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What's worse? A venture capitalist or a guy who smokes crack with underage hookers?

Wednesday, Jun 20 2007
For years now, Brugmann has pontificated about the ownership structure at New Times and VVM, noting, among other things, that venture capitalists have invested in the company. This somewhat mundane fact seems to offend his sense of moral propriety. But as Lacey noted in an article written prior to New Times' merger with Village Voice, New Times' investors looked squeaky clean compared to one of Brugmann's co-owners, an old man with a thing for crack cocaine and underage girls.

Who are your investors, Bruce Brugmann, what are their holdings in the Bay Area, and how has that influenced your coverage in the Bay Guardian? What percentage of the Guardian do your well-heeled investors control?

The question, quite simply, is whether or not Bruce Brugmann is for sale.

It's fun to ask Brugmann-like questions. But let's look at one of the answers, because it's of passing interest.

According to United States Postal records, Brugmann's investors own at least 10 percent of his media empire, and probably more.

The Post Office suspended the Bay Guardian's periodical postage discount in 2002 after Brugmann stopped filing the required paperwork, which lists the names of all investors holding at least 1 percent interest in the company.

While I don't actually lay awake at night worrying about what investors Brugmann protects, my questions about his paper's finances are only partly rhetorical.

For example, one of his investors was Donald Werby, described in business publications as a billionaire real estate tycoon in San Francisco. Werby, who passed away in 2002, was a friend and patron of Anton LaVey. Werby underwrote LaVey's efforts at the Church of Satan (no, really). In 1989 Werby was indicted on 21 counts of having sex with underage prostitutes and paying for it with cocaine. One 13-year-old told the grand jury about smoking crack with the 63-year-old Werby.

I missed the Bay Guardian's coverage of their investor's indictment on child prostitution charges.

Of course, any publisher, even Brugmann, misses a story now and then.

But Werby made headlines for years in everyone else's newspaper but Brugmann's.

The city's district attorney revealed that Werby and his brother tried to pressure his office into dropping the investigation because Donald and his brother Robert Werbe (they spell their last name differently) were big campaign contributors. More headlines.

Three weeks after his initial arrest, Werby was arrested again, this time for trying to bribe a witness, a pregnant 17-year-old. More headlines.

Facing 15 years in prison on the sex charges alone, Werby pled guilty to a mere four misdemeanor counts and paid a fine. He served no jail time. More headlines.

The light sentence became the first major issue in the California attorney general's race in 1990, when the San Francisco prosecutor, Arlo Smith, was challenged for the state office by former Congressman Dan Lungren.

Lungren accused Smith of going in the tank and giving Werbe a sweetheart plea agreement because the billionaire investor was a major contributor to the prosecutor's election coffers. The accusation was not lost in the election shuffle; in fact, the two candidates ended up in a physical confrontation over Werby. More headlines.

Brugmann did not break any of these stories. It is difficult to explain how he could have missed articles that were this much fun. Nor did the Werby/Werbe brothers fade away once all of the criminal hooperocity died down. As owners of the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel and the venerable Cliff Hotel and the far-flung Grosvenor Properties, the brothers made economic news for years and were regulars in Herb Caen's column.

In the 1990s the brothers' economic underpinnings were rocked with three loan foreclosures, four bankruptcies, and a huge judgment against them in a suit brought by the State of California. More headlines.

But not in the Guardian.

About The Author

Michael Lacey


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