Tribune travails: Publisher sued for $1 million

It was ugly enough that a former ad rep filed a $1 million fraud and breach of contract lawsuit against the Charlottesville-Albemarle Tribune and its publisher, Agnes Cross-White. Now Cross-White is accusing the plaintiff of stealing her car.

Cross-White was all business August 7 when she held a press conference in her elegant condo in the Lewis and Clark building to denounce former advertising director Rosanna Harris' lawsuit as "frivolous." Cross-White promised she'd be meeting with Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman about criminal charges and said she was also considering a civil suit against Harris for breach of confidentiality and non-compete agreements.

That was before she discovered her car was missing.

On August 8, Cross-White's ex husband, Sherman White, was at Brady Bushey Ford on other business when he discovered that Harris and a companion allegedly had driven off in a 2001 Ford Focus station wagon that Cross-White used for business and had returned to the auto dealer. According to White, a manager witnessed Harris leaving in the car 10 days ago, and he adds, "It's on videotape."

"I cannot believe she stole the car," says Cross-White. "That's a big ticket item compared to my camera, credit card, and telephone."

Cross-White alleges that Harris forged checks for $1,100 and tried to rent property by saying it was for the Tribune or its publisher. "People have given them money for advertising that was never given to me," she asserts. She's filed charges of larceny, theft, and forgery against Harris.

The Hook was unable to reach Harris.

However, her lawsuit– filed August 1 in Albemarle Circuit Court– speaks about what she thinks of Cross-White. The suit charges that Cross-White told advertisers the Tribune had 12,000 in paid subscriptions when only 1,500 copies were printed, and that fewer than 700 were mailed to subscribers, with the remainder dumped.

Cross-White contends the July 31 issue of the Tribune had a 5,000-copy print run, but she declined to reveal the subscription rate of Charlottesville's oldest black newspaper. She announced that independent auditors will verify circulation and clear up the subscription lists to reassure her advertisers within 30 to 45 days.

In her suit, Harris claims, "Of the alleged subscribers, only a fraction paid. Others had moved, were deceased, or no longer wanted it."

She also says she negotiated with the printer, the Culpeper Star-Exponent, to clear up a $15,000 bill and signed a statement saying she'd be responsible for it. Her suit says she suffered emotional and financial distress when Cross-White wouldn't pay the paper's debts, and when the publisher allegedly replied, "F*** the creditors. You made the arrangements with creditors. You pay them."

The Star-Exponent did not return The Hook's calls, and Cross-White declined to talk about financial arrangements with her printer or to answer specific allegations in the suit.

She did state that Harris was an independent contractor, not an employee, responsible for selling advertising on a commission basis.

"The paper is financially solid," maintains Cross-White. "We always make a profit."

In perhaps the most bizarre portion of the lawsuit, Harris demands the privately owned Tribune be turned over to a nonprofit, that "White be prevented from using the African-American community to rip off businesses," and from using words like "f***" in reference to African- American leaders "because it hurts African-American children, and to stop telling African-American children that they are no good."

Responds the feisty Tribune publisher: "I have never seen a lawsuit in this country where you try to get a court to prevent free speech."