Harried Tele-Communications Inc. officials last weekadmitted they had been been flooded with calls from entities eager to get their hands onpart of chairman and CEO John Malone's $1.5 billion estate.
The deluge came after Malone gave an interview to the RockyMountain News last week in which he reiterated an earlier intention to donate most ofhis fortune to the Malone Family Foundation, a private non-profit charity established tobenefit education.
'They think John's getting ready to write a checkfor $1.5 billion,' said one TCI spokeswoman. 'It's a trust. Nothing happensuntil he dies.'
'You know, after the zeros and numbers get so big, youjust can't comprehend,' said Malone, who recently settled a dispute with TCIfounder Bob Magness' heirs. 'How many cars ... and how many vacation homes canyou own?'
The foundation, which was set up before the Magness disputeerupted, is a trust that will be funded after Malone's death with the bulk of hisestate, comprised primarily of 42 million shares of stock in TCI and its affiliates.
Malone's wife, Leslie, and two grown children will actas trustees for the foundation.
TCI said funding the foundation will not affect anagreement with Malone that gives the MSO the right to acquire his stock at the time of hisdeath. Instead of stock, proceeds from the sale would go to fund the Malone foundation.
Malone was vacationing in Maine last week and unavailablefor comment.
He made his comments shortly after the MSO announced asettlement to a legal squabble with Magness' heirs. Under the agreement, the companyagreed to return 16 million TCI Class B shares to Kim and Gary Magness by rescinding halfof a $529 million stock deal it engineered last year with executors for the Magnessestate.
Industry observers called the foundation a logical resultof Malone's well-known aversion to the U.S. Tax Code, which would slap heavyinheritance taxes on anything left to his children.
'I think it's a good idea,' said onelong-time Malone-watcher. 'He's busted his ass all these years, why should hepay 55 cents of every dollar he ever made to the government.'
Moreover, the observer said establishing the foundation, aswell as a series of TCI joint ventures that have streamlined the company, and his decisionto sell TCI's stake in Teleport Communications Group, shouldn't be construed asan indication that Malone is preparing to 'ride off into the sunset.'
'But something struck down Bob Magness, and it couldhappen to John Malone,' the source said. 'He just wants to have his house inorder. But I think he's having too much fun right now to leave now.'