcasting pays all costs for the stations, writing that the documents aren’t in the trust’s custody.
On Sept. 11, Jerry Graham of O’Fallon filed the trust’s bankruptcy petition.
He valued the licenses at $2 million and accounts receivable at $15,950.
He showed liabilities of $99,632 for Shaskin’s services, $6,989 for Washington lawyer Anthony Lepore, and $14,875 in a communications commission lien.
The liabilities add up to $121,496, about a seventeenth of the assets.
On Sept. 12, Bankruptcy Judge Laura Grandy ordered the trust to file a corporate ownership statement by Sept. 25.
She set a meeting of creditors on Oct. 25.