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Entertainment Upheaval : PEOPLE : Time Warner Fires Music Exec Melvyn Lewinter

August 03, 1995|CHUCK PHILIPS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Time Warner Inc. ousted its sixth top music executive in 12 months Wednesday when it fired Melvyn R. Lewinter, president and chief operating officer of its domestic music sector.

Lewinter, a 25-year-veteran at Time Warner, was informed of his termination during a brief meeting Wednesday morning with Michael Fuchs, the recently installed Warner Music Group chairman who stunned the music industry five weeks ago when he fired Lewinter's former boss, Doug Morris.

Four security guards followed Lewinter back to his office at Time Warner headquarters in New York, where they stood watch outside his door until they escorted him from the building.

Fuchs told Lewinter he was being fired "for cause" and sources speculated that the dismissal may be connected to an internal probe into improper sales practices at Time Warner-owned Atlantic Records. Ten executives were dismissed earlier this year after thousands of Atlantic compact discs were alleged to have been stolen and sold on the sly to retailers.

Time Warner acknowledged that Lewinter had been fired, but declined comment.

Lewinter could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, said, "There is absolutely no reason for Time Warner to terminate Mel for cause. Mel is pursuing his legal remedies and will respond soon."

Lewinter's firing raised speculation that it will soon be followed by the ouster of Morris confidants Ina Lea Meibach, executive vice president of Warner Music U.S., and Danny Goldberg, the recently appointed chairman of Warner Bros. Records. Lewinter and the others could resurface at Morris' new Rising Tide label at MCA Music Entertainment before January.

However, it is unlikely that any more pink slips will be issued before Time Warner resolves a $50-million wrongful termination lawsuit that Morris filed last month against the media giant, sources said.

Fuchs initially said he fired Morris on June 21 because the company's music operation had become destabilized by corporate politics practiced by Morris and his lieutenants. Two weeks later, Time Warner said Morris was discharged because he failed to disclose information regarding an investigation of missing CDs at Atlantic.

Few industry observers give much credence to Warner's allegations, noting that even executives at competing companies were aware of the Atlantic scandal six months ago. Sources inside the company said that Time Warner has taken no action against other top Atlantic executives such as Ahmet Ertegun and Val Azzoli, who worked closely with Morris and Lewinter in monitoring the investigation.

Entertainment attorneys speculated that Time Warner, which recently threatened to countersue Morris, is using the sales scandal as a bargaining ploy to reduce the amount it may have to pay to settle Morris' suit.

The 54-year-old Lewinter, who started at Atlantic Records in 1970 as a financial controller, had more than four years remaining on his contract, which sources said could have provided him with more than $15 million in salary, benefits and bonuses.

Time Warner has spent an estimated $50 million in severance packages to deposed music executives since October.

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