An unfolding investigation at the Las Vegas Review Journal revealed that not only is Sheldon Adelson the anonymous mogul who purchased the newspaper earlier this month, but before his new association with the newspaper became public, three reporters were asked by their superiors without explanation to 'observe' three judges — one of whom fined Adelson's company Las Vegas Sands Corp. $250K.
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When it was announced earlier this month that an anonymous buyer acquired the Review Journal for $140 million, media watchers, pundits, and Review Journal employees were curious, to say the least.
On December 11, the Review Journal announced that it had been sold to News + Media Capital Group LLC, a newly formed Delaware-domiciled company backed by "undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry," Michael Schroeder, who was identified as the manager of News + Media, said Thursday at an employee meeting, as reported by the Review Journal.
But this was all a shell game. The real owner of the Review Journal's parent company was none other than Sheldon Adelson, as Fortune reported on December 16, a day after the Republican debate, which Adelson hosted.
In a series of self-investigation articles, the review Journal revealed that Patrick Dumont, who is listed on the website of Las Vegas Sands Corp. as the company's senior vice president of finance and strategy, put together the deal at the behest of his father-in-law, Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO.
Dumont, a 41-year-old from New York, in 2009 married Sivan Ochshorn, a daughter of Adelson's wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, from a prior marriage. Sivan Ochshorn Dumont runs the Israel Hayom daily, also owned by his father-in-law.
The announcement of Adelson's involvement juxtaposed with a strange assignment three of the newspaper's reporters received weeks earlier from their publisher, sparked a deeper investigation into those assignments. On November 6, three reporters were told by their editor to drop all of their other work and investigate three Clark County, Nevada judges.
The reason for the assignment was never explained to the reporters or the editors: "We've simply been told we must do it, and it must start on Tuesday," Review Journal Deputy Editor James G. Wright wrote in a memo reported by the Review Journal.
One of the three judges being observed was District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, whose current cases include Jacobs v. Sands, a long-running wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., by Steven Jacobs, who ran Sands' operations in Macau, China, the Review Journal reported.
In May of this year, Adelson and the judge had a run in when he declined to answer routine questions directly, if at all.
"Sir, you need to answer the question," Gonzalez told him.
When Adelson argued, as the Review Journal chronicled, Gonzalez told him, "Sir, you don't get to argue with me. You understand that?"
This was not Adelson's first antagonistic exchange with the judge. Gonzalez fined Sands and its Chinese subsidiary $25,000 in 2012 after finding their attorneys had tried to deceive the court, and this year she fined Sands China $250,000 for withholding documents.
To add a drop of mystery to the already strange stew, on November 30th, the New Britain Herald, a small Connecticut newspaper not affiliated with the Review Journal's parent publisher GateHouse, published an article critical of the performance of courts that specialize in business disputes. It singled out Judge Gonzalez criticizing her "inconsistent and even contradictory" handling of the Adelson case, the Review Journal explained.
The article's author was identified as Edward Clarkin, whose byline is found only one other time in the archives of the Connecticut newspaper, on a review of a Polish restaurant. Clarkin was not able to be reached for comment, nor found at all.
When contacted for comment Thursday, Gonzalez said only that she didn't mind reporters or anyone else sitting in her courtroom, which is open to the public, but declined to comment further because the issue involves pending cases.
What remains unclear is why Adelson had refused to come forward for so long after purchasing the paper, per the Society of Professional Journalist's code of ethics, which calls for transparency in the media.
In an interview with Reuters in Macau on Friday ahead of the formal opening of his new St. Regis hotel, Adelson said his family bought the Review Journal as a financial investment, dismissing speculation the deal was aimed at controlling media in the United States.
The move however, doesn’t appear to be an investment, given the $140 million price tag, nor does it appear to be for self-glory, as he held off on announcing his involvement.
Fortune reporters speculate that perhaps the move is a way to exert political influence during an election year, especially in a swing state like Nevada. That in mind, it is unlikely that reporters and editors would manipulate a newspaper to reflect a specific ideology per reporting ethics, and perhaps more jadedly, when they aren’t even aware of who is signing their checks.
But Adelson too has a response to that: "The Review-Journal is already on my side of the political spectrum," he said of the paper's Libertarian-leaning opinion pages.