The former president of Northwest Publishing and his son are being held personally liable for the company's $10.5 million of debt by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith A. Boulden.
The judge's ruling allows bankruptcy trustee Duane Gillman to go after the personal assets of James B. Van Trease, the president of the vanity publisher, and his son, Jason Van Trease.Gillman is in charge of gathering the company's remaining assets so authors and other creditors can get back some of their money. He had filed suit in bankruptcy court last year, arguing that the Van Treases should be responsible for company debts because of how they ran the company.
From 1991 until it went bust in mid-1996, Northwest Publishing sold thousands of authors nationwide on the dream they could turn their manuscripts into best sellers. Many received only excuses about why their work was never published.
The Van Treases, Boulden ruled, failed to keep the corporation's books, records and bank accounts separate from their per-son-al affairs.
From October 1992 to May 1996, Northwest received more than $10 million from authors who paid the company an average of $5,000 to $6,000 to publish and promote their books.
James Van Trease, however, often sent authors' checks with his son to a check-cashing business and would get back a large zippered bag stuffed with $100 bills, the judge said.
And about once a week, he and his son, a vice president, would go to Nevada - Wendover, Mesquite or Las Vegas - to gamble.
Gillman said he believes he knows where the Van Treases have stashed around $500,000 in cash and assets they took from the company.
"But until we got this judgment we could not go after those assets directly," he said.
In addition, the Van Treases still face criminal charges in state court, said Palmer DePaulis, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.
The office filed 22 counts in November against the father and son, alleging second-degree felony communications fraud, racketeering and tax evasion.
The Van Treases are free on bond. A trial date has not been set.