Sotheby's, the auction house, is suing CNET founder Halsey Minor for $16.8 million it claims he owes for artwork he bought in a May auction. Minor says Sotheby's misled him. Sotheby's says Minor told it he couldn't come up with the cash because he was owed money by others. Oh, and CBS bought CNET for $1.8 billion earlier this year. So CNET founder Halsey Minor ought to be rolling in the dough, right? No. And therein lies a twisted tale that ties up a heralded artwork, Edward Hicks's "Peaceable Kingdom," with Minor's dotcom-era fibs."They have a massive failure to disclose,'' Minor told Bloomberg. "They have an economic interest to misrepresent the facts." Minor plans to countersue. Longtime CNET employees might say the same about Minor. In March 2000, when he stepped down as CEO right before the Nasdaq peaked, he said, "As a large shareholder, I would not have made this move unless I thought I would generate more value to shareholders this way." Inside the company, he encouraged employees to hold onto their shares, too. It was technically true that Minor remained a large shareholder. But through a financial maneuver known as a collar, he guaranteed that his shares would hold their value, even if the stock price dropped. The CNET employees he encouraged to stay and hold onto their shares had no such protection. It was a massive failure to disclose. He had an economic interest to misrepresent the facts. The curious thing: Having protected his CNET fortune eight years ago, why did Minor claim he didn't have the money to pay for the art he purchased? He's spending heavily on real estate, including a $15.3 million, 476-acre estate in Williamsburg, Va., and Florida's Hialeah Park racetrack. Could Minor's investments have gone so sour that he's been caught in a cash crunch? If so, forgive CNET employees who saw their options sink underwater, on Minor's advice, a moment of schadenfreude.
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