A Philly LPTV’s Ownership Fight Isn’t A Court Bout

1

In the eyes of the FCC, it is a licensed low-power television station on digital channel 21 with a signal contour that places an over-the-air signal over greater Philadelphia and nearby Trenton, N.J., but not Wilmington, Del., to the south. However, the facility remains on its pre-spectrum auction facility of channel 48 “due to long pending matters at the FCC” — and, in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.


Those “long pending matters” were first brought to the attention of RBR+TVBR readers in July 2022, as recent history of WEFG-LD in Philadelphia was shared. Straight out of a soap opera script, tales of e-mail scams and claims of extortion came to light. The Pennsylvania Court got involved because the entity that through its legal counsel, Lilburn, Ga.-based Jeffrey Timmons, believes is the rightful licensee of WEFG-LD wanted the judicial body to declare it the true owner.

On Thursday, a judgment came, and Timmons and his client will now need to focus their fight on 45 L Street NE in Washington, D.C.

In a 24-page ruling, the court affirmed that Philadelphia Television Network’s quest to vacate a receivership, requiring the restoration of its assets, is a matter that is not up to the court.

PTN sought an appeal of an earlier court order denying a motion to enforce its request to get WEFG-LD back.

Now, Timmons and PTN must rely on the FCC in its efforts to restore PTN as the licensee of WEFG-LD. As of today, it is “Former Receiver” Joseph Bernstein, associated with Certified Public Accountancy Spina & Co. And, Bernstein has hardly been a caretaker owner, with reimbursement requests for a new transmitter submitted by him to the Commission over the summer along with a June 2023 request to extend a LPTV engineering Special Temporary Authority (STA) application. There is also a pending license renewal filing, submitted by Bernstein, in front of the FCC. This was initially filed in April 2022.

A VICTIM OF AN AFRICAN SCAM

WEFG-LD, which moved from digital channel 48 as part of the post- FCC spectrum auction repack process, is a unique station. It has a history that saw African American-centric community programming in the mid-2010s. WEFG-LD has been all-digital since the June 2010 failure of its analog transmitter. The activity and matters surrounding the property, formerly WWJT-LD, until late 2018 are tied to Philadelphia Television Network.

That’s when the ownership status of WEFG-LD evolved through a series of incidents that are equally complex and tantalizing. In 2019, a California federal appeals court vacated its ruling appointing Bernstein the station’s receiver, effectively removing him from the role — Timmons and PTN assert. However, an individual who held 45% equity interest in PTNI was found to have engaged in an elaborate internet-fueled scam. To make matters worse, a lender agreed to provide funds under the belief it would help ignite the financial scheme, not knowing it was phony.

Enter Princeton, N.J.-based Richard Glanton, who is presently seeking an appeal of a bankruptcy case being heard in a New Jersey Superior Court that ruled in favor of Newport Investment Group.

That’s the entity that loaned Glanton and former Member of Congress Curt Wheldon (R-Pa.) money as part of an alleged effort “to get $350 million in Libyan oil money” released from the nation of Ghana. Wheldon not only corroborated with Glanton, but approached him with the idea. Only, there was no Libyan oil money. There would be no release of funds. Neither Newport nor its principal, Brian Roche, were aware of this.

Glanton, it became later known, then used the station assets as collateral for a loan from Luxury Asset Lending LLC to “finance his payments to the scammers.” Glanton defaulted, allowing LAL to partially foreclose on PTN’s assets.

With Newport and Roche now enmeshed with Wheldon and Glanton in the phony African funding scheme, Newport moved forward in protecting its finances by claiming to be a “secured judgment creditor.” Timmons, on behalf of PTN, says this was improper, as it was wholly unaware of Glanton’s actions.

This set up a key question: Did Newport have standing as a creditor? Is Philadelphia Television Network responsible for the actions of its shareholders, and ultimately the responsible party even though it was unaware of Glanton’s activities?  Timmons remains vigilant that, based on FCC rules, a lender cannot just take over a radio or TV station in the event of a default on a loan.

However, it is a matter not for the courts but for the Commission, President Judge Jack A. Panella ruled.

“Clearly, in this case, PTNI’s request to return the physical assets, including the tower broadcasting equipment, tower lease, station records, and programming files, does not raise a substantial federal question and does not control the FCC’s determination of who possesses of the FCC license connected to the assets,” he declared. “The trial court’s
conclusion that it lacked the power to grant any relief would essentially prevent PTNI from obtaining a return of the physical assets based upon the vacated receivership order, as the trial court, not the FCC, has jurisdiction to conduct further proceedings following vacatur to discharge the receiver and return property.”

So, what did Panella decide? While his court reversed this portion of the trial court’s order and directed the trial court to return the physical assets to PTNI, it also instructed
the trial court to stay the execution of this transfer to allow the FCC to decide
the license issue.

Even murkier is the status of Bernstein. In Panella’s view, his receivership has terminated. But, what happens next is not up to his court and is a Commission matter. “It now has the power to exercise its discretion to decide whether the license should be transferred to PTNI due to the conclusion of the Pennsylvania proceedings and the vacatur of Bernstein as receiver,” he concluded.

Yet, Bernstein is making filings on behalf of WEFG-LD, and is spending money on new transmission equipment it seeks FCC reimbursement of.

What comes next will likely have new twists and turns. Only, it will be under the jurisdiction of Video Division Chief Barbara Kreisman and Media Bureau Chair Holly Saurer at the FCC.

 

You do not have permission to view the comments.