For LightSquared founder Philip Falcone, a man who has seen his 2008 assets of $28 billion dwindle to less than $5 billion today, having the Securities and Exchange Commission hound him for mishandling the payment of his 2009 personal federal and state taxes of $113 million must be a bit irksome. The SEC alleges that Falcone borrowed the money (the SEC said “fraudulently”) from his investors’ deposits. He did, however, pay it back, with interest, in 2011. Unfortunately, that was after the SEC had started to investigate allegations that he had also improperly resisted attempts by some investors to remove money from one of his hedge funds, while allowing other investors to do so. The SEC wants to bar him from serving as an officer or a director of any U.S. public company and impose a hefty fine. No date for a hearing has been announced.
For most of us, that might be enough of a headache. But then, few of us operate at Falcone’s altitude, and he appears to take it all in his stride. While LightSquared currently owes one investor group $322 million and owes another group $1.1 billion, and with the latter agreeing to his holding on to $190 million for 12 months to analyze future market opportunities, it comes as no surprise to close observers that a bankruptcy judge has now approved LightSquared’s request for a further loan of $41.4 million, with an option for an additional $10 million “under certain circumstances.” That money is earmarked for lease payments and unspecified “building projects.”
To many, this suggests that Falcone must be the world’s greatest salesman, and he undoubtedly is talented in that direction. But his creditors know that he is also a shrewd player, with an unusual ace in the hole. It’s a big ace, in the form of the largest civil communications satellite ever built, currently orbiting the globe and ready to start work. It and an identical spare satellite in storage, plus the entire terrestrial support infrastructure, were built by Boeing, and LightSquared snapped up the whole lot when the previous owner went bankrupt. There are no reliable estimates of the value of these assets in the ever swirling relationships of the telecom industry, but there is one common denominator, which is that the cost of anything substantial is expressed in units of billions of dollars. Even LightSquared’s allocated frequencies–when not used by high-powered ground stations disrupting GPS but dedicated to their approved space applications–have a good deal of value, and AT&T is currently said to have an interest.
A Platinum Handshake?
It’s always hard to say goodbye, but there was some consolation for former LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja in his resignation in February. Documents released by the company indicate Ahuja’s employment contract included a base salary of $2 million per year, plus a target bonus of 150 percent, and the award of 8.83 million shares of stock, currently valued at approximately $150 million, which Ahuja retains. (Had LightSquared’s nationwide Internet plan succeeded, those shares would have been worth at least $800 million, based on a company consultant’s estimates.) LightSquared did not own a corporate aircraft but Ahuja’s contract included domestic and short-haul international travel by private jet, and the executive could “require the use of private airplanes for long-haul international travel, as appropriate.” The cost of corporate aircraft operations averaged $100,000 per month before Ahuja’s departure.
But make no mistake about it. Ahuja has been, and continues to be, a highly respected, top ranking individual in domestic and international telecom circles, and his presence at LightSquared clearly enhanced the company’s credibility in both the telecoms and investment communities. That is probably the reason why his contract required him to spend only 50 percent of his time on LightSquared affairs. o