Who knew federal prosecutors were so good at breaking news? A former Disney administrative assistant and her friend have been arrested for attempting to sell non-public information to investors -- but that may not be the big news. In the complaint (.pdf) that the government released today regarding the action, prosecutors may have inadvertently revealed that Disney may be on the verge of selling its broadcast network ABC.
According to the complaint, the ex-employee -- Bonnie Hoxie -- sent e-mails to several investors saying that she would sell them non-public information before the company's earnings announcement. She was the administrative assistant of Disney's Head of Corporate Communications. But the FBI got wind of this and had an undercover agent posing as an interested investor contact Hoxie. In an attempt to show her insider credentials, Hoxie sent the following e-mail after learning that the fake investor wanted to make a deal:
I only have access to the earnings report that is delivered to us three days before its official release date. Until then i will not be able to get you any other documents but here is a piece of information i can give away to show good faith and build trust. Bob Iger is in serious and advanced negotiations with two private equity firms to sell them the ABC network but no price has been determined yet. I will keep aware of any relevant information that could move the stock price in the future.
(The letter above is presented as is, not corrected for grammar or punctuation.)
Bob Iger is Disney's CEO. A few months later, Hoxie accurately provided Disney's quarterly earnings-per-share as $0.48 to the FBI agent a few hours before the information was publicly released.
It's not a huge surprise that Disney is humoring an ABC sale, but it hasn't been reported that it was in "serious and advanced" negotiations. On Monday, for example, the New York Post speculated that Disney might be considering looking for buyers:
Meanwhile, ABC's future in the Mouse House is also not guaranteed, with Disney chief Bob Iger said to be taking a hard look at the network.
"There are no guarantees," he said recently about ABC's future at Disney. A source said the issue is what to do with the accompanying stations.
Being in "serious and advanced" negotiations with private equity investors for a sale isn't "taking a "hard look" -- it's being on the verge of a sale. If this ex-employee had her facts right -- and she did about EPS -- then this is significant news. Did federal prosecutors realize that they were releasing this potential bombshell by unsealing the complaint?
Disney was contacted about the validity of Hoxie's claim about its intent to sell ABC, but has not yet responded. (I will update this post if they do.)
The reference in the complaint to conversations regarding the ABC Network were and are false.
Now we can only wonder why Hoxie would have used a false claim to attempt to 'built trust'. Usually, you'd want to use a fact to do that. What if the investor had attempted to verify this information by asking around if his friends at any private equity firms are bidding on major networks? It might have also been nice to see the DOJ state that this purported fact was false in the complaint, rather than get the market wondering if it might be true.
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