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“Facts Are Not A Smear Campaign”: UTA Replies To Michael Kassan’s Allegations Of “Mudslinging” In Messy Corporate & Financial Misconduct Dispute – Update

EXCLUSIVE: (UPDATED with UTA statement) If you thought the multi-million-dollar war of words and legal filings between UTA and former Medialink CEO Michael Kassan had been bare knuckles before, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As the LA Superior Court docket sags under the weight of documents being filed in the fallout of Kassan leaving UTA earlier this month, the man himself is accusing CEO Jeremey Zimmer and the agency of “low-rent tactics” by dredging up past indiscretions and bad business dealings – and Kassan’s coming out of the corner swinging.

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“With UTA having no legal leg to stand on in its quest to prevent me from competing, they are now resorting to trying to tarnish my reputation,” Kassan told Deadline today. UTA on March 21 suddenly dropped its fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims of a week before against the ex-agency partner. Hoping to push the whole thing to arbitration, the agency and its lawyers are now centering on trying to have the courts stop Kassan from setting up a new rival strategic advisory company (read UTA’s amended complaint here).

“As such, Jeremy Zimmer is now going to pursue his campaign of attempted character assassination and mudslinging—this time by shining a light on decades-old lawsuits and assertions of financial malfeasance, improperly spun, and omitting some very important details,” Kassan added, going into detail about a number of incidents from his not stain free history. “UTA is doing what it can to plant news articles regarding these decades-old issues.”

“As you read UTA’s desperate tabloid attacks, please note that nothing they say has anything to do with why I resigned,” Kassan adds, citing a “litany of contract breaches” as the real cause of his March 6 exit. Having made a big deal in December 2021 of buying MediaLink for $125 million and bringing Kassan onboard as a partner, UTA now claim that they fired Kassan on March 7 after a months long probe of “financial misconduct,” as their March 12 lawsuit and March 21 amended complaint states.

Read Michael Kassan’s full statement to Deadline below

UTA had more to say after Kassan went on the offensive this weekend.

“Facts are not a smear campaign,” declares UTA’s outside counsel Bryan Freedman to Deadline in direct reply to Kassan’s latest affirmation.

“Every statement we have made in this matter – including this one – has been in response to Kassan’s shameful campaign to divert attention from the fact he was fired for cause for theft from UTA,” the litigator says. Again, note that Kassan’s side say the behind-the-scenes entrepreneur resigned from UTA on March 6, a day before the agency’s claim that they fired him over corporate and financial malfeasance.  “It was Kassan who brought his termination into public view in the first place, in an effort to play the victim and take the focus off his behavior,” Freedman

In the context of those so-called “decades-old issues” that Kassan cites, UTA received a sharp letter on March 19 from Kassan’s lawyer threatening a Motion for Sanctions and a lawsuit for Abuse of Process if the agency didn’t drop its “frivolous Complaint.” Coincidentally, or not, UTA is centering its lawsuit solely on Kassan’s proclamation that he was going to form a new company after resigning from UTA on March 6 and rejected a $10 million severance package, UTA is simultaneously hoping to move the pugilistic dispute behind the closed doors of arbitration.

A move that is ironic on at least one level being that  Kassan initially took UTA to court first at the start of business on March 12 with a $25 million action demanding arbitration. UTA’s then-fraud complaint was a response to Kassan’s demand, under the contract with the agency, for arbitration – something they rejected just over a week ago.

“UTA frivolously filed a lawsuit and after receiving a letter setting forth a basis for sanctions, UTA then dropped every single claim against Mr. Kassan,” the ex-MediaLink CEO’s lawyer Sanford Michelman says. “Instead, UTA amended their complaint, seeking a restraining order not to compete, which will also be dismissed shortly because Mr. Kassan has the right to compete,” the NYC-based attorney adds. “In fact, he paid $10,000,000 in order to do so.”

In fact, in both its initial suit and the March 21 amended complaint, UTA make sure to note that part of their agreement to buy strategic advisory firm MediaLink was based on Kassan presenting “himself as a trustworthy businessman, who had operated within the stringent controls and regulation of a publicly traded company.” One assumes that even with a so-called handshake deal to expand its reach, the Zimmer-run UTA did at least the bare minimum of due diligence. Due diligence that any Google search would have brought up Kassan’s tax history, as well the multi-million-dollar lawsuits and arbitrations with past employers like Western Initiative Media Worldwide several years ago.

“Everything UTA is now pointing to is simply just pulled from the book Frenemies, all of this is old stuff and has been known for years,” a source close to the situation notes with reference Kassan’s appearances in New Yorker staffer writer Ken Auletta 2018’s tome.

In short, buyer beware, right?

Now, outside counsel Freedman claims Kassan’s history was shadier than UTA say they knew, Frenemies or no Frememies.

“Every day, more fraud about Kassan is uncovered and we’re going to fight him in every forum possible,” the Hollywood heavyweight lawyer said in a statement earlier this weekend. “We’ve launched an arbitration action in order to consolidate the growing financial claims stemming from his thefts and are also taking steps with the court to stop him from further violating his agreements with UTA.”

Of course, in its amended complaint of a couple days ago, UTA also claimed that Kassan was “convicted of one count of grand theft by embezzlement in June 1995.”

Having already called out Kassan for being “unrepentant” in supposedly using corporate finds for his own use and various other acts of financial impropriety over the decades, Bryan Freedman and Sean Hardy penned amended complaint also adds a new one, and says that in April 2020, the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown, multi-millionaire Kassan “obtained a $43,100 federal Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan for his personal S-Corp’s ‘payroll.’” Trying to make Kassan’s fingers look as sticky as possible, UTA notes “Kassan not only obtained this PPP loan, but he had the entire loan forgiven, including accrued interest.”

UTA omits that the vast majority of PPF loans were totally forgiven by the federal government in 2022 and 2023.

On the other hand, UTA may now also find itself up against some legal rocky shores.

Mocking the agency’s “Demand for Jury Trial” in its March 21 amended complaint, even though “here is no right to a jury trial for equitable relief …it is within the province of the Judge,” a March 22 letter from Sanford Michelman to Bryan Freedman promises to go nuclear. “Demand is hereby made that you dismiss UTA’s lawsuit in its entirety no later than 9:00 am on Monday, March 25, 2024, or our client will proceed with exercising all available rights and remedies forthwith,” Michelman writes.

Whatever happens, expect the discovery process alone to be a page-turner.

See Michael Kassan’s full statement here:

Now you know why I resigned.

On March 6, 2024, after two years of having to grapple with the reality that the reasons I agreed to have MediaLink join UTA turned out to be a litany of contract breaches, I resigned. In response, UTA tried to say it terminated me, despite the fact I already resigned. As many people know, by his own admission, Jeremy Zimmer’s style is “toxic” and “aggressive”.  As such, on March 12, 2024, I filed an arbitration against UTA, Jeremy Zimmer, and others.

In response, UTA filed a meritless lawsuit against me for one purpose, to try and tarnish me and my family, just as Jeremy Zimmer threatened to do multiple times over the past couple of months. It will probably not come as any surprise, in just 10 days, immediately following a letter sent by my lawyer to UTA threatening sanctions for its lawsuit, UTA dropped every one of its shameful and erroneous claims. Unfortunately, in yet another desperate attempt to attack me, it filed an amended complaint seeking to stop me from competing despite my foregoing nearly $10,000,000 to do so as provided for in my contract.

What do they want now?

With UTA having no legal leg to stand on in its quest to prevent me from competing, they are now resorting to trying to tarnish my reputation. As such, Jeremy Zimmer is now going to pursue his campaign of attempted character assassination and mudslinging—this time by shining a light on decades-old lawsuits and assertions of financial malfeasance, improperly spun, and omitting some very important details. UTA is doing what it can to plant news articles regarding these decades-old issues. I have nothing to hide, and decided to send this letter as I will not let UTA’s low-rent tactics intimidate me nor mislead you.

Ages ago when I was a young entrepreneur in the 1990’s, I exercised a business judgment that as I’ve stated publicly many times, I wish I could undo. But I cannot. Those events involve litigation arising from El Pollo Loco restaurants where I tried to save failing locations with loans from other locations. Ultimately, it was determined that judgement was not appropriate, and I took responsibility for that. Fortunately, my law license was preserved because the fact is I never took a dime for my own benefit. In addition, I was involved in other litigation arising out of El Pollo Loco between myself and others regarding related financial arrangements. UTA is going to try and make these lawsuits read as if they are in different circumstances when in fact they are not. As many of you know, disputes happen and are eventually resolved. All those disputes were not just resolved, every one of us in those litigations became friends again and, in many instances, became long-term clients.

These facts UTA will not share of course, but rather, as I have learned, UTA is trying to have its vast communications team spin news stories to try and make them read worse and embarrass me. UTA’s efforts will not work. And, as you read UTA’s desperate tabloid attacks, please note that nothing they say has anything to do with why I resigned.  And, to be clear, I will not reciprocate with highlighting the colorful past of Jeremy Zimmer and those representing him. None of those unfortunate acts has anything to do with why I resigned, and I will therefore not engage.

Now you have some insights as to why I resigned.

The good news: with time as the ultimate arbiter, my good name remains intact. I cannot find the words to thank the hundreds of friends for your amazing texts, emails and telephone calls expressing support and asking how you can help. Once this chapter is closed, I will look back on it with a smile because of your support.

All good.

MEK

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