By Amy Zimmer
MANHATTAN — The National Arts Club's board could have a showdown Friday with its president over accusations that he's been misusing the club's apartments to hoard junk and renting at below-market rates to family and friends.
As DNAinfo reported Tuesday, records show club president O. Aldon James has rented apartments in the club's 15 Gramercy Park South mansion to his brother and friend for cheap rent. Photos also showed rooms allegedly being used by James to hoard clothes, books, papers, ceramics, art and other junk bought at flea markets.
When DNAinfo approached James at Wednesday night's Gramercy Neighborhood Associates meeting, he waved off any criticism, saying the rental prices had been "deliberated" and explained the other allegations came from disgruntled ex-employees who he claimed were "asking for money."
"We were founded by a journalist," James said, referring to art and literary critic Charles de Kay in 1898. "You're not president of the National Arts Club if you're scared of heights or the crow's nest."
But board members were concerned about the revelations and planned to confront James Friday.
"The president will understandably try to sweep this under the rug," one board member said, requesting anonymity as not to jeopardize the meeting.
This board member had no idea that James' brother John was paying $356 a month for his apartment in the club until reading DNAinfo's story. This member also didn’t know that John James had once pleaded guilty to using the club’s nonprofit tax status to sell millions in jewelry for personal profit, the member said.
The Daily News reported Thursday that the club also paid dining room manager Joseph Frappaolo $257,000 even though he pleaded guilty in 2002 to stealing $160,000 from the club.
Miguel Serrano, who worked at the club's front desk for a decade before being fired Dec. 17, called James' claims "another lie" and added that "everyone to him is a thief or wants money."
Serrano said he was fired after being falsely accused by James of being a thief. But no charges were ever filed against him, to his knowledge, and he added that James apologized to him and asked him to come back to work for the club within two weeks of the firing.
"How do you ask a thief to come back?" Serrano said.
Another employee of the club who said he was also fired by James — on Christmas Eve — told DNAinfo that James also accused him of being a thief. That worker requested anonymity while pursuing legal options. James verbally accused three other employees who were fired in the last few years of stealing, these former workers said.
Guy Frazier, a former board member who was shocked by Serrano's firing, still called James the "right man" for the job.