It is not known what triggered the audit or what the auditors are looking into, but insiders said no one has been accused of wrongdoing and the investigation may not turn up anything.
"The reason is to let people find out if there is a problem in the company," said one of the insiders.
KASSAN ON VACATION
Michael Kassan, president of Western's North American operations and vice chairman of the worldwide company, left earlier this month for what was described as an extended vacation. A number of staffers at Western got that news late in the week of July 12 and were given no further explanation.
Reached last week, Mr. Kassan said, "I am unaware of any audit other than what might be the normal annual audit. Since I am not aware of it, my being out of the office couldn't be related to it."
He declined further comment. Interpublic also declined comment.
Mr. Kassan, who had been the personal attorney of Western International Media founder Dennis Holt, joined that company in spring 1994 as its chief operating officer. By November of that year, he engineered a sale of the independent media buying service to Interpublic.
More recently, Mr. Kassan was one of the architects of Western's merger with sibling Interpublic unit Initiative Media, a combination that created a global media powerhouse.
But insiders said a power struggle recently developed between Mr. Kassan, who is based in West Hollywood, Calif., and Larry Lamattina, New York-based chairman-CEO of Western Initiative.
"Michael is very much an independent thinker and bristled at being controlled by someone else," said another insider with knowledge of the situation. Mr. Lamattina could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Kassan is no stranger to controversy. Although an attorney, he's currently not entitled to practice law in the state of California, according to the California State Bar Association. According to public documents, he was suspended from practicing law after he pleaded no contest and was convicted in June 1995 of one count of grand theft by embezzlement.
After completing the terms and conditions of his probation, according to one