By Ray Downs
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
As this article went to press, rumors were swirling that WGNU is facing severe financial shortcomings and, according to several former staffers, could not make its payroll for the two weeks ending September 15, with employees told that they'd be paid sometime in the near future. An employee who answered the phone at WGNU declined to comment on the matter.
"You're going to have to talk to Lisa Krempasky," he said.
Norman's trust supposedly left control of the station to Krempasky and Wright, but little is actually known about the estate. Some beneficiaries say that Krempasky is rumored to have allowed just one former WGNU employee access to the trust documents and only after the employee signed a contract agreeing to keep the contents a secret or be subjected to a $25,000 lawsuit from Krempasky.
Ford says Norman always told him that he wanted to donate most of his assets to charities upon his death, and that in the mid-'90s he helped Norman draft a portion of his will that would have provided ownership shares in the station to longtime employees. That document became null and void in 2000, when Norman specified that all of his assets go into a trust controlled solely by Krempasky.
"The last few years of his life, Chuck wasn't himself," says Ford. "There's no telling what they were telling him. He was incapacitated."
The belief among the 25 to 35 beneficiaries of the trust is that Norman bequeathed $10,000 to every staffer employed with WGNU for a period of three years prior to Norman's death. But how much they're actually entitled to or when they might receive payments remains a mystery.
Last month Krempasky sent a letter to beneficiaries blaming the IRS for the delay in disbursing the trust's funds. The letter was dated July 19 but postmarked August 18.
"As you all know, a major hurdle to getting your money is getting final approval from the IRS," Krempasky wrote. "Since I have been making little progress on this front, I have hired a law firm that works specifically in this area to push this petition through. As is probably obvious, there is really nothing quick with the IRS. This petition will require them to resolve the taxes in nine months. I hope it will happen faster, but this will give them a deadline."
The letter did little to appease the growing concerns of the trust's beneficiaries.
"It seems like just another stall tactic," says beneficiary Jacqueline Sincoff. Upon receiving Krempasky's letter last month, Sincoff sent a complaint to the Missouri Office of Chief Disciplinary Council, which disciplines attorneys on behalf of the Missouri Bar Association. Sincoff asked the council to investigate why Krempasky no longer kept a law office, did not return phone calls and hired an outside law firm when she herself is an attorney.
Clayton attorney Emmett McAuliffe accuses Krempasky of "not coming close to fulfilling the basic responsibilities of a trustee." Last week McAuliffe filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County on behalf of beneficiary Susan Smith Harmon, who served as a radio host at WGNU until being fired earlier this spring. The suit asks that Krempasky provide a full accounting of the trust's assets or forfeit control.
"Since January we've asked that, pursuant to Missouri law, she provide us with a copy of the trust," says McAuliffe. "She's never returned one call. As one attorney to another, there's a code of ethics that we be courteous and professional with one another and that we return each other's calls. I never expected the game to go on this long."
Equally perplexing, says McAuliffe, is the speculation among beneficiaries that over the past two years Krempasky loaned millions from the Charles Norman Trust to Doug Hartmann's DHP Investments. There appears to be merit to such speculation. Documents on file with the City of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds office show that since 2004 Krempasky loaned out in excess of $9 million from the Charles Norman Trust to DHP Investments and other corporations tied to Hartmann.
"I think there are definitely some conflict-of-interest issues here," says McAuliffe. "By definition of a trustee, she's supposed to be guarding these people's money. That wouldn't include wildly speculating in businesses owned by one of her clients."
Former WGNU host and trust beneficiary Nick Kasoff first heard of Krempasky's involvement with Hartmann this spring, when a friend of his in the real estate business sent him a foreclosure notice for a property tied to the Charles Norman Trust.
"At that point I became pretty alarmed," Kasoff says. "I went to the Recorder of Deeds' office and did a search on the Charles Norman Trust. I came up with millions in loans made out from the trust to DHP Investment. I got in my car and drove around to look at some of these properties that the trust lent $100,000 to $250,000. They were vacant shells that had been vacant for decades."
Kasoff took his concerns to the Crestwood Police Department earlier this summer when Krempasky still maintained her law office in the St. Louis County suburb. He says a detective interviewed him about his complaint and said he would pass along the information to federal investigators. Since then Kasoff says he's been kept in the dark about any pending investigation. Crestwood Interim Police Chief Mike Paillou confirms his agency is not looking into Krempasky, and Kasoff holds little hope that he'll ever see the $10,000 he believes was left for him in the trust.