A group of actors led by former SAG president Ed Asner has accused the leadership of SAG-AFTRA of a laundry list of financial misdeeds – allegations the union vehemently denies. The allegations are contained in a 10-page letter that was sent to SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, to national executive director David White, and to the national board on the eve of this weekend’s board meeting – and just weeks before the union begins negotiations for a new film and TV contract.
The letter was penned by the United Screen Artists Committee, which sued the union in 2013 over its alleged mishandling $130 million in foreign levies. And now the group is threatening to sue the union again.
“This group of people should be deeply ashamed,” Carteris said. “After years of failed attempts to derail the success of this union through deceitful litigation, they are putting our members at risk on the eve of our most important contract negotiations. Their repeated pursuit of frivolous politics merits utter contempt.”
“This is 10 pages of fantasy that attempts to position customary business activity as questionable,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s COO and general counsel. “It is a shame that we have to use members’ dues monies to defend against these discredited claims, but there should be no doubt we will vigorously defend the union and our membership against the assertions of these serial litigants.”
The letter accuses White of charging the union for “excessive cell phone usage, including requiring the union to pay for, at various times, seven different numbers, including ones entrusted to his family members”; charging the union for limousine services to attend events, including SAG Awards shows; using hotel and airline rewards programs for his personal use “while continuing to bill SAG-AFTRA for travel and lodging nationally and abroad; donating unclaimed residuals to not-for-profit organizations on whose boards he sits; flying first class and business class “throughout the world to attend conferences…while utilizing frequent flier mileage to cover members of his family to accompany him to various foreign destinations, such as Ireland, Belgium, Beijing, Cuba and the like”; authorizing the expenditure of “millions of dollars for hotels in New York and Los Angeles, where non-members, including relatives, were provided lodging and were wined and dined at union expense; and routinely having the union for for him to attend conferences at which he served as a panelist, “enhancing his resume rather than inuring to the benefit of the union’s membership.”
Similar claims of misusing expense accounts were also leveled against Crabtree-Ireland, senior advisor John McGuire, and legal consultant Robert Hadl.
The letter also claims that since the merger, “The union appears to have used union funds, or monies belonging to the membership, to purchase at least two properties, in Nashville and in the San Fernando Valley. With respect to Nashville, AFTRA had purchased the building in 1981 but did not report the purchase in federal filings. In 2005, the corporate name of Nashville Local – AFTRA was changed to Nashville Performers Building Corporation, but not reported in federal filings. Instead, LM-2 filings showed that AFTRA was a ‘tenant’ of a real estate firm known as the Nashville Performers Building Corporation, to which it was disbursing monies. After merger, SAG-AFTRA continued this fraud for over two and a half years, then in late 2014 filed SAG-AFTRA as a foreign nonprofit corporation in Tennessee and purchased the building it already owned, paying itself $824,800 and failing to report the transaction in federal filings.”
“We are most concerned,” the letter states, “that SAG-AFTRA has forgotten its role to protect its members, let alone to ensure that monies which have come into the possession of the union through artifice or misrepresentations are promptly restored to their rightful owners.”
Besides Asner, who sits on the national board, the letter was also signed by actors Alan Ruck, Clancy Brown, Erik Hughes, Steven Barr, Terrence Beasor, Tom Bower, Alex McArthur and Dennis Hayden.