Flathead County authorities shut down the KGEZ radio station south of Kalispell Thursday afternoon, following a court ruling earlier in the week that allowed for the liquidation of station owner John Stokes’ assets. The move by law enforcement left a crowd of Z-600 listeners standing down the road from the station confused as to what had happened, and lamenting what might be the permanent silencing of a talk radio station they cherished.
Several Flathead County Sheriff’s Department vehicles blocked off the driveway of the AM station, while Sheriff Mike Meehan, County Attorney Ed Corrigan, undersheriff Pete Wingert and several deputies moved in and out of the building. One deputy walked out carrying a bulletproof vest in his hand.
Stokes and his daughter, Elizabeth Stokes-Pickavance, eventually emerged from the station, climbed into their vehicles while deputies moved to allow them to exit, and headed south on U.S. Highway 93.
Local bankruptcy attorney Jim Cossitt posted on the front door of KGEZ an order by federal bankruptcy court Judge Ralph Kirscher granting the motion by the court-appointed trustee, Dick Samson of Missoula, to turn over the assets of Stokes as part of his bankruptcy proceedings. Kirscher’s order also called for Flathead County authorities to assist in enforcing the order.
Meehan and Corrigan declined to comment as they exited the station, directing questions to Cossitt, Samson’s attorney, who would say little.
“These premises are now under control of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court,” Cossitt told several reporters. “Anyone on these premises is trespassing.”
Stokes did not return several calls from the Beacon for comment this week.
According to City Attorney Charlie Harball, the judge’s order this morning allowed the trustee “complete control over what he does with the station,” and it is likely he will now evaluate what the station is worth and whether it is worthwhile to continue running it.
The seizure is a result of Kirscher’s ruling earlier this week, which converted Stokes’ bankruptcy proceedings from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7. Under Chapter 11, the bankrupt party is considered a debtor-in-possession, and is allowed to maintain control of their assets so long as they draw up a court-approved plan explaining how to pay back their creditors. Chapter 7, however, allows for the liquidation of the debtor’s assets in order to pay back his creditors, appointing a trustee to assess their value and removing most of a debtor’s assets from their control.
Stokes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection March 4 after a Flathead County jury ordered him in late 2008 to pay $3.8 million to businessmen Davar and Todd Gardner, owners of a nearby recreational vehicle store and auction barn, for defaming them on his radio show. Kirscher’s decision also denied a request by Stokes to put a hold on bankruptcy proceedings until after he could appeal the Gardner decision to the state Supreme Court.
In his decision, Kirscher said Stokes repeatedly misstated the value and amount of his assets, and hinged his plan for paying off his creditors on winning an appeal against the Gardners and having the city of Kalispell pay him a large sum for the radio towers he owns which conflict with the airspace of the municipal airport.
At an August meeting with creditors, Stokes testified that “he had never filed an income tax return for the State of Montana and that he has not filed a federal income tax return since 1985,” the decision read. In addition to owing the state and federal government, Stokes also owes several mortgages and loans.
Among the KGEZ listeners gathered outside the station drawn by the spectacle of Sheriff’s Office vehicles and media surrounding it, few seemed aware of Stokes’ legal troubles beyond what the host had mentioned on the air. But they lamented the loss of what they said was a unique and conservative voice in the Flathead Valley.
“This radio station was the voice for everybody to hear what’s really going on,” David Dupont said. “It’s really a shame.”
Dupont and the other listeners present said Stokes would talk about the issues the mainstream media won’t, like the gradual encroachment of individual freedoms by the federal government in the form of health care overhaul legislation, vaccinations, and a perceived effort by the government to force everyone to carry ID cards, among other things.
“We will perform rallies ourselves to get the donations we need, because we need this radio station,” Dupont added. “John Stokes needs to be back on the air.”
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