The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating allegations that former Paramount labor relations executive Stephen Koppekin embezzled money from three of the union pension and health plans that he served on as a management trustee. Two years ago, Paramount announced that Koppekin had retired after many years as the studio’s SVP Labor Relations. On Thursday, however, the studio acknowledged that he’d been fired for the allegedly embezzlement.
“As soon as this was brought to our attention, Mr. Koppekin promptly retired from his position and we required that he resign from his board seats on certain industry Pension & Health plans and make full restitution,” the studio said in a statement to Deadline. Records show that Koppekin served as a management trustee for pension and health plans that provide benefits to Hollywood writers, directors and crew members.
The allegations first were made public in a Facebook posting this week by former Paramount employee Nichole Goluskin. “I was asked to participate in an embezzlement scheme at Paramount Pictures,” she told Deadline. “My former boss, Stephen Koppekin, was stealing from the health care and pension funds of the entertainment industry labor unions — such as the Writers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans. I refused to participate and turned Koppekin in to human resources at Paramount. Stephen was terminated in April of 2013, but there was a good old-fashioned Hollywood cover-up: Paramount released a statement saying that Koppekin had decided to retire. I was asked to participate in the cover-up, then I was shuffled around from department to department until I was terminated shortly thereafter.”
She added: “I filed a whistleblower retaliation case with the Department of Labor in March of 2014, and it is currently being investigated. And there is a separate California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement claim that is also under investigation. A year after filing the claim – a year and a half of being unemployed and somewhat blacklisted – I’ve finally decided to ‘go public’ with my story.”
On her Facebook page, Goluskin said that she first learned of Koppekin’s alleged embezzlement when he approached her one day with receipts from two different flights he’d booked for a business trip on behalf of one of the union pension and health plans. “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. The funds that ‘reimbursed’ these expenses are the various entertainment industry pension and health care funds. 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. 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. During that time, I learned from my new friends at the unions that Stephen wasn’t alone in this practice of submitting dodgy receipts and keeping the difference as personal profit.”
Koppekin did not return calls, but he told Variety, which broke the story, that he had not done anything wrong.