How publicists for an LA nightclub business tried to kill our story about a violent night at one of their restaurants involving Drake

Drake, left, poses with h.wood Group co-owner John Terzian, right, while hosting a New Year’s party at Delilah in December 2018. Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for The h.wood Group
  • Insider reported on a chain of LA nightclubs that have a cosy relationship with celebrities.
  • Things came to a head when a server at West Hollywood hotspot Delilah was beaten after an apparent run-in with Drake.
  • Publicists for EMC Bowery, which does PR for H.Wood, went to great – and sometimes strange – lengths to kill the story.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Earlier this month, Insider reported on an altercation at West Hollywood hotspot Delilah involving one of the restaurant’s servers and the rapper Drake and his entourage.

The news of the beating of Bennett Sipes had already been out there, confirmed by a video leaked to TMZ, but as we started looking into it, we found out there was more to the story. The company that owns Delilah, The H.Wood Group, has a string of LA hotspots in its portfolio, and employees of these venues told us they felt frustrated with how much the company’s owners appeared to prioritise celebrity relationships, sometimes at the expense of their own safety at work.

As we were working on the story, publicists at EMC Bowery, which does PR for H.Wood properties, caught wind of it and deployed employees to run interference.

First there was the weird voicemail from an unnamed person saying they were calling about this story and wanted to chat about it. On first listen it sounded like a potential source, but it was from a phone number we hadn’t called and the person didn’t identify themselves. A quick search on Spokeo revealed that the number was registered to Dianne Quirante, an EMC Bowery publicist.

Then the emails started coming in, with one publicist, Ben Russo, appearing to offer us some sort of trade. After saying he wasn’t sure why we were doing this story, which he assessed had no news value, he extended an offer.

“I’d rather work with you on a real story or give you something else, that’s even better if you want a real inside scoop,” he wrote.

It’s unclear what the “real inside scoop” would have been, but this is a common tactic among Hollywood publicists.

Jack Ketsoyan, who owns EMC Bowery, explained the process in a Jezebel podcast in 2017.

“A lot of times you could call and find out what they have and you could give them a couple stories and the story shifts to benefit your client,” he said. At another point in the podcast, Ketsoyan noted, “99% of the time, in my experience, I was able to kill a story or I was able to shift a story to something different than what was coming out.”

Those tactics – while perhaps commonplace in the celebrity tabloid industry, which can depend on access to celebrities – are less common when working with news journalists.

But the strangest thing was when, weeks after we first started getting calls from EMC Bowery, we got another call from an unfamiliar number. This person left a voicemail, again giving no name, claiming to be a current employee at Delilah and offering to help us with our story. With another quick Spokeo search, we found the name attached to the phone number.

The woman, Jasmine Milton, was a recent college graduate who had a degree in PR and appeared to live in LA. An Instagram profile that appears to belong to Milton is filled with EMC Bowery employees commenting on her photos. Ketsoyan himself commented with three heart emojis on a recent post. On another photo, Milton replied to a comment from Quirante, writing, “learning from the best!” All signs point to Milton being employed by EMC Bowery.

She kept up the ruse when we called asking who she was. After much hesitation, she claimed her name was Taylor. She was insisting on knowing what information we had gathered for our story.

When INSIDER called EMC Bowery asking for Milton, the person who picked up the phone (who we accurately identified ourselves to) said she would check to see if Milton was available. Russo then picked up and said he couldn’t confirm whether Milton worked there.

Employees at EMC Bowery also attempted to contact several Insider Inc. employees in different departments asking for their help in an apparent attempt to extract information about our reporting.

In the end, The H.Wood Group declined to comment on our story.

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