Kenneth Cole has responded to reports linking him to a suspicious deal involving amfAR, the well-known AIDS charity he chairs, and Harvey Weinstein, the embattled Hollywood producer embroiled in a major sexual assault case.
On Wednesday, the Huffington Post published an article claiming that Weinstein and Cole, who is non-executive chairman of the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), had covered up a plan to divide the proceeds of a 2015 fundraising gala auction hosted for the nonprofit. The report comes within the same month that Weinstein, a powerful Hollywood producer, was fired from a production company he co-founded after multiple women accused him of sexual assault.
Cole, who reportedly signed off on the auction transaction, did not comment on his role in the amfAR deal, instead asserting that he was “personally committed” to strengthening governance of the organization.
The Huffington Post report claims that in 2015, Weinstein, with Cole’s help, arranged a Cannes charity auction with amfAR in order to resolve a $600,000 financial obligation to the American Repertory Theater (ART) for staging a trial run of Weinstein’s musical “Finding Neverland” before it hit Broadway.
According to the report, the plan was, allegedly, to split the proceeds from the charity event auction lots with amfAR and then use his portion of the money to pay back ART. The auction included photo shoots with fashion photographer Mario Testino and tickets to an Oscars party, which brought the value of the lots to approximately $1.2 million.
The report alleged that Cole had agreed upon the plan to split the proceeds, even though multiple members of the organization’s board tried to stop the agreement. But when the auction ended up bringing in just over $900,000, Cole and Weinstein allegedly agreed to change the deal to one in which Weinstein would receive $600,000 and amfAR would get the rest — $309,669.
After amfAR board members worried that these transactions would violate IRS rules, the situation led to multiple investigations, including one by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Multiple members of amfAR have also resigned from the organization in protest over how the scandal was handled.
“Over the last several weeks, Weinstein’s charitable role in supporting amfAR has become the subject of debate and scrutiny. After the New York Attorney General’s Office reviewed the transaction between amfAR and Weinstein, they declined to pursue an investigation,” Cole said in the statement.
Read the full statement from Cole below:
Since joining amfAR’s board three decades ago, I made the organization’s mission to save lives and find a cure for HIV/AIDS my own. During that time, amfAR has seen its annual revenues triple to more than $50 million and launched the greatest expansion of the foundation’s grant making with its $100 million investment strategy in support of its “Countdown to a Cure for AIDS Initiative.” As a result, the organization has played a significant role in breakthroughs for AIDS research, treatment, and prevention.
In regards to the actions of Harvey Weinstein recently revealed in media reports, let me repeat publicly what I have been saying privately: I find his actions deeply disturbing but if there is any good to come out these revelations it is the start of a thoughtful self-reflection of our society and of our collective behavior.
Over the last several weeks Weinstein’s charitable role in supporting amfAR has become the subject of debate and scrutiny. After the New York Attorney General’s Office reviewed the transaction between amfAR and Weinstein they declined to pursue an investigation. It did, however, highlight opportunities to strengthen the governance of the organization. I am personally committed to implementing the OAG’s recommendations to ensure that our fundraising policies and procedures are never called into question again. The mission is too important, there remain millions of lives at risk and the work is far from finished to allow any of us to be distracted from the task of conquering HIV/AIDS.