Risk & Compliance

Sears Accuses ex-CEO of Looting $2B in Assets

The bankrupt retailer alleges Eddie Lampert and other investors siphoned off assets for their own gain through fraudulent spinoffs and other deals.
Matthew HellerApril 19, 2019

Sears Holdings has sued former CEO Eddie Lampert and his hedge fund investors, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Sears Holdings alleges they looted the retailer of more than $2 billion in assets through five fraudulent transactions.

The lawsuit was filed by Sears’ bankruptcy restructuring team on behalf of its unsecured creditors, who claim Lampert, his ESL hedge fund, and other “culpable shareholders” siphoned off most of the value of such assets as the Lands’ End brand and Orchard hardware stores for themselves.

The asset transfers “were part of a single, years-long strategy of stripping out Sears’ most valuable assets for the benefit of Lampert, the ESL defendants, and Sears’ other shareholders, to the great detriment of the company and its creditors,” the complaint alleges.

According to the suit, the scheme was “aided and abetted” by four directors, including Mnuchin. Mnuchin was a college roommate of Lampert’s at Yale University and approved some or all of the transactions.

Sears filed for Chapter 11 protection in October after a prolonged decline under Lampert’s leadership. According to Forbes, the lawsuit “alleges what analysts and Sears employees have been saying for years — that Lampert was siphoning off billions from Sears for his own gain.”

In a statement, ESL said the allegations were “misleading or just flat wrong” and that all transactions were done in good faith and for shareholders’ benefit.

The suit alleges Lampert and other insiders began stripping assets as Sears’ losses mounted and ESL faced increasing demands for redemptions from its investors. In the case of Lands’ End, Lampert and ESL allegedly pocketed at least $490 million from the April 2014 spinoff after rejecting a $1.6 billion offer from the Tommy Hilfiger investment group and Leonard Green & Partners.

The other allegedly fraudulent transfers included the December 2011 Orchard spinoff, the October 2012 SHO rights offering, the November 2012 Sears Canada partial spinoff, and the July 2015 Seritage transaction.

“Had defendants not taken these improper and illegal actions, Sears would have had billions of dollars more to pay its third-party creditors today and would not have endured the amount of disruption, expense, and job losses resulting from its recent bankruptcy filing,” the company said.