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Scandal shakes public radio

Men kept freebies meant for station, prosecutors allege


March 17, 2006
Michael Coleman is WDET's general manager 
What listeners said about the allegations
News spread quickly Thursday among listeners of Wayne State University's Detroit Public Radio, WDET-FM (101.9) that general manager Michael Coleman, who has made many controversial changes at the station, had been accused of illegally accepting items from advertisers while with his previous employer, Ann Arbor-based Michigan Public Media. Some listeners e-mailed comments, here's what they had to say:

"This strikes me as incredibly ironic."

--Mike Novak, a media attorney who represented ex-WDET host Martin Bandyke, whom the station accused of violating policies by keeping CDs and free tickets before parting ways.

"So what now? A new manager could mean business as usual. ... But then, the optimist in me holds a glimmer of hope; could this mean Martin Bandyke, John Penney, Judy Adams and all the great music actually may come back to WDET?" --Lori Bender, White Lake Township

"I would certainly hope the charges ... prove not to be the case. But" Coleman's "professionalism in terms of the direction he sought for WDET was the right move at the right time."

--Ed Christian, of Grosse Pointe Farms-based Saga Communications and a Wayne State University supporter.

"He took away something that many in the community ... valued a great deal: WDET's unique eclectic variety of music programming. So I suppose in light of that act, which to me is quite selfish, it wouldn't be altogether surprising that he'd be capable of embezzling. ... My hope is that if he's forced to leave WDET, the music variety will come back."

--Therese Nielsen, Ann Arbor

"It has never been my policy to cheer for other people's misfortunes but ... Oh yeah!!! And I hope this means the return of the great Martin Bandyke, who has been missed by all!"

--Donald M. Lugers, Windsor, Ontario

"I hope someone is seriously kicking themselves ... for bringing Coleman in."

--Nicole Moore, Royal Oak

"I was a longtime supporter/volunteer and diehard fan of WDET. I had such passion for my station. When Michael Coleman came to my 'DET and cleaned house, I was appalled and his comments on why he did this were completely ludicrous to me! I pulled all support from the station after he cut daytime music programming. I even ripped off my WDET sticker on my car! ... Shocked. ... and a little joyful. Is that wrong?"

--Shelli Gutholm, Oxford

What U-M uncovered about WUOM
An internal University of Michigan audit of WUOM-FM (91.7) has found sloppy recordkeeping, excessive bonuses and expense account fraud that totaled more than $50,000, according to Timothy Slottow, U-M's chief financial officer.

Slottow detailed the findings at a news conference Thursday. Among the preliminary findings:

  • Insufficient documentation of contributions leading to on-air acknowledgements. In cases of in-kind trade, there were instances where a business rationale for the transaction was not provided and some of the trade was not used to benefit the station.
  • Expense accounts of some employees showed evidence of double-billing and improper reimbursement.
  • An external auditor did not uncover the problems because there was no detailed record of transactions that would have disclosed them, Slottow said.



    He said the problems were uncovered in a preliminary audit that began in November and focused on the period from July 1, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2005.

    Most of the problems occurred over the last two years, he said.


    What's next in the case?
    In court: Michael Coleman's preliminary examination is set for March 29 in Ann Arbor's 14th District Court. Jeremy Nordquist and Justin Ebright are to appear April 12 for preliminary exams in the same courthouse.

    For Michigan Public Media: The second phase of the University of Michigan audit is nearly done. All the internal-control policies, accounting practices and other policies are being reviewed by outside consultants from the Southfield-based auditing firm Plante & Moran. The review is to address conflicts of interest and gifts, bonuses and recordkeeping.

    The sedate, urbane world of public broadcasting was rattled Thursday as prosecutors charged three former employees of Michigan Public Media with illegally accepting golf club memberships, Persian rugs, airline tickets and massages in exchange for on-air considerations at the state's top public radio station.

    Each of the men -- current WDET-FM general manager Michael Coleman, Jeremy Nordquist and Justin Ebright -- was charged by Washtenaw County prosecutors in Ann Arbor with embezzlement of under $20,000 while working at Michigan Public Media-controlled WUOM-FM (91.7). Each could face up to five years in prison if convicted.

    An internal audit also found sloppy recordkeeping, excessive bonuses and expense-account fraud that totaled more than $50,000 from July 2001 to December 2005, said Timothy Slottow, University of Michigan's chief financial officer. U-M owns and runs Michigan Public Media.

    WDET (101.9) and WUOM are the major public radio stations in Michigan, and public radio has long had a trustworthy image of being above the kind of influence-peddling that has occasionally tarnished commercial radio.

    The charges shocked listeners of the National Public Radio affiliates.

    "This is a sad revelation for Detroit, which has functioned as Michigan's cultural engine for so long," said public radio listener Willie Northway of Ann Arbor. "The talk and news offered by Michigan Radio is an invaluable service to the community."

    Coleman, who left Michigan Public Media as deputy director last year to be general manager at WDET and who has made several controversial programming changes in his new job, remains in his position, said Louis Lessem, vice president and general counsel for Wayne State University, which owns the station.

    "We know very little about the charge, other than that it has been made," said Lessem, adding that Coleman is not on administrative leave.

    Coleman, 40, of Ypsilanti did not return calls for comment Thursday. His lawyer, Gregory Dodd of Ypsilanti, could not be reached Thursday evening.

    WDET listeners who have pilloried Coleman for dumping music programming for talk and news blasted him Thursday after hearing the news.

    "While I don't wish ill will on anyone, for some reason this does not surprise me," said Dean Dauphinais of Grosse Pointe.

    Slottow said listener donations to WUOM, which last year put about $2.2 million into the radio station's $5.5-million overall budget, were not part of the alleged embezzlement.

    "Although we didn't discover these problems as quickly as we would have if stronger operational and oversight controls were in place, we did discover them and are taking immediate corrective action," he said.

    In-kind donations are common for public broadcasting but typically items donated are then sold to fund the stations.

    The allegations came to light after Donovan Reynolds, the former director of Michigan Public Media, alerted U-M officials about business practices at WUOM that concerned him. He resigned March 1, saying that although he was not implicated, the improprieties occurred under his watch.

    Recent Arbitron ratings show WUOM is the most popular radio station in Ann Arbor. The station raised more than $900,000 during its fall fund-raiser. Its spring fund-raiser is set to begin March 31.

    Nordquist, 28, of Saline and Ebright, 35, of Whitmore Lake also each face a charge of conspiracy to embezzle under $20,000, which carries a maximum 5-year prison term upon conviction. Nordquist was an account executive for Michigan Public Media who left the station Jan. 25.

    Ebright was development director for Michigan Radio, which is part of Michigan Public Media. He left in November.

    Ebright's lawyer, Dan Geherin of Ann Arbor, said the central question is whether his client broke the law by accepting any of the items. Nordquist's attorney, Tom Moors of Ypsilanti, said his client maintains his innocence.

    All three men were released Thursday morning on $10,000 personal bond each.

    Contact MARYANNE GEORGE at 734-878-6725 or

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