Mystery Group, Pritzker Make Bids for Eastern

Times Staff Writers

Eastern Airlines confirmed Friday that it has received another bid from Chicago hotel man Jay A. Pritzker, while another group of would-be suitors apparently tipped its hand before it was ready.

An unidentified group offered to buy the strikebound carrier for "in excess of $1 billion" and called itself "a consortium of financial institutions." The group said it had conveyed the offer to the Federal Bankruptcy Court in New York.

But none of the principals of the group could be located to identify themselves beyond the description contained in a brief written statement released to the public. A top Eastern union leader characterized the release of the statement as a "screw-up."

The announcement said more information was available from Harry Gotimer of the law firm of Kirlin, Campbell & Keating in New York. Later, Gotimer told the Associated Press that a news release to that effect had been issued prematurely and the consortium still was formulating a proposal.

The Atlanta public relations firm of Hunter & Cook, which disseminated the statement through an electronic news service, said six companies are involved in the consortium but could only recall two: Marine Midland Bank of New York and Marshall & McLellan, a New York investment firm.

"These negotiations have been going on for quite some time. We were just brought in to leak them," said Judy Cook of Hunter & Cook.

Officials at Marine Midland Bank would neither confirm nor deny their role. But Marshall & McLellan denied any connection to the group.

Several Bids Expected

Eastern has been strikebound since March 4 and on March 9 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday on a petition by a creditor that Eastern be auctioned off. An earlier bid by ex-Baseball Commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth fell through.

The airline reiterated Friday that it is no longer for sale. However, union leaders and bankruptcy court officials have said several entities are expected to make bids, including Pritzker and Trans World Airlines Chairman Carl C. Icahn.

Eastern finally confirmed that its lawyers are reviewing a new bid by Pritzker, though the terms were not made public. But a spokesman said: "We don't believe there are any bona fide buyers for Eastern. The unions, in order to keep their members on strike, are still trying to convince everyone that a white knight will come along and buy the airline."

The mysterious consortium that made the confusing offer Friday said it would provide the unions with "a substantial equity position with equal representation on the board of directors."

Released Too Soon

But a top source at one of Eastern's unions said someone connected with the deal "pulled the trigger two weeks early." He said the press release was issued in lawyer Gotimer's name without his authorization and that Gotimer had been in hiding all day ducking questions.

"It was at least 10 days before it was ready. There are a lot of things we don't know about this deal. This was a big screw-up," said the source.

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