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Resigned! Fired!: Michael Kassan & UTA Scorch Each Other With Competing Suits Of Fraud, Breach Of Contract & Jeremy Zimmer’s Role In Agency Partner’s Exit

EXCLUSIVE: Amid allegations of financial impropriety and corporate skullduggery, the collapse of the relationship between UTA and MediaLink founder Michael Kassan now sees the parties battling it out with competing legal actions  and lots of finger pointing – even by Hollywood standards.

Having resigned on March 6 from the agency that bought his strategic company just over two years ago, Kassan took UTA to court first at the start of business Tuesday with a $25 million action demanding arbitration. The filing in LA Superior Court this morning from NYC-based attorney Sanford Michelman on Kassan’s behalf not only names UTA as a defendant, but also points the finger of responsibility directly at  UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer, who is named as a defendant too.

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“This case is a result of Kassan resigning from MediaLink due to Zimmer’s breach of contract and repeated broken promises, and Kassan electing to waive his nearly $10,000,000 severance payment to compete with MediaLink as permitted in his Partner Services Agreement,” the 16-page breach of contract and fraud filing says.

UTA sees it very differently and insist Kassan didn’t resign, they fired him on March 7 for cause and having his paws deep in the corporate cookie jar. Calling Kassan “shameless,” in one of the more polite handles for the clearly unconventional executive, UTA filed a jury trial seeking constructive fraud complaint against the MediaLink CEO in the late afternoon of Tuesday.

In the timeline of lawsuits, the UTA action certainly stands as a response to Kassan’s early-morning action.

“Specifically, Respondents engaged in a deliberate secret scheme to fraudulently induce Kassan to agree to a sale of MediaLink, LLC only to then walk back the very promises made in the purchase contract, specifically regarding what Kassan would oversee at UTA and his ‘Special Expenses,’” Kassan’s demand for arbitration asserts. Declaring how successful MediaLink has been for UTA financially since 2021, Kassan’s fling specifically notes the self-described $1.5 million “discretionary spend” the MediaLink boss was allocated in UTA’s $125 million purchase of his company to “roll” his way with clients and staff to “build a community.”

Another chief out of the 2021 deal was that UTA Marketing will be retitled as UTA Entertainment & Culture Marketing, and become a part of MediaLink. To that end, UTA Marketing bosses David Anderson and Julian Jacobs, both of whom are defendants in the case against UTA, were supposed to be part of Kassan’s executive team and report to him.

How that all went south to the point where Kassan was willing to lose his $10 million severance so he could compete against MediaLink with a newly created company is but one of the many matters of dispute here.

Agency sources tell Deadline there has been a months-long probe of Kassan and his use of corporate funds and resources by outside counsel and investigators. With Kassan’s apparent history of bad corporate break-ups, multi-million-dollar lawsuits and arbitrations with past employers like Western Initiative Media Worldwide, UTA may just have to nurse themselves through their buyer’s remorse when it come to the MediaLink acquisition.

What is clear is that after all the high hopes the two sides exhibited in 2021 after their “handshake” deal, Kassan left UTA in a flurry of strife in the first week of March.

“For clarity, Mr. Kassan remains willing to seek an amendment of the PSA and discuss with Mr. Zimmer whether there is a path to continue to remain at Medialink,” the March 6 resignation letter from Kassan attorney Michelman says. “That said, as set forth herein, the parties have until April 5, 2024 to do so. If the parties do not come to agreement, that shall serve as Mr. Kassan’s last day at MediaLink.”

In the arbitration filing put in the LASC docket and in front of JAMS Tuesday, the blast radius from the resignation is given further perspective.

“Zimmer, sticking with his style of intimidation, tried to reject Kassan’s resignation and then issued a termination for ‘Cause,’” Kassan’s arbitration filing states. “Ironically, the invalid termination – after Kassan had already resigned – was based on Kassan’s marketing spend and charitable giving which UTA alleged was too high and inappropriate. For example, Zimmer complained that Kassan’s use of private aviation was not approved, but Zimmer (and his wife) were on the very plane rides (there were numerous) for which he tried to manufacture ‘Cause.’”

Speaking of those private plane rides, they make up but one of a litany of supposed sins in UTA’s own lawsuit against Kassan’s alleged “fraudulent, willful, oppressive, and malicious” conduct. As the Bryan Freedman and Sean Hardy filed document makes very clear:

In utter disregard for his fiduciary obligations as a partner of UTA, media and advertising executive Michael Kassan has run rampant with his business expense accounts – wasting millions of UTA’s dollars on his lavish personal lifestyle. In 2003, Kassan founded the strategic advisory firm MediaLink. MediaLink was later acquired by UK-based Ascential PLC in 2016. In December 2021, following an aggressive solicitation effort by Kassan, UTA acquired MediaLink from Ascential. As part of that transaction, Kassan remained CEO of MediaLink (now wholly-owned by UTA) and became a UTA partner subject to the terms and conditions of his Partner Services Agreement. In order to secure UTA’s investment, Kassan presented himself as a trustworthy businessman, who had operated within the stringent controls and regulations of a publicly traded company. That turned out not to be the case. 
 
Almost immediately, Kassan abused his title and authority by circumventing or failing to maintain standard control processes to ensure that company funds were used to pay for his extravagant personal expenses, without question, and with the goal of not leaving any trace behind. For instance, not only did Kassan require a personal driver – he surreptitiously used UTA’s money to pay for his driver’s apartment. Not only did Kassan use a company credit card for his personal expenses – he allowed his wife to have a company credit card, despite the fact she had no affiliation with MediaLink or UTA, so she could shop for extravagant luxury goods. Not only did Kassan insist on private flights – he spent a small fortune of UTA’s dollars on luxury travel, including hundreds of thousands on private airfare for his entire family for trips that Kassan acknowledges were personal in nature and had no rational business purpose. Kassan even used company monies to pay for his personal housekeeper. In 2023, Kassan went so far as to use nearly $500,000 in company funds to pay off his personal credit card debt, despite multiple warnings from MediaLink’s top finance executive. In 2022, Kassan had over $700,000 in company funds wired to his personal S-Corporation. In short, Kassan erased any line between his personal and business expenses.

Kassan further fostered a toxic culture at MediaLink, in which employees were beholden to him personally, rather than to MediaLink or UTA, and were discouraged from disclosing certain matters to UTA. Kassan used his influence to hide his misconduct from UTA for over a year. However, once UTA uncovered the scale of Kassan’s financial misconduct, it promptly confronted him about it. Kassan was unrepentant, and could offer no documentation or receipts to substantiate many of his outlandish “business” expenses – for the obvious reason that they were clearly improper personal expenses. As a result, following an investigation, Kassan was terminated for cause.

“The Court will review the contract and clearly find that UTA fraudulently induced Mr. Kassan to agree to the transaction and breach the contract on Special Expenses,” Kassan’s attorney Michelman told Deadline tonight of the brawl between the two sides and their very different POV on what went down. “UTA’s attempt to say they terminated Mr. Kassan is belied by the written documents.”

“Michael Kassan was terminated by UTA on March 7 and made aware well before that UTA had grounds to fire him,” said counsel to UTA Bryan Freedman. “His claim against UTA has no merit and is an attempt to divert attention from the misappropriation of company funds that led to his termination.”

See ya in court boys

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