David Pecker leaves helm of National Enquirer owner American Media

David Pecker has pulled out of American Media for good.

The 68-year-old media tycoon — whose 20-year reign as the owner of the National Enquirer got mired in scandals over “catch and kill” tactics to bury damaging stories about President Trump — has stepped down as chief executive of the supermarket tabloid’s owner, the company said in a statement Friday.

Pecker is exiting as part of a deal to combine American Media — which also publishes celebrity-focused titles like Us Weekly and Star magazine — with a wholesale distribution company as part of a debt-restructuring deal arranged by Chathan Asset Management, a hedge fund that owns 80 percent of American Media.

A longtime friend of President Donald Trump, Pecker was involved in making hush money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Donald Trump. He became entangled in a fresh controversy in February when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos claimed that Pecker and the National Enquirer were trying to blackmail him over his affair with Lauren Sanchez.

At the time, American Media had already cooperated with a federal investigation into the so-called “catch and kill” stories that it purchased but never published in order to silence accusers of Trump who said they had flings with him years before he decided to run for president.

In exchange for turning rat, Pecker and former Enquirer editor Dylan Howard were granted immunity in the federal case in the US Southern District of New York. One of the terms of the deal was that the company stay out of legal trouble for the next three years.

The Bezos and Karen McDougal controversies were said to be a major reason that Chatham sought to sell the Enquirer. In early 2019, Pecker tried to broker a deal but it never happened.

Pecker has headed American Media since 1999 when he teamed up with Evercore to take the publisher of the National Enquirer and Star private. Over the years, Evercore, Thomas H. Lee, Avenue Capital, Angelo Gordon and Capital Research and Management all lost their equity.

The magazine wholesale company that is now the parent company was purchased from Canadian billionaire James Pattison in late 2018, when it was known as the News Group. More recently under Chatham, it was called American News Company.

Under the restructuring unveiled late Friday, the wholesale distributor is being renamed Accelerate 360. In addition to  magazines, it also distributes candy, gum, health bars mini-hand sanitizers and other items sold at the front of 55,000 retail outlets nationally.

The publishing side of the operation will be called A360Media and will continue to publish the Enquirer, Star, Life & Style, OK! and other titles but will now be headed by former group publisher Chris Scardino. Pecker will be a senior executive advisor, “effective immediately” according to an announcement late Friday.

Said one knowledgeable source, “It is a way to deleverage American Media” which is still believed to be carrying $400 million in debt even after selling off Mr. Olympia and Muscle & Fitness.