Breach of Faith

Page 7 of 8

From the bank's headquarters in Jacksonville, a spokeswoman for Barnett refuses to comment at all about the subject of WWFE. Repeated calls requesting comment from Ruben Bacelis, Barnett's account executive at the IAC Advertising Group, were not returned. Carlos Arboleya, who has since retired, says he never told anyone he found La Mogolla unacceptable, nor did anyone from Barnett. "When you're in a public position, you have to expect to have people say things about you," Arboleya explains. "Some people thought [La Mogolla] bothered me tremendously. But sometimes I laughed at what they said."

As for Barnett's motivation for calling in the loan, says WWFE had fallen behind in its payments, though he won't comment about the statements the Milians' offer as documentation. "If they had paid on time, would the bank need to make anything out of it?" he asks. "If you make your payments, can I sue you?"

Maintaining the $2.7 million minimum figure, Judge Weaver set March 4, 1993 as the date for Radio Fe to be auctioned. After the prospective buyers dropped out and Fausto Losana Pelaez and Patricia Franco made their appearances and disappearances, Milian had quietly secured commitments from his friends Jorge Rodriguez and Carlos G. Carreras. (Months earlier, along with Rodriguez's wife Ana Vidal Rodriguez, both men had bought another AM station out of bankruptcy). Milian was to remain on the air and would serve as general director of Radio Fe. He was also given the option to purchase 25 percent of the ownership under a company called Fenix Broadcasting, an option he has not exercised.

Rodriguez had big plans for the powerful station, whose signal is by most estimates heard more widely in Cuba than any other Miami station. "I'll sleep peacefully tonight for the first time in a long time," Milian told El Nuevo Herald at the time.

But a good night's sleep was a long time in coming. The $2.7 million sale didn't close until nearly a year later, because the three investors refused to go through with the deal until a few hundred thousand dollars' worth of unanticipated improvements were made in the station's facilities. Finally, in February 1994, WWFE moved out of its offices on Flagler and into the 27th Avenue office building already occupied by WRHC-AM (1550).

Judge Weaver has retired. Carlos Carreras died this past May (his estate still owns 33 percent of Fenix Broadcasting). And Emilio Milian III, who had been hired as sales manager for both WWFE and WRHC, resigned, citing "problems with the original agreement" to pay him two percent of both stations' total sales. "I think this is the time to secure my future," he wrote in his resignation letter, "and I can't do that here."

Numerous other staffers have left the stations, too. Former and current employees say paychecks are frequently late. Some allege that the station owes them money. "I left because they stopped paying me," says Willie Leiva, a producer of Univisi centsn's Cristina TV show. Until early this year, Leyva had also been writing and producing El Destino Esta en Tus Manos, a popular WWFE advice show that originally began in Cuba. "Everyone knows there are problems with cash liquidity," says another ex-staffer. "At least I have a job," sighs a current employee who complains about being paid three or four weeks late.

Milian didn't want to comment about the economic situation at WWFE.
Jorge Rodriguez, who co-founded Radio Mambi in 1985, denies allegations that WWFE employees aren't paid. But he acknowledges, "We're not making any money." That's partly, Rodriguez asserts, because some advertisers are steering clear of his association with "leftist" programs such as Alvaro Sanchez Cifuentes's.

During the past several months, Rodriguez has made some big changes at both his stations, instituting new nonpolitical shows featuring popular personalities. "Much-needed reconstructive surgery," Exito radio columnist Sandra Marina wrote of the alterations, adding that the stations "have been sounding ragged, and [their] economic vicissitudes are a secret to no one."

Some question whether programming changes will allow Rodriguez to survive in an increasingly competitive AM market, especially given the recent purchase of WQBA and Radio Mambi, along with their FM counterparts, by Spanish-language media giant Heftel Broadcasting Corp. "It may not be a wise choice to run and operate one more AM radio station at this time, particularly when FM currently is getting 70 percent of all advertising dollars," opines Herb Levin. (Levin, who had left WQBA for a time, was one of the owners of the station when Heftel purchased it. He stayed on briefly, then departed, having signed an agreement not to discuss anything relating to Heftel for the next several years.)

Emilio Milian III believes he has plenty of evidence that Barnett capriciously and vindictively drove Radio Fe into bankruptcy. He can't take the matter to civil court, however, until after the bankruptcy case is completed. Most recently, he went to Fort Lauderdale to plead with U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Paul Hyman, Jr., to reduce the amount -- totalling $205,000 -- Tavormina and Hewitt have charged in fees. The judge refused to lower the amount. Barnett's part of the case, at least, is closed: According to court documents, the bank collected $1.1 million, including attorneys' fees and other costs.

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow