Peeling the Onion

Onion Horton says he's everything a white man wants a black man to be

Onion's business relationship with Kasen dates back about 10 years, when both were working at WGNU. Eventually the two formed Onion Horton Productions, a corporation that acts as a tax shelter. Onion had run into tax trouble. Jacobson says it was all an innocent misunderstanding on Onion's part. WGNU considered him an independent contractor, Jacobson says, but Onion paid taxes as if he were an employee. After about six years of not paying required self-employment, Social Security and Medicare taxes, Onion got an inquiry from the IRS, which at one time calculated that he owed $65,000, Jacobson says. "The IRS came out to his house, and they saw where he lived and said, 'Man, you're not hiding any money,'" says Onion's lawyer. Still, the government filed liens against Onion's future income. Kasen had his own tax trouble about the same time as Onion.

Onion and Kasen, a Jewish resident of Chesterfield, appear an unlikely team. Kasen handles the business end. "Onion's more interested in talking than he is in the details of the business that allows him to talk," he explains. The partnership is an easy target for Onion's critics. "When he talked about not trusting white people, not trusting different ethnic groups, I found out that wasn't true," says Hayes. "His main benefactor is white and Jewish." And ambitious.

After leaving KATZ, Kasen put together a deal he hoped would make himself and Onion owners of a radio station. In 1997, he convinced Emmis Broadcasting to donate an unprofitable station to New Horizon Seventh Day Christian Church, headed by the Rev. B.T. Rice. The church would lease the station to Onion Horton Productions, which would have an option to buy it after two years for $750,000, a considerable amount of money for two guys with tax problems. Kasen says he had investors lined up. But they never got a chance to write a check.

Onion, once one of the hottest black radio hosts in St. Louis, now does his talking on the Internet.
Jennifer Silverberg
Onion, once one of the hottest black radio hosts in St. Louis, now does his talking on the Internet.

Lee Platke and Stuart Berkowitz, attorneys for Onion Horton Productions, drew up the paperwork, acting as lawyers for Onion, Kasen and the Rev. Rice. The attorneys were supposed to become shareholders in Onion Horton Productions, with the idea that they would share ownership of the station with Onion and Kasen. Shortly before the deal closed, however, the attorneys formed Unity Broadcasting and substituted the new corporation for Onion Horton Productions, according to a lawsuit Onion and Kasen filed against the lawyers. Less than six months after KKWK (1380 AM) went on the air in early 1998, Platke and Berkowitz fired Onion and Kasen and switched the format to jazz.

Onion and Kasen say their lawyers stole the station. "Lee Platke told them, 'It was better if we didn't put your names on the paperwork for this company, because your tax problems may slow the process down,'" says Jacobson. "He said, 'We'll leave your names off now, and after we close the deal, then we'll add your names.' People trust their lawyers, and normally that trust is well placed. For whatever reason, the money involved was enough to tempt them [Platke and Berkowitz] away from the path of righteousness." Jacobson and Kasen say the station is worth between $4 million and $5 million.

Last month, a St. Louis Circuit Court jury agreed that the lawyers had violated their duties to their clients, awarding $175,000 to Onion and Kasen. Onion admits he was somewhat surprised that a jury that included 10 white people sided with him. Afterward, all 12 jurors stayed behind to talk with him about the case. "I didn't know what they would do," he says. "They were white, and I expected them to act white. It was just beautiful. They're the kind of white folks I would like my kids to know. Why can't everybody be like that? Why did we have to leave that room? When we got back outside, everything was the same as ever."

The case may not be over. Jacobson has filed a motion asking a judge to make Onion and Kasen partners in Unity, which holds the option to buy the station from Rice's church. A hearing is set for September. "I'll say, 'The jury saw what happened here, Your Honor, and I think you should follow the decision of the jury -- this is for you to do and give us that relief,'" Jacobson says.

Meanwhile, Platke and Berkowitz are appealing. They didn't take anything from Onion and Kasen, says Gerard Noce, attorney for the two lawyers. Furthermore, the notion that a judge should install Onion and Kasen as partners in Unity after a jury has spoken is ridiculous, he says. "Their claim was they were damaged monetarily for not being partners, if you will, in the company," Noce says. "So they got a verdict. Do you give them the money for not being made partners and then make them partners on top of that? You can't get both."

Onion predicts a return to the airwaves by October. He and Kasen envision much more than just a radio station. Kasen is trying to convince black newspapers across the country to sign on with New Black City, which would post articles from papers on its Web site. In exchange for exposure on the Internet, the papers -- most of which have no Web sites -- would publicize New Black City, says Kasen, who draws comparisons with the Associated Press. One day in the not-so-distant future, Internet access will be routine in automobiles, Kasen says, so New Black City, regardless of whether it goes on the airwaves, can become a major player in delivering news to blacks nationwide.

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