For the fifth time in 28 years, the Chicago Sun-Times is changing hands.

Wrapports LLC, a new local investor group headed by Michael Ferro Jr., CEO of Chicago-based Merrick Ventures, has reached agreement to buy the parent company of the Sun-Times and 40 suburban daily and weekly publications and websites for a reported $20 million.

Identified among “significant investors” in the group was Joe Mansueto, chairman of Morningstar Inc. and owner of Time Out Chicago.

Wednesday’s announcement came despite repeated denials by Sun-Times Media chairman and CEO Jeremy Halbreich that discussions with prospective buyers were under way in recent weeks. Even after details of the agreement were reported online Tuesday by the Chicago Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business, sources said, Halbreich ordered Sun-Times editors to withhold publication of their story for more than 24 hours.

The timing of the deal also raised questions about the company’s decision to erect a paywall for access to online content just two weeks ago.

Halbreich said he was stepping down, effective immediately. “One of my principal concerns and goals has been to ensure the company passed into the right set of hands for the next phase of its evolution and growth,” he told employees in a memo Wednesday. “I know this to be the case in Wrapports LLC and its group of investors with their strong and deep commitments to the Chicago community and to the value of local journalism.”

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