By Jessica DiNapoli
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Gawker Media Chief Executive Nick Denton filed for personal bankruptcy protection on Monday, according to court documents that name his largest creditor as Hulk Hogan, a former professional wrestler who won a $140 million court judgment against the news website over a sex tape it posted.
Denton listed assets of $10 million to $50 million and liabilities of $100 million to $500 million in his Chapter 11 petition filed at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.
Earlier on Monday, he tweeted that he wanted to protect colleagues from a “vendetta” by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who funded Hogan’s Florida lawsuit.
Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy in June after Hogan won the judgment. The wrestler had accused the site of violating his privacy by posting a sex tape featuring Hogan having sex with the wife of his then-best friend, the radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem.
According to court documents, Denton is personally liable for $125 million of the $140 million judgment won by Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea.
Thiel is an early backer and board member of Facebook who was angry over Gawker’s writings about him and his friends in Silicon Valley. Gawker had published an article in 2007 about Thiel’s homosexuality.
Thiel’s involvement has raised alarm bells in U.S. media circles over whether wealthy individuals are trying to muzzle the press.
David Houston, Hogan’s attorney, issued a statement saying Denton’s bankruptcy “has nothing to do with who paid (Hogan’s) legal bills, and everything to do with Denton’s own choices and accountability. If even one person has been spared the humiliation that (Hogan) suffered, this is a victory.”
When Gawker filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. internet publisher automatically received the shield against Hogan’s judgment that Denton had been seeking from both a New York bankruptcy court and Florida courts. Denton had said in court pleadings that without protection, Hogan would immediately begin to seize his assets.
On Twitter, Denton said on Monday “On this bitter day for me, I am consoled by the fact that my colleagues will soon be freed from this tech billionaire’ s vendetta.”
Thiel did not immediately return a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Denton declined to comment further.
Gawker filed for bankruptcy with a plan to sell itself to media company Ziff Davis LLC for $90 million. That offer sets the floor for bids in a court-supervised auction scheduled for later this summer.
Reuters reported earlier that Denton would file for bankruptcy as soon as Monday.