April 11, 2009

Labor Dept. issues Tribune Co. subpoena

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating the Tribune Co.'s employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, company officials say.

The Tribune Co. Friday told reporters from the newspaper it owns, The Chicago Tribune, that it has complied with a March 2 subpoena from Labor Department authorities seeking an extensive range of documents.

Court filings indicated the probe concerns the Tribune's ESOP and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a law that protects participants in pension plans. The newspaper said a Labor Department spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the agency's policy to neither confirm nor deny investigations.

We view this as a routine inquiry and are responding by producing the requested documents concerning the ESOP, a statement released by the company said.

The ESOP was set up in December 2007 to take the company private, part of a complex bid by Chicago real estate billionaire Sam Zell to buy the Tribune Co., which owns the Tribune, the Chicago Cubs and other major newspapers and radio and television stations.

The highly leveraged deal saddled Tribune Co. with nearly $13 billion in debt, and establishing the ESOP provided it with tax advantages, the newspaper reported. The Tribune Co. declared bankruptcy in December in the face of declining advertising revenues.