No prison for the Friars Club boss members seem to love or hate

Some critics of the former director, Michael Gyure, who pleaded guilty in January to having filed false tax returns, said his actions reflected a pattern of lax oversight at the club.

No prison for the Friars Club boss members seem to love or hate

Some critics of the former director, Michael Gyure, who pleaded guilty in January to having filed false tax returns, said his actions reflected a pattern of lax oversight at the club.

Gyure’s supporters, on the other hand, have dismissed the criticism as overblown and described his continued stewardship as vital to the club’s future.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of U.S. District Court in Manhattan repeatedly emphasized Monday that Gyure, 51, was being sentenced only for his tax offenses. Gripes about his leadership, she said, were beyond the court’s scope.

“It’s clear that there are factions within this club,” she said at one point. “It seems to me that the dispute between the factions is essentially a civil dispute.”

His guilty plea covered tax returns for four years ending in 2015. He was charged with failing to include hundreds of thousands of dollars in supplemental income, including personal expenses covered by the club.

Prosecutors had asked that Gyure be sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison, saying that, beyond his tax offenses, he had sought to enrich himself at the expense of the club and its members. Defense lawyers said Gyure did not deserve prison time, noting, among other things, that many members want him to continue to help lead the organization and that he was given a new five-year employment contract, albeit in a different role with no oversight of the club’s finances.

There was little doubt that those supportive members outnumbered the critics in the courtroom and, after the sentencing, some returned to the club, now shuttered for the summer and undergoing renovations, for a celebration.

Gyure acknowledged the divisions in his statement to the court, telling Buchwald he had only himself to blame for his tax crimes.

“I recognize that I have some detractors at the Friars Club,” he said. “Sadly, I have given them ammunition.”

He quickly added that “the vast majority” of club members were on his side and promised “integrity and loyalty” to them.

The club, whose members have included Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Johnny Carson, has served as a bastion for a type of humor symbolized by the insult-filled roasts that it has held for celebrities and which are often broadcast on television.

Since 1957, the club’s headquarters has been an East 55th Street town house, known as the “Monastery,” which includes a barbershop, a gym and a second floor bar named after Barbra Streisand.

Over the last decade or so, some members became concerned by what they viewed as poor oversight by the club’s management. The club lost its tax-exempt status as a fraternal organization in 2010. Charity events took in $3 million but yielded only $13,000 for charity. The club was often late in paying bills and its state taxes.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum to the court that even as the club was struggling financially, Gyure aimed to benefit himself. For example, they said Gyure had attempted to direct any profits from a roast of former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw, which was aired on ESPN, to a company he led, instead of the Friars.

Defense lawyers countered that the Friars typically created separate companies to handle roasts so the club would avoid liability, and that Gyure had not benefited because the roast did not turn a profit.

Gyure began serving as executive director in 2007.

“For the past 12 years Michael has been the glue that held the Friars Club together,” Paul Shechtman, a defense lawyer told the judge Monday.

But three former Friars and one current member of the club vehemently disagreed, saying that mismanagement under his reign had led to multiple problems.

One who spoke was Sondra Beninati, who said she became disturbed when she realized the Friars owed large amounts of unpaid sales tax. She agreed to wear a hidden recording device for federal investigators who raided the club in 2017 because of suspicion of financial improprieties.

She said she and her husband had asked how club officials were handling the sales tax matter and sought several meetings with Gyure.

“We were blocked at every turn,” she said.

But Buchwald cut Beninati and two other speakers short, saying their assertions were not directly connected to the false tax returns that Gyure had filed.

“How the club is run is up to its members,” she said, and advised that one recourse might be the ballot box. “Elections, they have consequences.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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