MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s nonprofit wing, has hired a law firm to investigate allegations made by a former employee that CEO Neil Portnow of steering money away from the charity in order to fund a deficit from this year’s Grammy telecast, and of brokering a deal to hold the organization’s annual Person of the Year event at a venue that left the charity with a significant loss in 2018 fundraising efforts.
In a letter to MusiCares members obtained by Variety, MusiCares chairman Michael McDonald announced that Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP will oversee the investigation. “With any charity, trust is earned and can never be taken for granted,” McDonald wrote. “Needless to say, we welcome their findings and will act on their recommendations.”
Reached by Variety, a rep for the Academy had no comment.
In the nearly 4,500-word letter obtained by Variety late last month, Tomarken, who was fired on April 16 after 25 years with the Academy, claims the move left the charity with a significant loss in 2018 fundraising efforts, resulting in a projected $1 million for this year’s event, as opposed to $5 million in 2017. In his response, Portnow said “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.” Days later, confirmed long-standing rumors that he would not be seeking another term as head of the Academy.
Tomarken also claims wrongful termination, explaining that she and coworker Dorit Kalev were fired over the bill for a $2,500 MusiCares auction item that she was late in paying.
While much of McDonald’s letter speaks of the organization’s considerable accomplishments over the years — it distributed $5.9 million to 7,900 industry and music-related people over the past fiscal year — it leads with Tomarken, who is not mentioned by name. “By now, you may have seen the headlines and heard the allegations made by a former MusiCares employee about the 2018 Person of the Year event and workplace harassment,” he begins. “With any charity, trust is earned and can never be taken for granted. That’s why I want to write you all—to address the rumors and clarify some important truths.”
“We take the allegations made by our former employee very seriously,” he continues, adding that he and Recording Academy Chairman John Poppo, who has emerged as a powerful figure in the organization over the past months. “We welcome their findings and will act on their recommendations.”
“As a beneficiary of MusiCares’ services and someone for whom integrity is paramount, it’s been tough to see the integrity of an organization that has done so much good come into question as a result of allegations made by a single individual,” he wrote.
MusiCares, which offers emergency financial assistance to musicians and music-related people for medical and living expenses and substance-abuse treatment, has distributed more than $60 million to artists in need since it was founded in 1989.
Tomarken also says in her letter that she was terminated “after a painful year of trying to protect MusiCares from being exploited, enduring ongoing instances of workplace abuse and harassment” from two male coworkers whom she names. Portnow replied that 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.”