Paramount Pictures has admitted that it dismissed longtime executive Stephen M. Koppekin two years ago after an employee accused him of embezzling from the industry’s pension and health funds.
The employee, Nichole Goluskin, has gone public this week with accusations that Koppekin asked her to assist him with embezzling money out of the pension and health care funds of industry’s labor unions.
Koppekin told Variety that he had done nothing wrong and said Goluskin’s allegations of embezzlement are untrue.
The admission by Paramount that Koppekin, the exec VP of industrial relations, was fired comes nearly two years after Paramount announced that Koppekin had retired and been replaced by Nicole A-J Gustafson, who assumed the post of senior VP of industrial relations and production safety.
Goluskin disclosed in an extensive post on Facebook and in an interview with Variety that soon after she was hired in late 2012, Koppekin had sent her one set of receipts for travel expenses on behalf of his work as a trustee on the funds’ boards and another more expensive set of receipts to be submitted for reimbursement.
In response to Goluskin’s disclosures, studio spokeswoman Katie Martin Kelley admitted in a statement that Koppekin had been let go as a result of Goluskin’s embezzlement accusations.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention, we required that Mr. Koppekin immediately resign his position at the studio, resign all board seats on industry Pension & Health Plans and make full restitution,” she said.
Koppekin disputed the studio’s statement. He told Variety: “I was not required to resign immediately. My resignation has nothing to do with her allegations.”
Koppekin asserted that Goluskin’s allegation stemmed from a single incident in which he missed a flight on a trip on behalf of the funds, resulting in his having to buy a more expensive ticket. “There would have been zero problems if I had made the flight,” he added.
Kelley did not elaborate as to the amount of the allegedly embezzled funds, but Goluskin has alleged that the practice had been occurring for more than a decade.
Goluskin is also pursuing claims with the federal government and the state of California that she was wrongfully terminated by Paramount in October 2013 in retaliation for refusing to participate in illegal activity and for whistle-blowing.
Kelley denied Goluskin’s assertions of wrongful termination. She said in a statement, “There is no merit to the claim of retaliation. Paramount has acted appropriately in all of its dealings with Ms. Goluskin.”
Paramount Pictures Corp. named Koppekin to the post of senior VP of industrial relations in 1985. By the time he was fired, he had become executive VP of industrial relations. He had served as a trustee of the Directors Guild of America Pension and Health Plans, the Producer-Writers Guild of America Industry Pension Plan, the Writers Guild-Industry Health Fund and the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, which cover below-the-line union members.
The plans are operated separately from each union with a board that’s split evenly between employers and the unions. The plans did not respond to requests for comment.
Goluskin said in her Facebook post that she believes that Koppekin was stealing from the health and pension funds for at least 14 out of the 27 years he had been at the studio without being held accountable.
“Once I started learning more, I found out that stealing this money was not an uncommon practice, and a lot of studio execs were dipping into the health care and pension funds of the artists and workers who make the films that pay their million dollar a year salaries,” she said. “This kind of rampant fraud raises the income threshold that artists and workers have to reach each year in order to get access to their health care.”
She said that Koppekin had approached her with receipts for two different flights for a trip to one of these conferences.
“He told me to put the flight information from a non-refundable receipt for $183 onto his travel itinerary because that was the flight he was actually going to take, but to keep the other refundable receipt for $719 in the file to submit at the time of expense reimbursement, explaining that he already had the $719 refunded to him, but he wanted to submit the more expensive receipt later so he could just pocket the difference of $536 for himself,” she said.
“When I started looking through the files from the previous years and asking previous assistants, I found that this instance was actually a pretty mild offense in comparison to his many other swindles over the previous 14 years,” she said. “In another case, he submitted a receipt for a flight that cost roughly $3,000, but actually took a flight that cost roughly $2,000, pocketing the $1,000 difference as profit. I was asked to engage in this practice four different times during my short three months in his department.”