Lynn Tilton’s firm gives up on manufacturer

  • Truckmaker American LaFrance filed Chapter 11 in 2008
  • Company blames “unexpected current financial condition”
  • Turnaround firm is advocate for U.S. manufacturing

American LaFrance shuttered its operations in January in three locations, near Charleston, South Carolina, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, reportedly idling 150 workers. Patriarch Partners, a New York-based turnaround specialist, declined to comment on the move, but the company issued a statement to Buyouts that blamed its “unexpected current financial condition” for the shutdown.

The move appears to be a rare admission of defeat for Tilton, the self-styled “Diva of Distressed” who founded Patriarch Partners in 2000, with a mission of “rebuilding America one company at a time, one job at a time,” as the firm says on its website. The firm manages 75 companies across 14 industry sectors with revenues in excess of $8 billion.

American LaFrance was one of the oldest fire equipment makers in the country, tracing its roots to a company founded in 1832. Patriarch Partners bought the business in 2005, three years after its previous owner, the Freightliner Corp unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, moved the truckmaker’s headquarters to the Charleston area. At the time of its announcement in 2002, DaimlerChrysler projected that the unit would hire 800 workers within two years to manufacture 4,500 fire trucks, ambulances and other vehicles annually, the local newspaper the Post and Courier reported. The company never came near those goals, the newspaper wrote.

American LaFrance filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2008, citing inventory problems and a depressed market for emergency equipment, sister news service Reuters reported at the time. The bankruptcy filing listed 1,000 creditors and more than $100 million in liabilities, along with 1,000 workers in six states, Reuters wrote.

Patriarch Partners managed to hold on to its equity position in American LaFrance through the reorganization, apparently relying on a claim that it was owed $154 million as part of its financing for the company. But American LaFrance continued to struggle through a series of downsizings that left it with three facilities, in Monks Corner, South Carolina, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles.

The three facilities are not expected to reopen.