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By BERNIE BELLAN

Was the WJT board asleep at the switch?

Why did it take the police so long to act? By the time you read this there may have been more information disclosed about circumstances surrounding the arrest of former WJT artistic director and general manager Michael Nathanson, but with the information that has been made publicly available, many questions remain to be answered.

 

According to news reports that were disseminated by various media on Sunday, March 29 and Monday, March 30, Nathanson was arrested March 28 as he tried to enter into Manitoba at the Emerson border crossing.

Nathanson, who had been fired by the board of the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in February, 2014, (although the board has never publicly stated that he was "fired") has been charged with theft over $5,000 and forgery. Again, according to reports, Nathanson is alleged to have embezzled $85,000 from the theatre.

When the story of the WJT's troubles first broke in February last year, we attempted to ascertain from a board spokesman what was going on. Was Nathanson fired, we asked? Was the theatre in dire financial straits due to declining attendance over the years?  Why was the final show of the 2014 season, "Shiksa", cancelled without any prior notice given to the playwright, the actors, or anyone else involved in that show?

We never did receive answers to any of those questions. Meanwhile, rumours began swirling as to what had been going on at the WJT. It was alleged to us that Nathanson's embezzlement had been brought to the board's attention by the WJT's associate artistic director, Ivan Henwood (who, also, is no longer employed by the WJT). Further, it was alleged to us that Nathanson had fled Winnipeg and was living with a sister in Houston.

Henwood would likely have been in a key position to uncover Nathanson's alleged embezzlement. I recall speaking with him on several occasions when we had trouble obtaining payment from the WJT for unpaid invoices. Henwood would say to us that we would be paid - and we would be paid. He certainly seemed to be in a position where he would have been aware of the WJT's true financial situation.

 

According to news sources, a warrant was issued for Nathanson's arrest in January of this year. Why did it take 11 months for a warrant to be issued?

In an e-mail sent to the Winnipeg Police Force Monday morning, March 30, I asked: "While I realize that you probably can't comment on any specific aspect of the investigation, I have to wonder: It was only $85,000. We're not talking about Enron here, yet it seems to have taken 10 months for the WPS to issue a warrant for Michael's arrest. I wonder whether Ivan Henwood couldn't have been able to piece it all together for you in a couple of days."

I received the following response from Jason Michalyshen of the WPS: "I can tell you that the WPS first became involved in this investigation in May 2014. Over the next several months documentation was provided to investigators by the theatre. Mr. Nathanson was arrestable sometime in the fall based on a lengthy, time consuming investigation, however he could not be located and was believed to have fled to Texas.

 "Investigators were optimistic that he would return to Winnipeg at some point due to family connections and a warrant was eventually submitted.

 "If you have questions as to why it took so long to provide investigators with the required information, I suggest you contact the theatre. It is our opinion that the theatre group did there (sic.) due diligence and were very supportive and helpful throughout.

 "The fact that, as you put it, 'it was only $85,000.00' is irrelevant as to the amount of work required. The amount of money stolen does not necessarily dictate how long an investigation might take."

I responded to Constable Michalyshen: "Thanks for your reply._ As for locating Michael - did you speak to ...? ... told me last spring that Michael was living with his sister in Houston." (Name withheld to protect the privacy of the individual.)

Constable Michalyshen responded: "We were fully aware of where he was. (emphasis mine). If he had not made his way back to Winnipeg soon other investigative techniques would have been used to arrest him in the U.S."

I responded: "But in your previous e-mail you just wrote: 'however he could not be located and was believed to have fled to Texas'.

"So, did you know where he was or not?"

It doesn't inspire much confidence in the WPS's investigative abilities, does it?

 

Finally, with all due respect to the WJT board, as my experience in exposing the incompetence of the Crocus Fund board over 13 years ago proved to me back then, the ability of any  board of directors to provide effective oversight is limited by the accuracy of the information that they are given by administrators. But, if members of the board don't ask tough questions of those administrators, then it's not all that difficult to keep board members in the dark.

Yet, the fact that the board of the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre has been so consistently close-mouthed as to what had been going on there has inevitably led to a severe lack of confidence in that board's ability to function adequately. Now we are told by a spokesperson for the board that no comment regarding Nathanson's arrest will be forthcoming as the matter is "before the courts". Well, since no one on the board has issued any public comment lo these past 13 months, what difference does it make that it's now "before the courts"?

We certainly wish the WJT well as it attempts to pull itself out of this quagmire, but one wonders whether the continued refusal by the board or anyone else associated with the WJT to discuss the exact nature of its financial predicament will serve the WJT well in the long run. Perhaps now is the time to come clean about what the WJT board knew, when it knew it, and what exactly is the financial situation of the WJT?

 

 

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