‘Piolin’ Sotelo, Univision parting follows harassment allegations
Spanish-language radio personality Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo’s mysterious departure from the airwaves last week came after a performer on his nationally syndicated program accused him of sexual harassment, according to documents obtained by The Times.
Alberto “Beto” Cortez, a writer, producer and performer on the popular “Piolin por la Manana” radio program, alleged that his boss Sotelo was “physically, sexually and emotionally harassing” him for a three-year period ending last January. The claim was made in an April 16 letter from Cortez attorney Robert R. Clayton to executives Roberto Llamas and Jose Valle of Univision Communications Inc., which broadcast and syndicated the show.
In addition to the claim of sexual harassment, Cortez alleged that Sotelo ordered members of his radio production team to falsify letters in support of a high-profile campaign for congressional immigration reform, an issue that Sotelo championed on his program.
Sotelo’s attorney, Jeffrey Spitz, said the allegations were false and motivated by money.
“A disgruntled, troubled employee has made malicious and false claims about Eddie Sotelo,” Spitz said in a statement. “This was done as part of a demand for money.... The employee worked with Eddie for more than a decade. The employee’s allegations of harassment and falsification of immigration letters are pure fiction intended to gain a financial settlement.”
Neither Cortez nor Sotelo could be reached for comment. Univision executives declined to comment.
In the documents obtained by The Times, Cortez claimed that Sotelo repeatedly made aggressive and unwanted sexual advances, including grabbing Cortez’s buttocks and genitals when Cortez would arrive at work in the morning at the Glendale studio.
Cortez alleged that Sotelo taunted him during staff meetings, calling him by a derogatory term for a homosexual, and telling him to say that he was gay. Sotelo also asked vulgar questions about Cortez’s girlfriend, according to the documents.
“I have also spoken to former employees of the show who witnessed much of the harassment described herein,” Clayton wrote in his April 16 letter to the Univision executives. “They too have either been subjected to or heard of Sotelo’s misconduct, threats, and the retaliation he has taken against employees who have spoken out against him.”
Clayton asked that Univision consider reaching a settlement with his client, or else he would file a lawsuit “and the matter would become public.”
John C. Taylor, one of Clayton’s law partners, said the firm had no comment.
That letter also contains Cortez’s claims about falsifying letters. According to Cortez, after the immigration reform drive fell well short of garnering the 1 million letters that Sotelo had pledged to deliver, Sotelo ordered his staffers to “clandestinely photocopy letters so that it would appear as if he had gathered 1 million signatures.” Clayton writes that Cortez “initially refused but was told in no uncertain terms that the team needed to comply.”
In June 2007, Sotelo traveled to Washington, D.C., to present the letters to a congressional delegation composed of Sens. Edward Kennedy, Mel Martinez, Robert Menendez and Arlen Specter, as well as members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Cortez also claimed that Sotelo heaped “unrealistic and unlawful demands” on him, such as requiring him to work long hours without breaks or additional compensation. Cortez said that when he complained to Sotelo and other of his superiors, he was upbraided for disloyalty and threatened with dismissal, according to the letter from his lawyer to Univision.
Clayton’s letter goes on to state: “Because Sotelo was the cash-cow at Univision (rated number one in multiple markets and with the highest ad revenues), Univision turned a blind eye to Sotelo’s inappropriate and unlawful conduct. In doing so, Univision violated the company’s own written employment policies.”
Sotelo’s program aired nationally on about 50 stations, including locally on KSCA-FM (101.9), and at one time was the region’s No. 1-rated morning program in any language.
Besides dishing up a daily audio breakfast of wacky humor, irreverent commentary and Mexican regional music, Sotelo, an immigrant from Jalisco, Mexico, also used “Piolin por la Manana” as a bully pulpit to promote immigrant rights and attract guests including President Barack Obama. He has been married for 17 years.
In addition to performing on the Piolin show, Cortez is a singer and composer, primarily of Mexican regional music. He has performed in public and recorded at least one album, “El Primero,” released by Fonovisa Records in 2010.
According to the letter from his attorney, Cortez “was so traumatized by this ever increasing hostile work environment” that he left the program on Jan. 16 and went on medical leave. He returned to work at the end of June, according to a document obtained by The Times. Cortez’s Facebook page urges fans, in Spanish, to “listen to me on 101.9 from 12 to 5 a.m.”
Last week’s abrupt cancellation after 10 years of the formerly top-ranked “Piolin por la Manana” elicited surprise and dismay from its legion of fans, along with puzzled reactions from commentators. Although in recent years it had been losing audience share to Spanish-language competitors, the program remained highly popular.
Some listeners were put off by the show’s clownish antics and by what they regarded as its condescending representation of Mexican American culture.
But his personal Horatio Alger story endeared Sotelo to his core listening audience of Mexican Americans, and Mexican and Central American migrants. His relentless on-air advocacy helped boost the nationwide turnout for immigration reform marches in the mid-2000s that drew hundreds of thousands of participants in Los Angeles and other cities.
Sotelo, whose nickname means Tweety Bird, won numerous broadcasting awards for the show. He interviewed, among others, Hollywood celebrities such as Mel Gibson, Will Smith and comedian George Lopez, athletic luminaries like boxer Oscar De La Hoya and politicians. In November, he is scheduled to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
In recent years he expanded his brand name to include voice-overs and small acting parts in feature films such as Disney’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”
Last week, Univision issued a statement that “Sotelo and Univision have agreed to part company.”
“It’s been a great run with Univision,” Sotelo said in the statement.
From the Emmys to the Oscars.
Get our revamped Envelope newsletter for exclusive awards season coverage, behind-the-scenes insights and columnist Glenn Whipp’s commentary.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.