By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
The TV executive told investigators that he didn't really see the violation, since his personal and professional lives were so "interrelated." It was impossible, he said, to "draw a neat line" between them.
The same applied to the high-tech equipment he brought home. He billed taxpayers for special gadgets allowing him to "monitor certain of NYC-TV's programming remotely" from home. City officials said last week that the purchase was fine with them, but when DOI probers questioned Wierson about it in March, he quickly cut a check for $539 to clear things up.
Then there were the multiple private business ventures that Wierson found time for while he was running the city's network. When DOI confronted him, Wierson acknowledged that he was looking for a big-ticket opportunity to launch his own post-administration career in the private sector.
One deal that Wierson had cooking was an idea that he wanted to pitch to Hachette Filipacchi, the giant media firm. DOI, which seized several computers at the station, found a 15-page proposal by "Arick Wierson & Associates" on Wierson's office computer. The proposal envisioned a six-month consulting gig paying $80,000 per month. Wierson acknowledged that there really weren't any "associates," but that he had worked with two employees at the agency. One of them was a former intern and part-time college student named Andrew Atiya, who racked up $44,000 in overtime working for Wierson in 2006, almost doubling his $50,000 salary.
Wierson insisted that the "majority" of his work on the Hachette proposal—which never came through—was done outside of working hours, although he may have used his city e-mail a few times.
Then there were the ambitious plans to make their own movies. One was a would-be documentary about Jamaican drug gang victims, to be called Strykah: The Rise and Fall of the Shower Posse. Wierson was teamed up on that one with his legal counsel at the agency, Matthew Tollin, a former City Council attorney who doubled as general manager of radio operations. Also on board was Nomi Roher, the agency's head of production. Asked by DOI if he had "any concerns about entering into a business venture with two subordinates," Wierson said no. He'd "deal with the repercussions," he said, if the project got off the ground. In this one, too, the "majority" of the work was done on his own time, he maintained, with perhaps an occasional city e-mail.
Tollin, who refused to comment for this story, told DOI that he had stressed to everyone at NYC-TV involved in the film projects not to use city time or resources. But the efforts to get their own film business going rubbed at least one NYC-TV manager the wrong way. This manager complained to DOI that Wierson and Tollin had asked her to help with sales efforts for a pending private film venture and sent her repeated e-mail updates. She turned them down, and told investigators that she felt the invitation from her bosses was "inappropriate" and made her "uncomfortable."
Asked about the matter by DOI, Wierson said he wanted to put together a film production company to create what he called "fun, interesting, and meaningful documentaries." As for his efforts to recruit the manager, he said he was "just taking her temperature." His management style, Wierson told the investigators, was "to encourage people to think about the future."
His own future was tied up in the one outside project that did come through—and in spectacular fashion. That was the movie about the secret backstage talks that led to the Camp David peace agreement. And for Wierson, the timing couldn't have been better.
On June 7, just one week after leaving the city's payroll, Wierson and several of his other NYC-TV pals celebrated the opening of the feature-length documentary that they had somehow managed to make while working full-time for the city.
The celebration was held in a decidedly fashionable locale: the Mediterranean city-state of Monaco. The occasion was the premiere that evening of Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace, which was chosen to open the 49th Monte Carlo Television Festival. Producers declined to share a copy of the film with the Voice, but according to the film's promo material, it is 95 minutes long and took 18 months to make. It was shot in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Sinai, Cairo, Paris, Vienna, Washington, New York, and Atlanta, where Jimmy Carter, who led the talks, was put on camera.
At their glittering opening, Wierson and four other NYC-TV workers who helped make it appeared on a red carpet grinning proudly as cameras snapped their photos. Standing next to Wierson was His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, son of America's own royalty, Grace Kelly. Next to His Highness were Tollin, who served as Wierson's co-executive producer on the film and who resigned his $116,000-a-year city job in May; Roland Le Breton, a $101,000-a-year city aide, who was the film's art director; William Fitzgerald, a former NYC-TV contributor; and Harry Hunkele, the film's director, who resigned his $66,000-a-year city job just last month.
Watching from nearby and as delighted as can be was Charney, the esteemed host of the weekly interview show on city TV and radio stations, called The Leon Charney Report.