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EMI Hires Controversial Promoter : Records: Alfred DiSipio quit the business after the payola scandals of the mid-'80s. Now he’s caused a stir by resurfacing as a consultant.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Alfred DiSipio, a figure in the recording industry payola scandals of the mid-'80s, is back in the music business--a move that has startled many industry observers.

DiSipio--who was investigated but was never charged with any crime--quit the independent promotion business shortly after a 1986 NBC-TV news report alleged that he and associate Joseph Isgro were linked to East Coast organized-crime figures. DiSipio has resurfaced as a consultant to Charles Koppelman, the new chairman and chief executive officer of EMI Records Group in North America.

Though DiSipio has been working behind the scenes for Koppelman in New York since 1991, his role didn’t become public in the industry until he was introduced recently to the Capitol Records staff in Hollywood.

In an interview from his New Jersey home, DiSipio, 66, denied Tuesday ever being affiliated with any organized crime family or participating in any illegal activity.

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“There was not one scintilla of evidence that I ever did anything wrong . . . ,” said DiSipio, in his first interview in six years. “I think the reason some people may react negatively to my advising people at EMI is that they’re envious.”

Koppelman--who in April will take over the duties of departing Capitol-EMI Chairman Joe Smith--said he hired DiSipio specifically to strengthen the corporation’s in-house promotion strategies.

“Fred is a wealth of knowledge and a terrific guy,” Koppelman said. “I don’t use him to get records played. I use him to help strategize and improve our promotion department. He knows all the players in the promotion business and who the good ones are. I brought him on board almost as a human resource player.”

Yet news of DiSipio’s re-entry into the business caught many insiders off guard.

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“I’m very surprised that a company the size of EMI would bring in such a controversial figure,” said Leonard Marks, a New York trial lawyer whose clients include Billy Joel and the three surviving Beatles.

Executives at several other major labels, who requested anonymity, said they would not have hired DiSipio. They questioned his reputation and what some described as an “antiquated” approach to obtaining radio airplay for records.

“The hiring of DiSipio by EMI is just another illustration that the record industry has no memory and no shame,” said Fredric Dannen, author of “Hit Men,” the celebrated 1990 book about payola in the music industry, which devotes a chapter to DiSipio and Isgro. “Independent promotion never went away.”

Independent promoters are outside contractors who charge record companies as much as $1,000 per song to obtain airplay for new releases in specific radio markets. EMI sources said the corporation, like most other major companies, currently pays promoters about $5 million a year for such services.

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During the 1980s, DiSipio was one of the most successful members of the Network, a loose affiliation of nine key independent promoters who charged the record industry a collective $60 million a year to ensure radio airplay for songs across the nation.

In February, 1986, however, the Network came under fire after a NBC News television broadcast claimed DiSipio and Isgro met several East Coast organized-crime figures at a hotel before a rock awards dinner. The NBC report also alleged that some members of the Network were offering payola to radio programmers in the form of cash, drugs and prostitutes to get songs played.

DiSipio and Isgro denied the charges, but within days of the telecast, 12 record companies cut their ties to any firm doing independent promotion.

The allegations prompted federal grand juries in Newark, Los Angeles and New York to launch investigations regarding payola and the possible connection between some record companies, promoters and members of organized crime families in New York and Newark.

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But DiSipio said it was health problems, not controversy that drove him to quit the business after he suffered a heart attack in 1987.

He acknowledged that--along with other promoters and record company officials--he was investigated in the late ‘80s by law enforcement officials, but said those probes never produced a single indictment against him.

“There was absolutely zero truth to what they said about me,” DiSipio said. “It was just a very unfortunate situation. One shot in a million. I mean there I was, on my way to the rock awards. I was Italian, I was in New York, and I was in a hotel lobby where some people were. That’s all there was to it. Those reporters should be crucified for what they did to me with no facts whatever.”

While federal prosecutors never filed charges against DiSipio, they did go after his associate Isgro.

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Isgro was indicted in Los Angeles in November, 1989, for payola and 56 other felony counts, including racketeering.

A U.S. district judge dismissed the case in September, 1990, chastising prosecutors for “outrageous government conduct” in their handling of the matter.

But the 9th Circuit Court reversed the dismissal last September. According to Drew Pittman, assistant U.S. attorney with the Organized Crime Strike Force in Los Angeles, Isgro’s case has been reinstated and will be issued a trial date on the court’s calendar before March 13.

Isgro was not available for comment.

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DiSipio declined to comment on Isgro’s case, but attributed the negative reaction toward his consulting work at EMI to rivalry.

“If I was a nefarious character, why would presidents of companies, chairmen of the board, vice presidents, artists and artists’ managers continue to call me?” the veteran promotion whiz and decorated war hero said. “I’m not like that. I never became successful or could have earned the trust of so many individuals in this industry from being a wise guy. My reputation has always been one of gentleman.”


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