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Players Club Ousts Longtime Leader Amid Fiscal Drama

By Amy Zimmer | April 5, 2013 3:38pm | Updated on April 5, 2013 3:39pm

GRAMERCY — The board at Gramercy Park’s historic Players Club asked its executive director of two decades to take a bow after the institution’s debts and allegations of fiscal mismanagement have been in the spotlight, club insiders said.

Board members decided to oust John Martello during a three-hour closed-door meeting Wednesday night, sources told DNAinfo.com New York.  The details of Martello’s dismissal were unclear, but he didn’t want to take his curtain call, several people said.

Martello, who the club said had "resigned," showed up for work Friday morning at 8 a.m. only to be kicked to the curb in the afternoon, club staff confirmed.

“No comment,” said Martello, leaving the club about 1:30 p.m. carrying two suitcases.

Johnnie Planco, president of the Players Club's board of directors, released a statement about Martello's departure Friday afternoon.

"After nearly 20 years of serving as Executive Director of The Players Club, John Martello has resigned from his position," Planco said. "On behalf of the Board of Directors we wish to thank him for his years of service and wish him well on his future endeavors."

Members and others in the community told DNAinfo.com that would-be saviors were on the way, with money in hand or the management know-how to fundraise and fix the club’s pocketbook — but only if Martello was gone along with the executive committee that oversees him.

The drama at the 125-year-old actors society, founded by legendary Shakespearean thespian Edwin Booth, has recently been in the spotlight after a member-led Financial Audit Committee raised the alarm that alleged fiscal mismanagement put the club in “imminent danger” of closing.

The club, which hemorrhaged nearly $3 million over the last nine years, has only been kept afloat due to the largesse of deep-pocketed members, who have propped it up, members said. For instance, board member Herb Blodgett gave the club a loan of more than $1.9 million, according to recent tax documents. But his loans carry 6 percent interest, costing the club roughly $120,000 a year, the committee noted.

To pay for the club’s façade renovation — its architecturally significant Stanford White patio is crumbling — and other club expenses, the Players sold off its three prized paintings by prominent turn-of-the century portrait painter John Singer Sargent, the last of which was hocked to a pawnbroker website for a $250,000 loan at a 24 percent interest rate, the committee said.

That money is almost used up, used to pay workers, whose paychecks were behind, as well as vendors, several club insiders claimed.

The club was on the brink of losing its electricity and owed money to several suppliers, from its meat providers to its laundry service, said Joe Canela, a waiter and shop steward at the club, who filed a class action suit against Martello and the club for missing tips from the annual holiday fund.

He described a festive mood at the club on Thursday night after whispers of Martello’s firing grew louder.

“People were popping bottles of champagne,” he said. “They’re saying we finally got our club back.”

He added: “We have to unravel 20 years of whatever mess he made. We at least got rid of his salary, which was around $130,000. At least we’re going on the right course.”

Martello’s dismissal comes on the heels of his pitch to create a pilot television show for a series called “The Players Presents.” It gave him a starring role, taking the viewer through wood-paneled rooms to marvel at such sights as the canopy brass bed where Booth had slept, according the script.

Lawrence Richards was set to produce, and Martello was listed as an executive producer along with Robert Kosch.

Richards and Kosch’s previous credits include a never-released documentary “When Comedy Went to School” — about comedians who got their start in the Catskills — which was done in 2008, apparently between Kosch’s jail stints for theft by deception and issuing bad checks, among other charges, according to reports

That enraged board members, sources claimed, because of Kosch’s checkered past.

Martello gave Richards a lifetime membership to the club — an estimated value of $20,000 — and was is in the process of giving Kosch one too when discovered by a staff member.

The Financial Audit Committee had blasted Martello for poorly running its room rentals, claiming that fees were routinely waived or deeply discounted, even when being used by outside parties for profit-making events.

More than 45 events that had happened at the club didn’t even have files on record, they claimed.

Members at a meeting last month, where the committee reported its findings, overwhelmingly voted to get rid of Martello, but the club’s head had gathered enough proxy votes from members who weren’t present (including the newly-minted Richards) to save his skin — for the time.

With reporting by Trevor Kapp.