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Sinclair Station Buyers in Tribune Deal Would Have Company Ties

  • WGN sale to Maryland car dealer called ‘shell game’ by critics
  • Company says regulators have approved similar sales in past

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is attempting to steer clear of violating U.S. media ownership limits in its push to buy Tribune Media Co., by selling two of the largest TV stations involved in the deal to buyers with ties to a Sinclair executive.

WGN in Chicago would be sold for $60 million to a Maryland executive whose car dealership is controlled by Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith. And WPIX in New York would go for $15 million to a company controlled by the estate of Smith’s mother.

“This appears to be a shell game rather than a transaction,” said Gene Kimmelman, president of the Public Knowledge policy group, which opposes the merger. ‘‘It’s hard to believe this is truly an arms-length sale in any way, shape or form.”

Sinclair would operate each station and retain an option to buy each back, according to filings on March 1 by the Maryland-based company at the Federal Communications Commission.

“These agreements are structured to be consistent with similar agreements that the FCC has approved for over ten years,” said Rebecca Hanson, Sinclair’s senior vice president for policy.

Conservative Leanings

The $3.9 billion deal, as proposed in May, would give Sinclair, which says its has 193 stations, an additional 42 stations in 33 more markets. The Maryland-based broadcaster is known for its conservative leanings -- for instance, it hired Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump, as chief political analyst.

The deal needs approval from the FCC and from antitrust authorities at the Justice Department. Sinclair on Feb. 28 told investors it’s nearing approval and predicted the deal would close during the second quarter of this year.

According to Sinclair’s filings, WGN would be bought by a Maryland-based entity called WGN-TV, LLC, whose president is Steven Fader. Fader’s Atlantic Automotive Corp., which owns automobile dealerships and a car leasing company, is controlled by Smith, according to a Sinclair securities filing. Telephone calls left at Fader’s businesses weren’t returned.

WPIX would be bought by a company controlled by Cunningham Broadcasting Corp., which operates other stations jointly with Sinclair. That entity is, in turn, controlled by the estate of Carolyn Smith.

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