CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS IN THE ONGOING STRUGGLE
FOR AN OPEN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL ARTS CLUB
(in reverse chronological order)
May 2011: At the May 3 NAC annual meeting, Acting President Dianne Bernhard and the board refrain from commenting on the law enforcement agencies’ investigations saying that the agencies have requested that The NAC not comment on the allegations while the investigations are ongoing. The Concerned Artists and Members of The National Arts Club present to the club membership at the annual meeting the “Blueprint to Reform The National Arts Club”, a plan for Club reform developed with the participation of every Club member at the time of its publication.
March 2011: Very soon after President O. Aldon James steps aside, the NY State Attorney General and NYC District Attorney initiate investigations of allegations of NAC financial malfeasance, which include the abuse of Club-owned apartments, and other matters. NAC Acting President Dianne Bernhard later states that over 20,000 documents from The NAC files have been provided to the authorities. (To read full coverage, click text). March 2011: President O. Aldon James agrees to step aside as president at the request of the NAC Board for a “well earned vacation” in the words of Dianne Bernhard, First Vice President of The NAC. Dianne Bernhard is appointed Acting President by the board. The vacation is for an indeterminate period. These actions follow the discovery of dozens of dead baby bird Finches in Gramercy Park; it is alleged that Aldon James is responsible for their death as a result of several incriminating pieces of evidence. Other actions of Aldon James contribute to the Board’s action. Ms. Bernhard explained to a NY Times reporter, “We’ve had a barrage of newspaper articles, complaints from board members, members, tenants, staff, neighbors,… We had disgruntled employees who were fired, and this last episode of the birds in the park. We felt like there was so much out there that we didn’t know which was fact and which was fiction, and we needed to get to the bottom of it.” (To read full coverage, click text). January 2011: Scandal erupts when The NAC 2008 Internal Revenue Service 990 tax filing reveals that President O. Aldon James and his friends are paying rents for Club-owned apartments that are far below the rents for comparable multi-room Gramercy Park apartments. The filing shows that President James pays $1,143./month; his brother, John James, $356./month; and Honorary Governor of The NAC and close friend, Steven Leitner, $858./month. The same tax filing shows that NAC board member, Dianne Bernhard, pays $7,600. per month. The scandal is intensified by publication in DNAinfo.com of photos taken by former employees of Club rooms that show approximately ten Club residential apartments and club rooms intended for membership use being used by the James brothers to hoard lamps, paintings, books and other assorted junk. At a subsequent NAC Board of Governors meeting, there is friction between Aldon James and the Board of Governors over these issues, and he refuses to fully address the allegations of misuse of the Club rooms and apartments. (To read full coverage, click text) July 2003: John James, 55, the twin brother of The National Arts Club's president Aldon James, was arrested and quickly pleads guilty to a felony charge of tax fraud for using The NAC's tax exempt status to avoid sales taxes owed on hundreds of thousands of dollars in fine jewelry sales, thereby avoiding prison time. However, he must still spend a minimum of 90 days at a Connecticut psychiatric facility, serve five years' probation, and pay restitution and fines of of $529,213, plus a $60,000 fine. (to read full coverage, click on the blue text) February 2003: NAC president O. Aldon James removes himself and The NAC as plaintiffs from the racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the Gramery Park Trust and Mrs. Sharen Benenson, President of the Trust that he helped instigate towards the end of 2000. (to read full coverage, click on the blue text)
October 2002: NAC Dining Room Manager Joseph Frappoala pleads guilty to grand larceny, as part of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthaus' continuing investigation into the leadership of The National Arts Club. The guilty plea admits to having skimmed over $160,000 in city and state sales taxes from the dining room operation. (to read full coverage, click on
May 2002: The State Liquor Authority slaps The National Arts Club with a $5,000 fine and a 15-day deferred suspension of its liquor license for violation of state laws, after the Club pled "No Contest." If the Club doesn't enact demanded reforms, it faces full suspension of its license or revocation. Also, as of May The NAC has yet to pay its former accounting firm Condon, O'Meara, McGinty & Donnelly $34,000 it owes the firm for services rendered (to read full coverage, click on the blue text) April 15, 2002: 130+ members of The National Arts Club petition the Board of Governors calling for Club president O. Aldon James to step down while under criminal investigation by the District Attorney of Manhattan and the New York State Department of Finance. (to read the petition, click on the blue Petition to the Board of Governors) April 2002: The New York Observer and Back Stage newspapers report that The NAC is sellng an important painting from the Club's collection for the first time in many years. (To access these articles, click on the blue newspaper names: New York Observer Back Stage) March 25, 2002: The Concerned Artists of The National Arts Club present to the membership a complete platform Blueprint to Reform The NAC. It is a comprehensive proposal to overhaul The NAC in order to restore a democratic structure and accountability to the administration of the Club. The platform also calls for NAC president, O. Aldon James, to step aside from his duties while under criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney and the New York State Department of Finance. (To access the complete platform proposal, click on the blue.) January 17, 2002: The Board of Governors learns that the James administration has added former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, along with Benito Romano, of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher as additional counsel to represent the administration during the ensuing Manhattan District Attorney/NY State Dept. of Finance investigation. (For NY Times coverage, click on the blue.) January 4, 2002: A combined force of police and detectives stormed into The National Arts Club by court order, seizing documents, records, computers and computer disks as the joint Manhattan District Attorney/NY State Dept. of Finance investigation into the James/Leitner administration intensified. A grand jury has been convened to review findings and possible charges. (For the latest press coverage, click on the blue.)
September 21, 2001: Concerned Artists learns that the James/Leitner administration has secretly and systematically made agreements with outside organizations, offering to their memberships full access to and use of NAC facilities for only a small fraction of the cost sustained by NAC members for the same privileges. Having been done surreptitiously, these organizations -- apparently with the consent of Aldon James etal. -- have offered no reciprocity to NAC members in return (in contrast to clubs such as Lotos or Salmagundi). NAC members must pay over $900 a year (including dining room assessment) for what can now be obtained by others for a minimal fee. Click on the blue URLs below for the websites of organizations known at this time to enjoy such arrangements. Their membership fees will be easily found as well as descriptions of all their privileges at The NAC.
August 9, 2001: Federal District Court Justice Gerald E. Lynch dismissed plaintiffs' claims in the Federal civil rights lawsuit (brought by The National Arts Club, O. Aldon James, and several students and teachers from Washington Irving High School against the Gramercy Park Trust, Sharon Benenson, and Arthur Abbey) that the 1831 trust indenture over Gramercy Park is invalid and should be dismantled by court order, ruling that jurisdiction in Federal court does not exist. Justice Lynch previously ruled on June 25 that the plaintiffs' claim of racial discrimination against the group of mostly minority schoolchildren escorted into the Park by Aldon James would enter a discovery phase through January 2002.
July 23, 2001: The New York State Liquor Authority filed a complaint today against The National Arts Club with four counts to cancel or revoke the liquor license, which is in Aldon James' personal name. The counts are summarized as: 1) permitting a person not mentioned in the liquor license to use the license; 2) allowing an undisclosed person to have an interest in the license; 3) refusing to appear or testify under oath at an inquiry (Aldon James); and 4) failing or refusing to disclose information required to be disclosed, namely, the books and records.
July 19, 2001: The Harlem Opera releases official statement on its website stating:
"Mr. O. Aldon James, President of the National Arts Club, is a pathological liar and manipulative racist of the worst kind. He has insulted and abused Harlem Opera's leadership and musicians since it's first concert at the Club in May 2001. Mr. James has lied to the media about racial attacks on Harlem Opera's artists by National Arts Club dissidents." A full article explaining its position is included. The article totally refutes the defamatory article against Concerned Artists in New York Magazine (see below) and related claims made by Aldon James. (click on blue text for link to the Harlem Opera website click here) June/July, 2001: The New York Times begins new coverage of this latest conflict with the Aldon James/Steven Leitner administration on June 13. It too reports that the Club is under investigation by the New York City tax authorities. Town & Village newspaper continues its hard hitting expose of the Club administration. (click on blue text for link click here)
May 24, 2001: Town & Village newspaper, the local paper of the Gramercy Park area, announces that the New York City Department of Finance has initiated a full investigation of The National Arts Club's dining/bar operations. The Aldon James/Steven Leitner administration will need to explain why the Club reports no income from these operations even though the facilities produce millions of dollars in cash flow, and the Club is the holder of the liquor license.
May 14, 2001: NY Magazine reports in is Intelligencer column that virulently racist and anti-Semitic letters purportedly in the name of the Concerned Artists are being mailed to members of The National Arts Club. It is clearly part of an orchestrated, cynical disinformation campaign to discredit the character of Concerned Artists.
May 5, 2001: As according to tradition, the general public was invited to enjoy Gramercy Park on Gramercy Park Day. (click on blue text for link click here) May 3, 2001: Town & Village newspaper, the local paper of the Gramercy Park area, publishes a scathing expose of the Club's dining room operations and its general finances. (click on blue text for link click here)
May 1, 2001: The Annual Meeting is held. For the first time in memory, the meeting is held in the small Sculpture Court behind the Dining Room, rather than its traditional location in the spacious Grand Gallery. A highly-charged chaotic situation occurs in which hundreds of members are unable to attend the meeting, the fire department was called to disperse the overflow, and hundreds were unable to cast their ballots for or against the James/Leitner administration's newest slate of nominees for the Board of Governors -- a slate including Steven U. Leitner. Despite the chaos of the balloting and the severe voting irregularities that ensued, Aldon James declared a quorum and voter approval of his nominated slate. Concerned Artists presented a petition for impartial, outside election inspectors (as is our right under New York State law -- "[T]he person presiding at a meeting of members may, and on the request of any member entitled to vote thereat shall, appoint one or more inspectors." -- Section 610 New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation Law), but the petition was rejected by Mr. James.
In addition, for a legally recognized annual meeting and election, the NAC Constitution requires a quorum consisting of "one-half of the total number of Members entitled to vote." NAC Constitution, Section VII (4). In her Admissions Committee report at the May 1 meeting, Chair Edna Spoor announced NAC membership is 2032. In announcing the purported election results, Aldon James stated the slate received 853 votes for, and 148 against. This totals 1000 -- 16 votes shy of a quorum. Therefore, under the terms of the NAC Constitution, and New York State law requiring a quorum, neither the election nor the meeting was valid.
Concerned Artists also brought up the issue of no reported revenue from the Dining Room operations in any of the Club's tax filings and no existing agreement with the Dining Room. This concern was not addressed. The local newspaper Town & Village begins to explore this issue as well as the Club's overall tax returns (click on blue text for link click here).
William Samuels appeared to have assured the membership that he will bear the brunt of any incurred financial liabilities inflicted by court proceedings concerning the Gramercy Park Federal civil rights suit. There does not appear though to be any agreement in writing. What Mr. Samuels' attitude would be in the future, especially if court proceedings sour for the plaintiffs, cannot be foretold.
March 23, 2001: A club-wide mailing was received signed by O. Aldon James announcing that Helga Orthofer, one of the Concerned Artists signatories, was formally ousted from her National Arts Club posts of Chair of the Exhibition Committee and the Photography Committee, as well as from her overall membership in these two committees. James represented that this action was in accordance with the wishes of the Board of Governors and described our Concerned Artist letters as "...vicious and dishonest criticism of the present Club administration and Board," and that these letters were "...intended to be very destructive to the public image of The National Arts Club." Mr. James further contended that these posts were extensions of the Board of Governors and that the Board, rather than being an independent body overseeing the administration of a non-profit organization, is in fact is "...expected to support the policies and programs of the administration in the same manner that the appointees and cabinets of state and federal governments must support their respective administration policies."
February 28, 2001: Concerned Artists signatory Ted Andrews formally requests in writing from O. Aldon James written proof that the Club has been indemnified by Mr. Bill Samuels from any financial liabilities in the event of the plaintiffs losing the racial discrimination case in Federal District Court. No reply has ever been received by Concerned Artists.
February 3, 2001: Steven Miller, Executive Director of the Bennington Museum, sends a detailed letter of protest to the Board of Governors of The National Arts Club, questioning certain legal issues and numerous policies instituted by the James/Leitner administration (see facsimile of Steven Miller letter for full text). In a reply by Dan Schiffman, a member of the Board, informed him, in a letter dated February 21, that the Board had considered his letter at a formal meeting the previous week, and found all of his arguments unwarranted. In fact, the letter was never discussed at that Board meeting nor was Mr. Schiffman even present at it (see previous menu "Replies" section for facimile). Late January 2001: Club member Nancy Dyer Mitton sends a letter to the Board of Governors protesting the Club decision to be a plaintiff in a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Gramery Park Trust and Mrs. Sharen Benenson, President of the Trust. Board member Steven U. Leitner replies and in his letter describes Mrs. Mitton as having "...Aryan Nations views" (see previous menu "Replies" section for facimile). A further response by Board member Dan Schiffman, at first denied that the Club was a plaintiff in the discrimination suit and demanded proof. Mrs. Mitton had to fax him a copy of the court filing showing the Club was clearly a listed plaintiff.