Worcester Tornadoes owner Todd Breighner said Tuesday afternoon that lawsuits filed against him in recent days by local businesses, including the Hilton Garden Inn in Worcester, are "outrageous," but he's also interested in finding interested buyers to take full or partial ownership of the independent, minor-league baseball team.
"I am more than willing to sell the team," Breighner said in an interview at the WBJ Tuesday afternoon. "I'd like to see if people are interested."
Breighner claims the team, which is facing mounting debts from creditors who have filed suit, has a positive balance sheet, and has made a profit since he took ownership in 2009. But it's been a tough season, due to lower-than-projected sponsorships and poor weather, according to Breighner.
As a result, the Tornadoes have fallen behind on payments, Breighner said. The Hilton alleges he owes $32,562, while Jose Canseco, the former major league outfielder who played for the team this season, is seeking $840,000, according to published reports by the Telegram & Gazette. Two other companies have filed smaller suits.
"That's just business. People typically understand," Breighner said, adding that he's about 90 days past due on bills owed to the hotel and he believes there are other businesses that owe even more than the team.
Breighner also claimed that the hotel's attorney, Margaret Melican of Worcester, is an "ambulance chaser," and has been pursuing lawsuits against on behalf of companies without just cause. Melican represents a smaller Fitchburg company that filed suit against the Tornadoes, as well.
Melican flatly denied Breighner's accusations, saying that she does not go looking for clients – they seek her out – and the Hilton Garden Inn suit is valid.
"Anything that ever is filed is carefully researched and very well-grounded in fact and in source," Melican said.
Paul Marcelina, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn, disputed Breighner's claims, saying that his bills are "far beyond" 90 days past due, and that the Tornadoes have the largest late bill of all Hilton Garden Inn customers. Breighner has failed to follow through on a payment schedule, and has even bounced checks, according to Marcelina.
"This is not a normal business practice," Marcelina said.
Marcelina said he has received no indication that Breighner's bill will be paid, and he declined to discuss the status of his lawsuit.
Breighner said he plans to settle up with the creditors, saying "everyone is going to get paid." In the meantime, investors interested in owning at least a piece of the team are welcome, according to Breighner.
As for Canesco's lawsuit, he said it could very likely be settled after this weekend. But Canseco's attorney, Michelle Hubbard of Bellingham, said that as of Wednesday afternoon, Breighner hadn't made an offer to settle.
Breighner said he is hoping the Tornadoes will survive in Worcester after this season, which ends Sept. 3.
"All I want to do is to have a success story," Breighner said.
Worcester is a viable city for a minor league baseball team, despite the Tornadoes' financial troubles, according to Can-Am League Commissioner Miles Wolff. If Breighner can't pay off bills owed to multiple creditors, Wolff said the league may assume management of the team.
"We're going to make every effort," Wolff said Tuesday, a day after the Tornadoes office closed. "We think it's a strong city, a good city for our baseball league. Yes, we definitely want to keep Worcester in the league."
But Breighner is still the owner of the team, Wolff noted, and for now, league officials are waiting to see if he can settle with creditors.
"(Breighner) has told us he has plans, absolutely," Wolff said.
A judge allowed attachment of the team's assets, including inventory, equipment, a liquor license and office furniture, following a motion filed by Melican, the lawyer for Hilton Hilton Garden Inn, according the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
The Telegram reported that assets held by the league for the team's benefit were also attached, but Wolff said the league does not have custody of any money for the team.
In order for the Can-Am League to assume management of the team, and ultimately find new ownership should Breighner fail to settle his debts, league officials will have to be ready with a plan by their annual meeting on Oct. 1, which Wolff said is a tight deadline.
"We've heard some plans and we need to see what the next step is," Wolff said.
As far as Marcelina, the hotel manager, is concerned, the Tornadoes are a quality entertainment option for the Worcester community.
"I'd like to see them around," Marcelina said. "We all do, and I just think they need to change business practices and maintain a timely, proper and professional payment schedule."
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