Christian University Indicted in Ongoing Newsweek Probe

“Today’s indictment supersedes – and includes – the charges announced last month,” Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. says

Newsweek chaos

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced indictments against a Christian University that is tied to the former parent company of Newsweek on Thursday.

The indictments are the latest to be handed down in the ongoing investigation against the university, Christian Media Corporation and Newsweek’s former parent company, IBT Media.

Olivet University, as well as several of its top officials, were accused of “obtaining at least $25 million in financing under Olivet’s name, and laundering the money in order to obscure its origins and fund Olivet’s operations.”

Olivet has vehemently denied the accusations, a spokesperson for the University told TheWrap (see statement below).

The indictments come about a month after the same office charged Newsweek’s former parent company, IBT Media, and several of its top officials with fraud, accusing them of inventing financial statements in order to secure millions in loans.

“Today’s indictment supersedes – and includes – the charges announced last month,” Vance said in the announcement.

Reps for Newsweek did not immediately respond to request for comment from TheWrap.

Attorney Marc Agnifilo, on behalf of IBT Media and Etienne Uzac, told TheWrap in a statement: “The individual and corporate defendants borrowed money, as every business does, and paid the money back, as every business should. Why then are these Christian institutions, their officers and corporate partners subjects in a sweeping indictment?”

IBT Media purchased Newsweek in 2013.

“We believe in the Newsweek brand and look forward to growing it, fully transformed to the digital age,” Etienne Uzac, co-founder and CEO of IBT Media told USA Today at the time of the sale. “We respect the brand’s long history of delivering high-quality, impactful journalism and believe this aligns well with IBT Media’s culture and mission.”

However, the company’s leadership, including Uzac, were chummy with Olivet University and became intertwined in opaque financial transactions. According to the story in Newsweek, Olivet offered a local government in upstate New York free advertising at the publication at the same time the school was seeking tax breaks and construction permits. (Olivet disputes the accusation.) The company fired editor Bob Roe, executive editor Ken Li and senior politics reporter Celeste Katz over the piece, which the story revealed in a lengthy editor’s note.

In January, the company’s New York headquarters were raided and authorizes seized several computers as part of their investigation.

Uzac was among those targeted by Vance, and is now facing felony charges of money laundering, fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records. He resigned as chairman of Newsweek group in February.

Olivet University denied the charges brought by the DA’s office in a statement shared with TheWrap on Thursday. University spokesperson Ronn Torossian said Olivet will “vigorously defend itself against these unsupported allegations — including the puzzling claim that lenders that have been fully repaid with interest were somehow victimized. Olivet stands strongly by the individual members of its team who have been wrongfully accused. Olivet is a Christian institution dedicated to providing educational and spiritual opportunities to students around the globe — including in locations that are hostile to Christianity and Christian practice.”

For the record: This story has been updated to reflect Olivet University’s response to the disputed Newsweek story.