he's got the
blue cross, blue shield blues
"Very nice; very nice, indeed."
A more unlikely tiff can hardly be imagined: mega-sized insurance company squares off against a central Massachusetts ex-professor turned travel agent and rock 'n' roll impresario. At stake? "Eleven million dollars," says the insurance company, an affiliate of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield federation of insurance companies and underwriters.
"Foul play," complains Gil Markle, owner of the American Leadership Study Groups, Inc. (ALSG), a sponsor of overseas study trips for high school students and teachers, and of Long View Farm, a high profile, rock 'n' roll recording studio located in the boondocks frequented by artists such as The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens, and other sweet-voiced high rollers.
"Kaddafi's to blame," explains Markle, a 50 year-old father of two. "In 1986, when the U.S. bombed Tripoli, thousands of students planning to travel that summer to Europe with ALSG canceled at the last minute, producing losses for ALSG in the millions of dollars. So, a year later, the company chose to insure its travelers with Access America against any tuition losses due to terrorism cancellations, hoping to restore confidence and business volume."
Only, the business didn't recover in 1987, with students and parents still worried about bombs in Paris and continued threats against U.S. jetliners, and ALSG was forced to consider the cancellation of its 1987 summer tours altogether.
"Here's where it got interesting," Markle continues. "Access America stood to lose a bundle if ALSG canceled its summer tours, and it made more sense for them to help the company through its summer operations than to face insurance claims totaling six million dollars or more. So they made a few phone calls for us, advanced us some cash, and issued several letters of credit. Result: the problem was solved for the time being. What we didn't expect, though, was that the insurance company would take over ALSG in order to make certain it got paid back, and that failing that repayment, that the insurance company would move to strip ALSG of its assets and sell off my properties, including Long View Farm, the recording studio!"
"Not quite so," complains Jon Ansell, current CEO of ALSG, sent up from New York City to look after the operations of the student travel company, replacing Markle. "ALSG had more problems than just Kadaffi, and we think Access America was entrapped into lending assistance to ALSG, in the public interest. All we want is our money back."
"Sure they want their money back," Markle quips. "And I'd like to give it back to them. Only it's not there, due mainly to heavy-handed corporate-style
mismanagement by them of my affairs. I never asked them to screw things up so. That was their idea."
Markle also argues that Blue Cross' insistence to recover from his travel company, and from him personally, sums which would otherwise have been irretrievably lost in payments to insured parties, amounts to a policy of claims avoidance. "They were spared payments of millions of dollars by our coming to them in 1987," Markle explains. "A fine 'thank you,' we got."
A judge or jury will probably have the final say in Markle's beef. An action in counterclaim filed in Worcester Superior Court last week by Markle's attorneys, alleging unfair and deceptive business practices, calls for Blue Cross and Blue Shield to retire from corporate management duties at ALSG, and to pay ALSG and Markle an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
In the meanwhile, the beat goes on in Markle's deep-country musical retreat. The top Japanese band Loudness is finishing up a six-week recording project, apparently oblivious to the drama raging within Markle's besieged business empire.
"Very nice," says group leader and lead guitarist, Azuma Kawishi. "Very nice, indeed."