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Former Sentinel Editor Files Suit

Courts: The action, the latest twist in a long dispute, accuses the paper's owner of fraud in purchasing a building.

July 23, 2002|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former editor with the Los Angeles Sentinel, the largest African American-owned newspaper in the West, has filed a lawsuit accusing the paper and its owner of fraud, accounting irregularities and breach of fiduciary duties.

Brad Pye Jr., a former aide to late Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth J. Hahn and a minority shareholder in the Sentinel, filed suit last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Jennifer Thomas, president and chief executive of the Sentinel, along with a company formed by her late husband that now owns controlling interest in the Sentinel. The paper has a circulation of about 20,000.

The suit alleges that for many years, Thomas and her company, Ken Jen Co.--the Sentinel's majority shareholder--engaged in a pattern of "abuse of authority, self-dealing and diversion of corporate assets

The lawsuit says that when the Sentinel's longtime headquarters on Central Avenue was sold, the proceeds were used to buy the paper's new home on Crenshaw Boulevard in the name of Ken Jen Co. The Sentinel paid about $5,400 in monthly rent to Ken Jen Co. and also paid most of the property taxes, the suit said.

"If the Sentinel, as a company, owned the property on Central, how did it become a renter once it moved to Crenshaw?" asked attorney Ed Hubbard, who along with Anthony Willoughby is representing Pye. "We believe that the evidence will show a clear pattern of fraudulent activity."

The Sentinel's attorney, John Pfeiffer, called the allegations "absolutely without merit."

"Once the other side has been presented, they will be shown to be just that, without merit," he said.

Jennifer Thomas could not be reached for comment.

The suit marks the latest twist in a long-running dispute between Pye and members of the Thomas family.

Pye worked for the paper for many years and at one point served on the board of directors, according to the suit. He was fired in 1984 by Jennifer Thomas' husband, Kenneth, the suit said, but retained 100 shares he had been given. Following a later court battle, Pye received an additional 25 shares.

Pye seeks $2 million in compensatory damages and as much as $20 million in punitive damages, Willoughby said.

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