A group of AIDS activists have signed an open letter asking for fashion designer Kenneth Cole to resign or be replaced as amfAR board chairman, following a report in October that detailed shady amfAR dealings between Cole and disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The letter obtained by NBC News on Monday also asks for New York prosecutors to get involved if Cole doesn’t step down. Olympic diver Greg Louganis and playwright Larry Kramer are among the 60-plus people to sign the letter, according to NBC News.
The letter was in response to a report by The Huffington Post‘s Yashar Ali last month that provided details on how Weinstein attempted to resolve a financial obligation to the American Repertory Theater (ART) by hosting a charity auction in Cannes with amfAR, a nonprofit organization he supported for decades. The dealing was revealed following allegations of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women against Weinstein.
Weinstein apparently owed $600,000 to ART for a trial production of Broadway-bound Finding Neverland, which he had produced. He had an arrangement with the theater that he and other show investors would be reimbursed for money they put into the trial provided they got third parties to donate the amounts. There was a hard deadline of June 1 for Weinstein to wire the owed $600,000 to ART or else he would not be reimbursed.
Weinstein’s plan was to split the proceeds — estimated to be around $1.2 million — from the charity auction lots with amfAR, a plan that was allegedly agreed to by Cole, even though the organization’s CEO Kevin Frost had a policy against splitting revenues, and despite multiple internal protests from amfAR staff. The auction only netted approximately $900,000, at which time Weinstein and Cole renegotiated so that ART would receive $600,000 in full, and amfAR approximately $310,000.
Issues arose due to ART’s hard deadline of June 1 for payment. Some of the bidders had not yet paid for their lots, and there was no way to guarantee they actually would — so amfAR wanted to wait until after the experiences had been fulfilled to transfer the money. To compensate, Weinstein decided to wire $600,000 of his own money via a holding company to amfAR so that they could in turn make a payment to ART.
Following the auction, Cole asked members of the board to sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from speaking about Weinstein; in return, Weinstein would make a million-dollar donation if all board members signed. According to Cole at the time, the NDA meant that “we won’t involve ourselves in Harvey’s affairs in the future.” All but four members signed it.
In response to the activists’ letter, Cole issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter and said the note was “based on a false narrative and distortion of facts.”
He added: “I have proudly served on the board of amfAR for 30 years and as its chair for 13 of them. We have had an impact in many of the most important breakthroughs in the fight against HIV and AIDS, having raised hundreds of millions of dollars for this life-saving work. I have no intention of abandoning that mission because of a transaction that was determined to be legal and ethical and was engaged in because it served amfAR’s mission.”
“To clarify the record, Harvey Weinstein has never been a friend of mine,” Cole continued. “I worked with him as chairman of amfAR only because it was good for amfAR and I did not know about his despicable behavior until I read about it in the New York Times. Any suggestion that I somehow made this deal as a favor to Weinstein is ridiculous and patently false.”
The dealing is currently under investigation.