Sears Holdings Reaches $175 Million Settlement With Former CEO Eddie Lampert, 4 Years After Filing for Bankruptcy

After four years of bankruptcy proceedings, Sears Holdings and its creditors have reached a settlement with former CEO and majority shareholder Eddie Lampert and other investors.

On Aug. 10, the parties reached a $175 million settlement agreement that could resolve years-long litigation filed against Lampert and other defendants in 2019 over allegations of “asset stripping” and “rank” self-dealing.

If approved by a federal bankruptcy judge, $125.6 million of the agreed upon settlement would come from insurers, $41.9 million would come from the defendants and $7.5 million would come from shareholding funds.

In the original lawsuit, Sears Holdings claimed Lampert and other investors were “woefully insolvent by billions of dollars” by the time the company filed for bankruptcy in Oct. 2018. “This level of insolvency did not occur overnight,” the Nov. 2019 lawsuit said. “Instead, the debtors’ insolvency and the inevitable bankruptcy filings were the result of a years-long effort by Lampert…in concert with and assisted by other defendants to transfer billions of dollars of Sears’s assets for his benefit and the benefit of other Sears Holdings shareholders in exchange for grossly inadequate consideration or no consideration at all.”

The lawsuit also claimed that Lampert used Sears and its prime assets to improve his personal, and his investment fund’s, bottom line—despite the harm it caused to the retailer. “Altogether, Lampert caused billions of dollars of cash and other assets to be transferred to himself, Sears Holdings’s other shareholders and other third parties,” the lawsuit alleged.

These assets included 100% of Lands’ End, Inc., a profitable Sears business that, at the time of its transfer to Lampert’s namesake hedge fund ESL Investments Inc., had an enterprise value of $1.3 billion. Also included in the complaint were the rights to purchase shares of Seritage, a new real estate investment trust, which were worth hundreds of millions of dollars but were dividended to Lampert and others for no consideration, and 266 of Sears’s premier properties, handed to the Seritage defendants for at least hundreds of millions of dollars below their fair value.

“In addition to these asset transfers, from 2016 to 2018, Sears Holdings and other debtor plaintiffs paid more than $400 million in ‘interest’ and ‘fees’ on account of ‘loans’ made by Lampert, his affiliates and others,” the complaint added.

While the settlement reached this week doesn’t come close to the amount of money Lampert was alleged of stripping from Sears Holding Corp., it will bring an end to the drawn-out proceedings.

Sears Holding Corp. first filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Oct. 2018 after failing to turn a profit since 2010. Lampert, stepped down as CEO at the time, but remained as chairman until his namesake hedge fund won a bankruptcy auction in Feb. 2019, striking a $5.2 billion deal that rescued the Illinois-based chain from liquidation, which, at the time, saved 425 stores and 45,000 jobs.

Since then, most of those stores, now owned and operated by a division of Lampert’s hedge fund called Transform Holdco LLC, have closed, leaving just a handful of Sears and Kmart locations open in the U.S.

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