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Prince Charles, the publicist, and a colourful Hollywood lawsuit

Guy Adams

r346116 1580326 234x300 Prince Charles, the publicist, and a colourful Hollywood lawsuitI fear that blows will soon start to be thrown below the belt in the many ongoing legal battles involving the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which organises the Golden Globes.

The latest public figure to be dragged unwittingly into one of the group’s disputes, I can reveal, is Britain’s very own Prince Charles (pictured). His charity, The Prince’s Trust, may soon feature in litigation involving the HFPA and a film industry charity, Stars for a Cause.

But first, some background. The HFPA, an eclectic group of 80 mostly-elderly journalists, who were subjected to some ridicule by Ricky Gervais at this month’s Globes (he cracked off-colour jokes about them being senile), is currently caught up in no less than three ugly legal battles.

- One involves the HFPA’s former publicist, Michael Russell. He claims he was unfairly dismissed for attempting to root out corruption in the organisation and its Globes voting process (an allegation the HFPA vigorously denies).

- A second involves a suit filed by the HFPA against Dick Clark Productions, who make the Golden Globes TV show. It claims the firm illegally sold broadcast rights to future ceremonies to NBC, without the HFPA’’s knowledge (an allegation Dick Clark vigorously denies).

- The third involves Stars for a Cause, a charity which claims Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie as supporters, and Mr Russell as a director. Its lawsuit alleges that the HFPA interfered in a contract it was seeking with Chrysler and NBC. Stars for a Cause is therefore seeking damages for defamation (the HFPA is contesting the claim).

Now this third case is where things get interesting. For my email inbox today pinged with a message from a source familiar with the proceedings. It contained links to the last three tax returns filed by Stars For A Cause, as held by the charity watchdog Guidestar. These will be aired in any forthcoming trial. And they make for fascinating reading.

The charity’s officieal purpose, according to these forms, is to “UNDERTAKE SPONSORSHIP PROJECTS TO SUPPORT VARIOUS HOLLYWOOD FOUNDATIONS” [my underline]

But what does this really mean? Well in 2006, the first year that Stars for a Cause filed a return (read it here), its only income was $20,000. And every cent of that cash was paid to a company called Cinepoint. That firm is owned by Michael Russell.

The next year, in 2007, Mr Russell’s business also benefited from the charity in which he was involved (read ithe form here). This time, it was paid $39,500. That year, again, Stars for a Cause does not appear to have given a cent to any Hollywood foundations.

In 2008, we learn that Stars For A Cause paid Russell’s firm another $39,500 (the forms, here,  reveal that he worked a one-day week for the charity). But it did also finally give some cash to a good cause: having made $61,212 from an auction, it distributed $250 to a local high school, $250 to “people with AIDS,” and almost all the remainder, $60,000, to “Friends of the Prince’s Trust.” That was the last year for which documents are available.

All of which suggests that, for three years, Stars for A Cause gave more money to companies owned by Michael Russell, one of its directors, than it did to worthy causes. And when it finally did make a decent donation to a charity, that cash went straight to Prince Charles’s organisation.

Now I have nothing against The Prince’s Trust. It does some excellent work in highly valuable areas. But it is, by definition, the very opposite of a “Hollywood” foundation. Indeed, it is based in the UK, where it spends almost all of its money on youth projects.

So, given that Stars for a Cause is supposed to only benefit “Hollywood Foundations,” I have to ask:  was the donation to The Prince’s Trust even legal? And were the chartiy’s payments to Michael Russell’s companies ethical?

Both questions are likely be raised, in court, should the charity’s lawsuit against the HFPA proceed. Book your seats!

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