Michael Kassan Accused of Using Millions of UTA Money for Private Jets, Chauffeur’s Rent, Wife’s Shopping

MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan, a powerful executive in advertising and Hollywood who sold his company to UTA three years ago, is accused of spending millions of the agency’s money for private jets, his chauffeur’s rent and designer clothes for his wife among other “lavish” expenses, according to a lawsuit filed by UTA, obtained by TheWrap.

In the lawsuit filed on Wednesday in L.A. Superior Court, UTA says that Kassan was fired after hiring a private investigator to look into “financial irregularities.” The well-connected Kassan has denied the allegations and hit back with his own blistering lawsuit saying he quit over a breach of contract by the agency.

“As a partner of UTA, media and advertising executive Michael Kassan has run rampant with his business expense accounts — wasting millions of UTA’s dollars on his lavish personal lifestyle,” UTA says in its lawsuit, which was reviewed by TheWrap.

“Kassan abused his title and authority by circumventing or failing to maintain standard control processes to ensure that company funds were used to pay for his extravagant personal expenses, without question, and with the goal of not leaving any trace behind,” the lawsuit continues.

An UTA insider speaking to TheWrap on condition of anonymity, said UTA has hired a former U.S. attorney from Skadden Arps to look into Kassan after UTA “saw some some red flags” related to MediaLink financials statements — they were delayed and incomplete.

“They found he was embezzling money from UTA, and we believe he stole millions from the company, perhaps two or three million,” the UTA insider said.

UTA said it fired Kassan on March 7, though he says in his own lawsuit he quit a day earlier for breach of contract.

An individual close to Kassan said about UTA’s lawsuit: “You can’t fire somebody who has already resigned. UTA has a resignation letter from Michael on March 6, and he filed a lawsuit, then they fired him March 7 and issued their lawsuit today, which doesn’t make any sense.”

The source defended Kassan as a “lavish gift giver,” and strongly denied any claims of embezzlement, insisting that UTA had green-lit his expense budget, with UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer personally approving it in the deal.

According to the insider, Kassan negotiated in his contract overseeing UTA marketing and day-to-day operations and a special expense budget of $950,000.

“Anybody who knows Michael, that’s how he operates,” said this insider. “He sends out Bruno Cucinelli bags, Jeremy Zimmer’s wife flies on his own plane, UTA clients fly on his plane, that’s how he’s grown MediaLink into what it is today. He’s a very lavish gift giver, travel and entertainment person, that’s how he builds business.”

The source insider that gifts were given to key power players in the industry including Jeffrey Katzenberg, LionTree’s Aryeh Bourkoff and even Zimmer himself. The individual added UTA had agreed to those stipulations when buying MediaLink.

“Then Jeremy Zimmer came in trying to hammer him on the special expense budget, saying I am tired of this, you are spending too much on lavish gifts for people, and Michael had to follow a regular expense budget like anybody else,” the source continued. “Michael said ‘no way’ and he resigned, turning down $10 million for a non-compete. He sent his resignation letter, filed a lawsuit, then UTA said they were going to sue him.”

This individual called the allegations against Kassan “insane,” adding that the claim that he stole $2-3 million from UTA “is absurd.”

Kassan’s lawyer Sanford Michelman told TheWrap: “Michael resigned on March 6 and elected not to take the $10 million non-compete from UTA. They then freaked out and made these claims to attack him. It is a desperate, desperate attack. Michael paid taxes on every dollar that came through his company. They are obviously debunkable claims.”

Kassan founded MediaLink in 2003 as an advisory firm to the media, marketing and advertising industries. He advises almost all Hollywood’s major studios on their relationships with major brands – and vice versa.

Dubbed “The Media Mafia” by Vox because of its deep influence in the industry, MediaLink has a client list that includes J.P. Morgan Chase, GE, Unilever, Kraft, AT&T, The New York Times, NewsCorp, Conde Nast and Time Inc.

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UTA acquired MediaLink in 2021 in a $125 million deal, with Kassan remaining as CEO and becoming a UTA partner.

The company is hugely visible at industry events like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas held every January, and the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in the South of France every June.

At Cannes Lions the well-liked Kassan annually hosts an exclusive party at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc for the cream of the advertising industry with performers like Mariah Carey, Chris Martin and Sting, and an exclusive and very tight guest list of ad and industry CEOs.

Among the allegations in the lawsuit were that Kassan was depositing checks into his personal accounts, using UTA funds to pay off his credit cards, charging the company for private jets for fraudulent business trips and allowed his wife to have a UTA company credit card to buy herself designer clothes.

A UTA insider told TheWrap that Kassan also allegedly “began transferring money from UTA to his own accounts in his very first week. He had a car and a driver in his deal, so he moved his driver from [New York City] and used UTA money to pay his driver’s rent for around $60,000.”

Kassan also allegedly clinched a consulting deal with a new start-up, the insider said, and in return for providing MediaLink services for free, Kassan personally received equity in the company. He set up an entity to get reimbursement from UTA and deduct taxes at the same time, even using company funds to pay for his personal housekeeper, according to the lawsuit.

“Not only did Kassan insist on private flights – he spent a small fortune of UTA’s dollars on luxury travel, including hundreds of thousands on private airfare for his entire family for trips that Kassan acknowledges were personal in nature and had no rational business purpose,” the lawsuit states.

In 2023, the lawsuit alleges, Kassan used nearly $500,000 in company funds to pay off his personal credit card debt, “despite multiple warnings from MediaLink’s top finance executive.”

The year before, in 2022, Kassan, who is a certified tax lawyer, allegedly had over $700,000 in company funds wired to his personal S-Corporation. “In short, Kassan erased any line between his personal and business expenses,” the suit claims.

The company has acknowledged that Kassan was offered a cap of $950,000 a year in business expenses, but added that he was fired on March 7 for his “tendency to operate within ‘gray areas’ and to usurp corporate opportunities and resources for his own personal gain.”

Jeremy Zimmer UTA
UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer. (Getty Images)

Bryan Freedman, counsel for UTA, told TheWrap that Kassan was made aware “well before” March 7 that UTA had grounds to terminate him. “His claim against UTA has no merit and is an attempt to divert attention from the misappropriation of company funds that led to his termination,” Freedman said.

In his lawsuit, obtained by TheWrap, Kassan accused Zimmer and other executives of acting in bad faith when they acquired MediaLink.

In a statement provided to TheWrap, Kassan’s attorney, Sanford Michelman, said in part that Zimmer “had a secret plan to not honor the contract, and when Michael confronted him, Zimmer refused to honor the deal. As one would expect, when Zimmer broke promises and began to impede the success of MediaLink, Michael was left with no other option other than to resign and file this lawsuit against Zimmer and UTA for breach of contract.”

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