The comedian Al Franken, Air America Radio's most prominent host, said yesterday that he did not know whether the hundreds of thousands of dollars apparently lent to the radio network by a Bronx social-service organization had indeed been relayed to Air America by Evan Montvel Cohen. Mr. Cohen simultaneously served as director of the liberal network and development director of the nonprofit Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club.
The Gloria Wise club, which serves 20,000 clients in Co-op City, has gotten millions of dollars a year in government funds. The city's Department of Investigation announced in June the suspension of Gloria Wise's city grants and contracts because of allegations of "inappropriate transactions."
Mr. Franken said he has learned details of the story only in the last week. He said Piquant LLC, current owner and operator of the radio network, found a record of the transfers while conducting a "forensic" investigation into the finances of the previous owner, Progress Media, which was run by Mr. Cohen. That internal probe was conducted before the city agency became involved, Mr. Franken said. Efforts by The New York Sun to reach Mr. Cohen for comment in recent days have been unsuccessful.
A Piquant spokesman said yesterday that Gloria Wise would be compensated regardless of the amount of money it transferred. Mr. Franken said he did not know if money from Gloria Wise had been absorbed by the network and used to finance its operations. He said Piquant's payments to Gloria Wise were scheduled to begin this month but were prevented from going through while the city investigation continued.
A spokesman for the Department of Investigation, Keith Schwam, said that if Air America discovered the transfers before the city probe began, "They neglected to tell anyone at DOI or in the city about it."
Mr. Franken said that around the time of Air America's launch in March 2004, Mr. Cohen said the radio network could survive for three years without making a profit." It turned out to be three weeks," Mr. Franken said. "We were all shocked." Mr. Franken said his most "charitable" interpretation of the Gloria Wise transfers to Air America was that Mr. Cohen had a "dream and tried to keep it going."
Members of the Gloria Wise executive committee described to the Sun transfers from the club to Mr. Cohen and to Air America that totaled $875,000. They said Sunday that one reason Mr. Cohen cited when asking for personal loans was that he needed money for chemotherapy because he suffered from brain cancer.
Mr. Franken said he did not know whether his former colleague had the disease, but he recalled that Mr. Cohen, a native of Guam who is 39, referred repeatedly to it. For example, Mr. Franken said, he'd complain to Mr. Cohen that studio equipment wasn't working, "and he'd say, 'You know, I have brain cancer.'"
"Brain cancer," Mr. Franken said, "seemed to be his answer to everything." Mr. Franken said he didn't know Mr. Cohen's current whereabouts.