UTA Accused of Fraud, Breach of Contract by MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan (EXCLUSIVE)

United Talent Agency has been accused of breach of contract and fraud in relation to its 2021 acquisition of the consultancy firm MediaLink.

MediaLink founder and UTA partner Michael Kassan, whose exit from the company nearly a week ago has not yet been reported, claims that UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer and two other top executives engaged in bad faith in the absorption and management of his company, according to documents filed with mediation service JAMS which Variety reviewed. This led Kassan to resign last week, the filing says. Through a spokesperson, UTA said it had fired Kassan for cause following an “an exhaustive third-party investigation into misappropriation of company funds.” The agency filed a lawsuit against Kassan, accusing him of misappropriating company funds as well as other claims.

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MediaLink is a prominent but not easily defined agency that sits at the intersection of tech, entertainment and media. They’re known for hosting lavish and popular parties at events like the Cannes Lion festival and global editions of CES. The company is also hired to help fill top C-suite jobs and craft corporate strategies. Their clients have included J.P. Morgan Chase, AT&T and Conde Nast. On Tuesday, it was named one of Forbes’ best management consulting firms in the country.

The legal action from Kassan, which was also filed Tuesday as a request for arbitration, says Zimmer and colleagues Julian Jacobs (Zimmer’s former assistant) and David Anderson failed to deliver on key promises of the acquisition. The most pressing is that UTA’s marketing department, which serves as a competing business to MediaLink, was supposed to be centralized under Kassan. The document asserts that UTA instead made MediaLink a “silo,” pressuring Kassan to dramatically raise fees for outside customers while offering considerable discounts to UTA clients. The filing also says Kassan was told to cease offering executive search services for corporate clients in order to benefit of another UTA-owned company, the name of which was not disclosed. Kassan is seeking damages worth no less than $25 million and compensation for attorneys fees.

“When Zimmer broke promises and began to impede the success of MediaLink, Michael was left with no other option other than to resign and file this lawsuit against Zimmer and UTA for breach of contract,” said Kassan’s attorney Sanford Michelman of Michelman and Robinson. “Michael’s first priority is the success and continued growth of MediaLink, a company he started more than 17 years ago, and he looks forward to ensuring its continued success in the industry.”

In a full statement from attorney Bryan Freedman, UTA said, “Michael Kassan was terminated by UTA on March 7 and made aware well before that that UTA had grounds to fire him. 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.”

In the document, Kassan alleges that Zimmer aggressively tried to slash costs at MediaLink. Kassan is known to spend generously to woo clients, and in the UTA deal he negotiated a $950,000 discretionary fund to pay for gifts and perks. This included Kassan’s use of private jets (which Zimmer and his family utilized, the document said, as did some UTA clients looking for “a ride”). Following the merger, UTA pushed back on the spending.

“Michael is the kind of guy who would tell you that if you talk to him for ten minutes, you’re getting something from Brunello Cucinelli to thank you for your time,” one individual familiar with Kassan said. UTA, according to the document, also took issue with MediaLink’s charitable giving, allegedly calling the annual amount “too high and inappropriate.”

In its lawsuit against Kassan, UTA asserts that the executive fostered a “toxic culture” within MediaLink and was profligate in his spending in ways that were unauthorized by the agency.

“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,” the UTA complaint states.

“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’s arbitration request makes reference to a “sham audit” of MediaLink. In light of these conflicts, Kassan resigned his post and waived a nearly $10 million severance package from UTA in order to retain his right to compete against them, the filing said.

Pictured above, from left: Michael Kassan, founder and CEO of MediaLink; UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer.

Here is Kassan’s demand for arbitration:

And here is UTA’s lawsuit against Kassan:

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