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Grammy CEO Accused of Covering Telecast Shortfall With Bad MusiCares Deals

Fired MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken claims Neil Portnow directed funds away from MusiCares charity to cover Grammy deficit

Neil Portnow

Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow has been accused of covering telecast shortfalls via brokering unfavorable deals for MusiCares charity.

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Recording Academy chairman and president Neil Portnow has been accused of directing funds away from its MusiCares charity – which provides artists and individuals in the music industry in need with emergency medical, financial and personal assistance – to cover a deficit from the 2018 Grammy telecast. As Variety reports, former MusiCares VP Dana Tomarken detailed her allegations in a letter addressed to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, which the magazine obtained.

In the letter, Tomarken claims that Portnow inked a deal to hold the fundraising MusiCares’ annual Person of the Year event at Radio City Music Hall without her knowledge. The Grammys were held in New York for the first time in 15 years at Madison Square Garden (the Madison Square Garden Company also owns Radio City Music Hall). The move and associated costs were reportedly a primary contributor to the Academy incurring an estimated $6 to 8 million shortfall.

Tomarken claims that she had been negotiating a favorable deal with Brooklyn, New York’s Barclays Center to hold the 2018 MusiCares Person of the Year dinner and concert. She alleges that last June, “I received a call from Irving Azoff. Neil and Madison Square Garden Company, Irving informed me, had early on in NY Grammy negotiations agreed that the Person of the Year tribute would be held at Radio City Music Hall, a Madison Square Garden Company venue. Neither I nor anyone on the MusiCares staff was ever notified of those discussions or agreement, and as a result, we were forced to walk away from a huge benefit to MusiCares: Barclays’ generous financial commitment to their venue.

“The agreement with Radio City Music Hall was at least twice as expensive as the Barclays Center offer,” she alleged in her letter. “And that does not factor in any additional support we might have been able to secure from Barclays sponsors.”

Tamarken also alleges that MusiCares lost additional funds after Portnow and Oak View Group (a partnership between Azoff and [Oak View CEO] Tim Leiweke) removed the organization from a package deal. “Oak View had agreed to sell Grammy Week packages that included tickets to the telecast as well as Person of the Year, designed to raise $1.5 million for MusiCares,” she wrote. But she claims that just before Christmas 2017, “Neil had subsequently approved dropping MusiCares from the package revenue stream in favor of funding the telecast deficit.”

She claims that these moves contributed in part to a financial loss for MusiCares, writing, “being forced into costly agreements we had no control over, MusiCares will likely net $1 million from the 2018 Person of the Year. Last year’s net was $5 million.”

Tomarken was fired on April 16th after 25 years with the Recording Academy. In her letter, she also claimed wrongful termination, citing that she was dismissed after pledging $2,500 to purchase an unsold auction item from the 2017 Person of the Year event, which she was late in paying. She claims that her co-worker Dorit Kalev was also fired in connection to that incident. Tomarken claimed she additionally suffered “a painful year of trying to protect MusiCares from being exploited, enduring ongoing instances of workplace abuse and harassment” from two male co-workers.

A spokesperson for the Recording Academy responded to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment with the following: “While we will not address point by point the letter from Ms. Tomarken, who was recently terminated following a thorough investigation, we respond as follows:

(1) The decision as to the venue for this year’s Person of the Year event was made after careful consideration of all options, and input from all appropriate individuals. MusiCares’ interests were not sacrificed in favor of the interests of the Recording Academy.

(2) As Ms. Tomarken well knows, neither MusiCares nor the Recording Academy ever intended to reduce, nor will they reduce, the amount of financial support made available to MusiCares clients in need. MusiCares continues to provide the highest level of service to people in need across our music community, as evidenced by the four-star rating it earned, once again, in February from Charity Navigator—the highest rating the independent charity watchdog organization awards. Simply, our commitment and support will not be diminished.

(3) Ms. Tomarken did not raise the issues relating to alleged ‘workplace abuse and harassment’ until after her employment was terminated. An independent investigation of these allegations was immediately commenced. Based on the outcome of that investigation, appropriate action (if any) will be taken. Both the Recording Academy and MusiCares take all allegations of this kind seriously.”

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