The top executive at a Bronx youth organization said yesterday that the former director of Air America Radio received more than $800,000 in loans for himself and the radio network from the nonprofit organization while serving as its development director.
Some of the transfers, according to the president of the Bronx-based Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club organization's executive committee, Jeannette Graves, occurred when the development director, Evan Montvel Cohen, who for a time served simultaneously as the liberal radio network's director, appealed to the organization for two loans worth $35,000. Another member of the executive committee said Mr. Cohen told the executive director of the organization that he needed the money to pay for chemotherapy for himself and other medical expenses for his ill father.
Ms. Graves said that Mr. Cohen also received another $213,000 loan for Air America in a check that was approved without her authorization and stamped with an imprint of her signature, and that the club wired more than $400,000 to him without her knowledge.
Mr. Cohen, who no longer is employed by either Air America or Gloria Wise, and who has not been charged with a crime, could not be reached for comment.
Air America Radio, launched with some fanfare on March 31, 2004, is carried on dozens of stations. It probably is best known for its program host Al Franken, the liberal comedian, writer, and political gadfly.
Some of the allegations about Mr. Cohen and Air America have appeared in published reports in the past several weeks, including articles in the New York Post, the Daily News, and the Washington Times, as well as postings on Michelle Malkin's blog and the Radio Equalizer, but Ms. Graves provided The New York Sun with much more extensive details of the allegations.
In June, the city's Department of Investigation announced the suspension of city grants and contracts with Gloria Wise, worth millions of dollars, because of allegations, among others, that its officials had approved "significant inappropriate transactions and falsified documents that were submitted to various city agencies."
The current parent corporation of Air America is Piquant LLC, with offices on Park Avenue. On May 24, 2004, Piquant acquired Air America from Progress Media. Piquant said in a statement last week that Progress was the entity to which the Gloria Wise loans went, and that it has been defunct since May 2004. Piquant said Mr. Cohen has not had any affiliation with the radio network since that point.
"The current owners of Air America Radio have no obligation to Progress Media's business activities," the statement read. "We are very disturbed that Air America Radio's good name could be associated with a reduction in services for young people, which is why we agreed months ago to fully compensate the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club as a result of this transaction."
Ms. Graves said Air America has agreed in writing to pay back the full amount of more than $800,000 in installments over the next two years. It is unclear whether the funds allegedly obtained from Gloria Wise were ultimately received or spent by Air America.
Ms. Graves said Gloria Wise is fully cooperating with the Department of Investigation. She said that thanks to contracts and funds secured from other entities, it is "business as usual" for all of the organization's social programs, which serve 20,000 children, elderly residents, and people with disabilities in the Co-op City section of the Bronx.
In 2003, Gloria Wise reported receiving more than $3.7 million in government grants and more than half a million dollars in government contracts. It reported spending a total of more than $4.5 million that year.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Investigations, Emily Gest, said the organization does not comment on continuing investigations.
Mr. Cohen, 39, was co-founder of Progress Media Inc. He left Air America in May 2004 - at which time he remained in the employ of the Boys & Girls Club. In 2003, he was paid more than $74,000 as Gloria Wise's development director, according to the organization's filings with the Internal Revenue Service.
In telephone interviews yesterday, several members of the executive committee of Gloria Wise remembered the shock they felt learning last month about the scandal.
One member of the executive committee, Anna Capell, 80, said she feared answering the phone or attending a scheduled meeting of the committee as a result of anxiety that she would be investigated or sued.
"I'm still rocking from the experience," Ms. Capell said.
Initially, members of the executive committee viewed Mr. Cohen fondly because he had thrown a tremendously successful fund-raising affair for Gloria Wise in Manhattan last year. They recalled being impressed by the wealthy clientele and the large sums of money he raised, according to Ms. Graves.
Because of that confidence in Mr. Cohen, she said, the executive committee approved two loans to Air America, one for $80,000 and another for $87,000.
Ms. Capell said she had met Mr. Cohen several times.
"He was very suave, a very wonderful young man. He left a very favorable impression," she said in a telephone interview.
After the initial two loans, Ms. Graves said that just before the launch of Air America her organization lent the network another $213,000, authorized with a rubber stamp of her signature on a document she said she never saw. More recently, Ms. Graves said, Gloria Wise made a wire transfer of at least $400,000 to Air America without her knowledge.
In addition, according to Ms. Graves, the longtime executive director of Gloria Wise, Charles Rosen, later told the board he had lent an additional $35,000 of the organization's funds to Mr. Cohen for medical expenses. According to Ms. Capell, the board member, Mr. Cohen told Mr. Rosen he needed $25,000 to pay for chemotherapy. Mr. Cohen told associates that he recovered from brain cancer, according to Ms. Capell. Later, Mr. Cohen asked for $10,000 - which he was lent - be cause his father, a businessman in Asia, was "gravely ill," Ms. Capell said.
Ms. Graves said that she knew of the personal loans to Mr. Cohen, but that she thought they were taken from Mr. Rosen's personal discretionary budget, "not the agency's."
Mr. Rosen could not be reached for comment.
Gloria Wise received personal checks in various amounts from Mr. Cohen to pay back some of the loans, but Ms. Graves said the checks did not clear. The executive committee dismissed him when members learned of some of his actions, according to another member of the executive committee, John Rose.
While she spoke critically of Mr. Cohen, Ms. Graves said she thought Mr. Rosen performed exceptionally well as the organization's executive director. According to Ms. Graves, Mr. Rosen, 62, helped the organization's annual budget grow from $175,000 into the millions. He recently resigned.
According to IRS filings Mr. Rosen earned nearly $148,000 in 2003 from the Gloria Wise organization for working approximately 23 hours a week as executive director. Previously, Mr. Rosen worked as a typographer for the New York Post and was active in union politics, leading a rent strike in Co-op City in the early 1970s.