Bronx Supreme Court Justice Alexander W. Hunter will bring clarity to the leadership of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade by June 25, after hearing oral arguments last Thursday morning in the civil case that former Parade and Celebration Committee Chairman John Dunleavy brought against current board chairman Dr. John Lahey alleging an illegal takeover of the parade board last June.
Hunter said he would rule within 30 days after Dunleavy’s attorney Francis X. Young and Lahey’s counsel Mitch Mandell presented vastly different takes on the controversy that has engulfed the parade for the past year. Young argued that Dunleavy provided 23 years of selfless service to the parade, was ousted at an illegal board meeting last June because of Lahey’s desire to “corporatize” and “monetize” the parade, and far from stealing money using the parade’s American Express card, Dunleavy actually saved the march millions of dollars because the cash-strapped U.S. Department of Defense willingly covered $700,000 in annual travel expenses incurred by military participants in the parade due to their “outstanding” relationship with Dunleavy.
Mandell said Dunleavy’s case, filed last October with various motions since that time, has no basis in fact because parade bylaws were never broken, and that Dunleavy has repeatedly failed to justify his expenditures using parade funds – including multiple charges for the male enhancement pill Triverex – that were subject to an investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s office.
After Hunter began the session by asking, “What is this all about?”, Young outlined Dunleavy’s case against Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, a parade grand marshal in 1997, and a long-time member of the parade’s board.
The crux of the case, Young said, rests in the June 30, 2015 board meeting called by Lahey while Dunleavy was in Ireland. The participants voted to elect Lahey to chairman of the board and add three additional members – even though, Young said, they were reassured that Dunleavy’s position and duties as parade chairman wouldn’t change.
The meeting, Young said, went against existing bylaws and was “illegally called” because “only two people are allowed to call a meeting of the board under the bylaws” – Dunleavy and board member John O’Connor.
“We’re claiming that the bylaws were broken in a big and bad way,” Young said, alleging that Lahey called the meeting because Dunleavy was negotiating with the WPIX network to broadcast the 2016 parade for free – a change that would jeopardize the parade’s long-standing deal with WNBC, which provided live coverage at a price of $400,000 annually, with the parade covering costs and earning income through advertising sponsorships.
Frank Comerford, an executive at WNBC’s parent NBCUniversal, grand marshal of the parade in 2012 and a board member, is also named in the lawsuit as a defendant by Dunleavy, who initially brought Comerford into the parade fold but was angered when the network’s LGBT group, OUT@NBCUniversal, became the first gay group to march in the parade in 2015.
“He [Dunleavy] went out to find someone to [broadcast] cheaper,” said Young. “He found WPIX who would do it for free … Within a week Dr. Lahey went to the Irish newspapers in New York City and proclaimed that Mr. Dunleavy was out and he was in. With that, WPIX backed off because…they said, now we’re confused, we were about to enter a contract, we see Mr. Dunleavy has been sidelined.”
Mandell refuted Young’s take on WPIX’s position on the parade, pointing out that a network executive provided a sworn affidavit stating that “they had not made a final offer to broadcast the parade.”
Mandell also disputed Dunleavy’s timeline of events with regard to WPIX. Dunleavy’s former assistant Carla Chadwick, he pointed out, “submitted an affidavit in August [stating] WPIX had no interest…plaintiff alleges in September that Dunleavy went to the board and said he had a great final offer from WPIX.”
Dunleavy’s charge that Lahey and Comerford are colluding to keep the parade on WNBC is also bogus, Mandell said, given Comerford’s long-time membership of the board. “Mr. Comerford…has been on the board for 20 years and NBC broadcast the parade for 20 years without any kind of suggestion [of conflict],” Mandell said “It should have been made 20 years ago.”
Young said that after Lahey “pulled off [his] coup” and claimed leadership of the parade board, he alleged to the Attorney General’s office that Dunleavy, Chadwick and Mike Cassels, a former member of the board who was removed last September after he double-billed the parade for expenses (and paid back the disputed $1,752.86), had “stolen” parade money.
“These were very, very serious charges. They were frivolous charges,” Young said. “As part of [Lahey’s] way to consolidate power he was using the media. That wasn’t enough. He went to the Attorney General.”
Young says he offered the Attorney General’s office the chance to depose Dunleavy, Cassels and Chadwick, “because they are being held out in the community as thieves,” he added. “Months of investigation went by and nothing happened. Eventually the day before St. Patrick’s Day the Attorney General announced there was nothing to the allegations Dr. Lahey had made.”
Mandell strongly disagreed. “When Mr. Dunleavy was asked to supply support for various charges that were incurred…he provided no such support. [The board] determined that they had to be reported to protect themselves, especially under the new rules for not for profits, and so they did that.
“The Attorney General’s office – and I spoke to the director of the Charities Bureau – said that because the board has taken the action it took in respect to Mr. Dunleavy – it took away his ability to use the Amex card, and removed him from the ability to spend money on behalf of the corporation – they decided not to investigate.
“The Attorney General’s office doesn’t ever vindicate. They walk away.”
Mandell said there is a “very clear reason” why the Attorney General wouldn’t absolve Dunleavy, given the nature of expenses incurred on the parade account – “one category is trips taken by Mr. Dunleavy, Mr. Cassels and Ms. Chadwick, and the other is that Mr. Dunleavy used the corporation’s Amex card to buy male enhancement drugs,” Mandell stated.
“It is highly unlikely – and I don’t pretend to speak for the Attorney General’s office – but it is highly unlikely with those charges on the corporate card, that the Attorney General’s office actually came out and vindicated Mr. Dunleavy. They did nothing of the sort.”
Young did not address the male enhancement pill expenditures – last year the parade’s auditors discovered that Dunleavy’s made five charges of $42.94 each on the parade’s Amex card in 2012 and 2013 for the enhancement supplement Triverex – but argued that many of the bills incurred by Dunleavy, Cassels and Chadwick stemmed from visits to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the U.S. military who march in the parade.
“They were invited down there by the joint chiefs of staff, the four star general every year to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and it became a wonderful relationship to the point where all three branches of the military would come up to the parade every year because of the work of these three people who were accused of going down there and spending this money,” said Young in justifying the five-figure travel expenses incurred.
He added that the trips taken by Dunleavy, Cassels and Chadwick were cheap at the price, given information he “learned” about the U.S. government which could have charged the parade millions in expenses.
“The parade was supposed to reimburse the government $700,000 a year for transportation and lodging, and the government was so thrilled with the way John Dunleavy ran the parade that they waived that,” Young said of the Department of Defense, which operates under tightening budget constraints each year.
The U.S. military command, Young added, is so inflamed by “what John Lahey did to John Dunleavy, what he did to Carla Chadwick, what he did to Mike Cassels, they did not come up,” to the parade this year.
“The percentage of people who came up was minimal,” Young said. “There was a reviewing stand on Fifth Avenue that is reserved for the military and it was basically empty…as long as Dr. Lahey remains chairman, those people are not coming back.”
The nearly 40 minute hearing on Thursday was attended by Dunleavy and a number of supporters, including John Tully, the attorney who was elected last November to serve – with Dunleavy’s blessing – as the new chairman of the board’s Parade and Celebration Committee, and John Manning, who has led the efforts on behalf of the parade’s affiliated organizations to ensure their continued representation. Also at the hearing were Chadwick and Cassels, who Young referred to as a fifth generation parade volunteer who he wants to “get back on the board.”
Young said the parade management is “out of control” and that Dunleavy and his “blue collar” supporters are “begging the court to take some action to get this parade back to where it was before.” He also alleged that Lahey is attempting to “stack the board” with favorable members with his recent offer to the parade’s main affiliates of board membership.
Mandell pointed out that this year’s parade was “popularly considered by many to be the greatest St. Patrick’s Day parade in history, the largest participation in history…it was the first parade that allowed two gay groups to march. It was the first parade in a very long time that the mayor of New York marched,” he said.
Mandell added that Dunleavy, a strident opponent of gay groups taking part in the parade, would “essentially bring the parade back in time to a day where gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual groups were forbidden from marching…that would be the end result.”