Antonio Cesar Guel and his Hispanic Christian Community Network have become infamous in low-power FM circles for their role in 245 applications for LPFM stations during last fall’s filing window–a full 8% of all 2,799 applications filed. LPFM advocacy groups and other applicants have filed informal objections and petitions to deny with the FCC claiming that the organizations listed on these applications are not genuine, local non-profits, and therefore in contravention with the rules for low-power FM.
So far 116 of the 245 applications have been dismissed. Four construction permits have been approved by the FCC. However, these applicants have distanced themselves from Guel, demonstrating a true local presence.
Now Guel’s HCCN seems to be running into financial straits. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division on November 11, claiming liabilities of $500,000 to $1 million. Included amongst HCCN’s creditors are broadcast tower operators in Massachusetts, Florida and Connecticut, an antenna manufacturer, the IRS and Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia).
The company’s Statement of Financial Affairs filed on December 8 also lists a lawsuit which HCCN is defending in Los Angeles. The plaintiffs pursuing the case are also listed as creditors.
According to court documents filed in this suit–Jose Gonzales, et al v Iglesia Jesucristo Es Mi Refugio, Inc., et al–Guel and business partners are accused of defrauding a group of five Los Angeles area ministers, led by Gonzalez, out of $1,299,090. This money was paid to the defendants beginning in 2007 for the purchase of two low-power television stations owned by HCCN. The plaintiffs claim that no filing has been made with the FCC to transfer the licenses to them, and that they have not received the licenses they paid for.
Yet, the case is more complex than this. The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants promised to move the stations to new, better locations, that it turns out are not tenable because of potential interference with existing stations. Moreover, due to being off-air for a year, the FCC canceled the license for one of the stations in June 2010. The plaintiffs allege fraud because they say the defendants should have known that the stations could not be relocated and upgraded as they represented.
Now, this is only a very brief summary of the case intended to give a basic understanding of what Guel and HCCN have been accused of; there are many more details. The suit is scheduled for a jury trial beginning March 26, 2015, provided no settlements are reached before then.
HCCN currently has licenses for 24 LPTV and television translator stations. It’s still too early to know what effect the bankruptcy filing and the lawsuit will have on those stations or on any of the 129 pending LPFM applications associated with Guel and HCCN. Given the potential impact on low-power community radio we will continue to monitor this case.