The head of television operations at financial-news purveyor 5th Avenue Channel Corp. recently told police he "feared for his life" after receiving a threat from a man who claimed he was sent by Eric Lefkowitz, the company's senior vice president, according to a police report.
The incident also apparently bothered others at the company, producer of the two-hour daily Net Financial News, which is carried on the America's Voice cable network and on overflow channels on Comcast Corp. systems that have about 2 million subscribers.
Several employees, including the chief operating officer and an anchor on the program, left after the incident was reported, according to sources at the company. But in interviews, the COO and anchor did not cite the incident as a reason for leaving.
The company is known for its on-and-off association with Ivana Trump. In 1998, 5th Avenue announced plans with Trump for a luxury-goods infomercial channel, but later shifted to a financial-news channel and Web site.
Trump issued a statement in April that said she "is no longer a member of the board, consultant or hostess of the 5th Avenue Channel."
Police in Medley, Fla., said Ron Wishna, 5th Avenue's executive vice president of television, reported that the incident occurred May 31 outside of a Miami broadcast facility owned by GlobeCast North America, where 5th Avenue shoots Net Financial News.
A man who identified himself as Joe Demato delivered the alleged threat, telling Wishna that he represented Lefkowitz, according to an incident report obtained from the Medley Police Department.
"Demato told him he knew that [Wishna] had some information on Mr. Lefkowitz, and that if it got out, it would be very detrimental for the company, and he, as an investor in the company, as well as the other investors, would not be happy about it," according to the incident report.
The report added, "Demato asked [Wishna] to promise or give him his word that he would not give out that information because it would be a shame if anything happened to him or his family."
Wishna felt that Demato "might have been concealing a gun" because Demato held his coat at his waist throughout the incident, according to the report.
No criminal charges were filed against Lefkowitz, Medley Police detective Jeanette Said said, adding that there were no witnesses who heard the conversation between Demato and Wishna. The detective also said police don't consider what was described in the incident report as a "direct threat."
Reached at his home, Wishna declined to comment on the incident. But Wishna-whose resume on 5th Avenue's Web site lists four Emmy Awards-said he has not returned to work since May 31, when the alleged incident occurred.
"I've taken some personal time," Wishna said last week, adding that he discussed the incident with CEO Melvin Rosen.
The incident report said: "Wishna said that he feared for his life, which caused him to call his attorney, the police and all of his employees to let them know what had happened and that as a result, he would be quitting his job."
On June 9, Wishna filed a complaint against Lefkowitz in a Dade County, Fla., court, in a case type that was listed as "repeat domestic violence." Lefkowitz was issued a temporary restraining order barring him from coming within 500 feet of Wishna and his family, a court clerk said.
A hearing has been scheduled for July 3 for the court to determine whether to issue a permanent restraining order, the clerk added.
Adam Taylor, a former executive vice president at 5th Avenue, also sought a restraining order against Lefkowitz, according to a court document. On April 17, Taylor filed a complaint in Dade County court. His case also is listed as "repeat domestic violence."
On April 17, the court issued a temporary restraining order barring Lefkowitz from coming within 500 feet of Taylor and his family. But the order was lifted May 1, a court clerk said.
Lefkowitz, Rosen and 5th Avenue general counsel Joseph Tomkiewicz did not return several calls last week regarding the complaints by Wishna and Taylor. Taylor could not be reached for comment.
Sources within 5th Avenue said the May 31 incident unnerved employees, and several employees resigned after it occurred.
The employees that departed included COO Dominique Sada; Alan Gerstel, a Net Financial News anchor; and Stephanie Hollyman, managing director of the company's Web site, sources said.
Gerstel, a news anchor at West Palm Beach, Fla., CBS affiliate WPEC-TV before joining Net Financial News in March, said he returned to WPEC in early June. "I severed my ties kind of abruptly because I had an opportunity to come back," he said, adding that he resigned because "the commute was too much."
Sada, reached at home last week, said, "I no longer work for the company," declining to comment further.
Lefkowitz was president of infomercial producer International Broadcast Corp. before selling that company to Tel-Com Wireless Cable TV Corp. in February 1999. Tel-Com changed its name to 5th Avenue Channel Corp. in March 1999, according to a press release issued by the company at the time.
Lefkowitz has been charged with several misdemeanors and felonies dating back to 1978, according to arrest records.
In the early 1980s, Lefkowitz ran a company in Philadelphia called Health Centers Inc., according to a March 7, 1984, United Press International story. Lefkowitz and other people associated with the company were indicted on charges of conspiring to sell methaqualone through so-called stress clinics it owned, according to the UPI story.
A federal grand jury indicted Lefkowitz, who was 24 at the time, in 1984, and he was accused of operating a "continuing criminal enterprise," according to the UPI story. Lefkowitz was sentenced to up to six years in jail, according to a Nov. 7, 1984, UPI story.
In an interview in May, Rosen said Lefkowitz told him that he served five months in jail for the Health Centers arrest.
In 1978, police in Miami Beach, Fla., charged Lefkowitz with four felony counts for possession and sale of cocaine, according to arrest records. Lefkowitz claimed during an interview in May that the cocaine arrests actually stemmed from the Health Centers arrest, insisting that there was no cocaine involved.
In February 1994, the Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office charged him with another felony-the sale and delivery of dangerous drugs-according to arrest records. Officials at the sheriff's office couldn't be reached for comment. Lefkowitz said that arrest record was actually a "computer glitch," insisting that it was also tied to the Health Centers case.
Later in 1994, Lefkowitz was charged in Dade County (Fla.) Circuit Court with resisting arrest, according to the arrest record. Lefkowitz said he was charged with resisting arrest for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test.
In June 1993, Lefkowitz was arrested in Bucks County, Pa., and charged with two misdemeanors, "unsworn falsification to authority" and "fictitious representation to law authority," and two infractions, "driving with a suspended license" and "driving without a license," according to the arrest record.
He pleaded guilty to falsification and misrepresentation, and he was sentenced to six months' probation and fined $225, according to the arrest record.
Lefkowitz said in the May interview that he did not remember the June 1993 arrest.