Grammy Awards Interim Chief Alleges Massive Extortion Plot by Ex-CEO — Here’s His Letter to Academy Members

Just days before the Grammy Awards are slated to air, Recording Academy interim chief Harvey Mason is slamming just-fired CEO Deborah Dugan for attempting to extort the organization.

Last week, the Recording Academy?abruptly placed?its CEO, Deborah Dugan, on ‘administrative leave’ based on an unspecified but’ formal allegation of misconduct.’ That was the start of an avalanche of leaks, with the ‘allegation’ rumored to have?originated from staffer Claudine Little. However, it’s unclear what Dugan did to spark the complaint.

Now, incoming interim CEO Harvey Mason, Jr. is starting his tenure with a hammer blow. After fighting words were issued by Dugan’s attorney, Mason alleges that Dugan threatened the Recording Academy with damaging information. The extortion demand was ‘in the millions, according to Mason, a statement that quickly sparked rumors of a demand exceeding $20 million.

“After we received the employee complaints against Ms. Dugan, she then (for the first time) made allegations against the Academy,” Mason wrote in a letter to Academy members.? “In response, we started a separate investigation into Ms. Dugan’s allegations. Ms. Dugan’s attorney then informed the Executive Committee that if Ms. Dugan was paid millions of dollars, she would ‘withdraw’ her allegations and resign from her role as CEO.

“Following that communication from Ms. Dugan’s attorney, Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave as we complete both of these ongoing investigations.”

So what dirt does Dugan have, exactly?

That’s another unknown. But the ousted CEO was apparently rattling the cage a bit too aggressively — a decision that likely led to her abrupt firing. Dugan was rumored to be snuffing out Grammy Awards voting irregularities, exorbitant legal bills, and even misappropriation of funds at the organization.

All of which may still come to the surface.? “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told,” Dugan’s attorney Bryan Freedman described.? “When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”

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Prior to Dugan, Recording Academy then-CEO Neil Portnow was accused of a massive misappropriation of funds relating to? the Recording Academy’s MusiCares charity.? In May of 2018, former MusiCares vice president Dana Tomarken accused the Recording Academy and Portnow of steering funds from the charitable organization to cover deficits incurred by the Grammy Awards.

Oh, just one last thing: the Grammy Awards are five days away.

Here’s Mason’s complete letter.

Academy Family,

As a proud member of our music community and the Recording Academy’s interim President and CEO, I thought it important that I reach out to you all directly about Deborah Dugan. In her brief time with the Academy, Ms. Dugan and I were in sync about taking a fresh look at everything and making any and all changes necessary to improve the Academy as well as making it more current and relevant to the creative community we serve. I remain committed to that goal.

In November of 2019, the Executive Committee became aware of abusive work environment complaints alleged against Ms. Dugan and in December 2019, a letter was sent from an attorney representing a staff member that included additional detailed and serious allegations of a “toxic and intolerable” and “abusive and bullying” environment created by Ms. Dugan towards the staff. Given these concerning reports, the Executive Committee launched an immediate and independent investigation into the alleged misconduct of Ms. Dugan.

After we received the employee complaints against Ms. Dugan, she then (for the first time) made allegations against the Academy. In response, we started a separate investigation into Ms. Dugan’s allegations. Ms. Dugan’s attorney then informed the Executive Committee that if Ms. Dugan was paid millions of dollars, she would “withdraw” her allegations and resign from her role as CEO. Following that communication from Ms. Dugan’s attorney, Ms. Dugan was placed on administrative leave as we complete both of these ongoing investigations.

I’m deeply disturbed and saddened by the “leaks” and misinformation, which are fueling a press campaign designed to create leverage against the Academy for personal gain. As GRAMMY week is upon us, I truly hope we can focus our attention on the artists who’ve received nominations and deserve to be celebrated at this time of the year, and not give credence to unsubstantiated attacks on the Academy. To do otherwise is just not right.

As you know the Recording Academy’s Board of Trustees is composed of creative and technical artists and music makers from all genres, who’ve devoted their lives to making music and volunteering their time dedicated to the mission of the Recording Academy. These Trustees, as well as the Governors in our 12 chapters, give their time freely and passionately. Many are entrepreneurs who run small businesses devoted to their art, and generously donate their time not only to recognize their peers, but to fight for the rights of music makers, foster music education, and provide support to those in need all year long. Furthermore, our hardworking and knowledgeable staff could not be more dedicated to supporting and furthering our mission. The current attacks on the Academy are attacks on these people, which are unwarranted, uninformed and unconscionable.

I encourage anyone who is truly interested to go beyond the sensational sound bites and teaser headlines and look at what the Academy actually does and how it functions. Don’t buy into headlines generated for personal gain but seek the truth as I am doing. As I mentioned we have initiated two independent investigations to explore all claims and present objective findings. My pledge to you is that I will address the findings of these investigations fairly and honestly and work to make needed repairs and changes while ensuring we have an Academy that honors diversity, inclusion and a safe work environment for all concerned.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and your support of our Recording Academy.

Harvey Mason, Jr.

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