L.A. Group Led By Raj Bhathal Emerges As Top Candidate To Purchase Hornets
A group led by L.A. businessman Raj Bhathal has "emerged as a top candidate to purchase" the Hornets, according to sources cited by Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. The group includes Saints Owner Tom Benson's brother Larry and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy. Former Hornets minority Owner Gary Chouest is "heading another group interested in buying the team." Bhathal and Benson each "once owned franchises in the now defunct World League of American Football." Dunleavy has been the California group’s "front man in the initial negotiations," and sources said Thursday that the L.A.-based consortium has been "given exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase." Bhathal, along with his wife Marta, "founded Raj Manufacturing in the late 1960s in Tustin, Calif." Bhathal and Larry Benson are "longtime friends, but it’s unclear whether they have any current business ties." A source said Thursday that Tom Benson, "who sources said also put in a bid for the Hornets, has walked away from the process." Larry Benson has "no involvement with brother Tom’s NFL franchise," and sources said that his bid for the Hornets "was separate from Tom’s." Smith notes it is "possible the California group could eventually include local investors." New Orleans attorney Morris Bart has said that he would "be willing to acquire a" 10% share in the team (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 2/24).