[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he new boss strolled into one of the most respected alternative weeklies in the country and promptly fired everyone — a Red Wedding to remember in L.A. media — then turned around and asked for double more compensation for the mere task of re-staffing the team he “had just gutted.” To the tune of another $135,000.
This is just one of several explosive claims one of the principal partners of the company that bought the LA Weekly last fall is making in L.A. Superior Court against Brian Calle, the Orange County conservative-leaning operative who became publisher of the Weekly after its sale in late November 2017.
David Welch, a downtown cannabis attorney, filed suit against Brian Calle with a blistering complaint that alleges gross violations of basic editorial ethics and says that Calle and others sought to enrich themselves off the storied alt-weekly.
The plaintiff alleges that the managing owners led by Calle obliterated and destroyed the paper in less than a year, due to “breathtaking incompetence, self-dealing and fraudulent intentions.”
Calle, the main target of the suit, did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
Welch is seeking a “judicial dissolution” of the company. Here are highlights from the complaint against Calle, Steve Mehr, Wayne Gross, Kevin Xu, Andy Bequer, Mike Mugel, Paul Makarechian, Nyjah Huston (a pro-skater who also received favorable coverage in the Weekly), and Alan Greenberg, who share ownership of the LA Weekly currently, as Street Media LLC, or Semanal Media. [Update: The entire suit is linked below.]
“Defendants are primarily Orange County-based individuals and investors.”
“Within six months of Defandants’ mismanagement, the event revenue stream has disappeared entirely.”
“Calle, Xu, Mehr, and the other defendants did not have sufficient capital available to close the deal. Calle turned to Mr. Welch, who agreed to invest $225,000 in cash on top of the considerable amount of legal work he had already performed.”
“Mr. Welch remained in the dark about Calle, Xu, Mehr, and their compatriots’ scheme to loot the LA Weekly.”
“Within hours of the deal, Defendants began the first round of their harm to the newspaper: massive staff layoffs. [...] At no point did Calle disclose that this so-called ‘right-sizing’ meant that he would almost entirely gut the key people whose content is key to LA Weekly’s mission, readership and, thus, revenue.”
“They altered the datelines on stories (including those filed by individuals that they had just terminated) to make them appear fresh.”
“Mr. Welch wrote to Calle that his tactics of concealing certain investors in the LA Weekly from the public and encouraging current LA Weekly employees to 'troll,' — that is, to harass online — members of the boycott group were not only dishonest but could lead to liability for the company. Calle ignored those warnings.”
“Defendants began to personally enrich themselves from the company’s coffers.”
“Defendants [provided] otherwise highly lucrative advertising deals in the LA Weekly to companies in which they have an interest at substantially below-market rates.”
The complaint alleges that Calle, Mehr, and Gross used LA Weekly resources for business related to their separate joint social media agency, Vanguard: “Defendants have gone so far as to utilize LA Weekly staff to conduct Vanguard business from the LA Weekly offices.”
“Defendants Calle, Mehr and Gross have also been devoting time that should have a been spent working to undo the damage they inflicted on the LA Weekly to the establishment of a separate publication, tentatively titled the Irvine Weekly, that would outwardly be similar to the LAWeekly, but focused more on the Orange County market.”
“Calle also brushed aside Mr. Welch’s efforts to point out the ethical violations inherent in his role as Publisher of the LA Weekly with full editorial control while also maintaining employment as the Chief Marketing Officer of Kurvana [a cannabis company], for which he was paid an additional $120,000 per year.”
“Calle made no effort to separate himself and his editorial will from content concerning Kurvana [which received a 'glowing review' in the Weekly on July 26].”
The suit claims Calle misled current LA Weekly employees by claiming a restructuring of paid time-off was required to comply with L.A. city rules regarding the paper’s relocation to downtown, which is false.
Welch claims he was booted unlawfully from the management team on May 14. The “breach is ongoing,” the suit says.
Daniel Hernandez is editor emeritus of LA Taco, serving 2017-2019. He is currently a staff writer for the L.A. Times. He is former Mexico bureau chief for VICE News, and former staff writer at the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly. Daniel is author of the book "Down & Delirious in Mexico City."
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