Picture someone with three open tax warrants with the state of New York for failing to withhold almost $15,000 in income taxes from employees’ paychecks. The person is in deeper trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, with over $100,000 in liens for a failure to remit that money. Then there’s a $1.6 million home in Los Angeles’ exclusive Hollywood Hills; the individual has owned it for a year and is already delinquent in property taxes by $2,504.
Two of the person’s landlords have alleged upwards of $30,000 unpaid rent liabilities at two business properties. Our subject faces a hefty fine for not carrying worker’s compensation insurance. A report from a major newspaper said former staffers described the business as “a sweatshop that relied on legions of unpaid interns working full-time jobs.” An employee who worked there said the company “was so hostile that I was afraid to ask for my check.”
You would likely think this person was one of the individuals whom Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was targeting when she wore her “Tax the Rich” dress to the Met Gala last week in New York City.
Instead, it’s the woman who designed the dress.
On Saturday, the New York Post reported that Aurora James — the designer behind a garment that somehow managed simultaneously to evoke both the politics of the French Revolution and the spirit of Marie Antoinette’s “let ’em eat cake” — isn’t particularly fond of giving Uncle Sam his due.
The report, by the Post’s Jon Levine and Kathianne Boniello, described the 37-year-old James as “a notorious tax deadbeat with unpaid debts dogging her in multiple states.”
“Most of luxe-living James’ arrears center on Cultural Brokerage Agency, an LLC she formed in 2011 to serve as the parent company of her fashion brand, which today is known as Brother Vellies. It’s a favorite of people like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Meghan Markle,” the report stated.
In New York state, there was reportedly $14,798 not taken out of employees’ checks for 2018 and 2019. At the federal level, there was $103,220 that James’ company failed to remit in employee income taxes to the federal government, the Post reported. And, Baruch College tax lecturer David Cenedella told the newspaper, that didn’t mean James’ company was passing on that money to their employees.
“Just because they take it out of your paycheck doesn’t mean they’re sending it to the government,” Cenedella told the Post.
“It’s certainly not something you want. I would not say your average business out there has this. Something went wrong.”
Then there was the issue of James’ property taxes. The Post reported that she purchased her $1.6 million home in the Hollywood Hills in September of 2020. It didn’t take her long to fall behind.
The Post reported the property is currently listed as “delinquent” in taxes by the Los Angeles County assessor’s office, with $2,504 owed to the county.
If James were merely the doctor who helped give birth to AOC’s sartorial child, playing no role in the germination of its message and assuming no responsibility for what it did after it was delivered, that would be one thing. However, James has assumed a kind of co-parenting role with the New York socialist.
James and her boyfriend, Benjamin Bronfman, (an heir to the Seagram’s fortune worth roughly $100 million) attended the Met Gala, along with AOC and her boyfriend. The event cost $35,000 a head to attend.
Moreover, James called the dress “a super-special piece” during an appearance on CNN, adding, “we’ve created a really powerful message there.”
Congresswoman @AOC turned heads last night at the #Metgala when she wore a dress with the message tax the rich emblazoned on the back. Designer @AuroraJames tells us why this dress at this exclusive event was so important to them. pic.twitter.com/7V1JfKZi14
— Brianna Keilar (@brikeilarcnn) September 14, 2021
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez called James “working class” and “a sustainably focused, Black woman immigrant designer who went from starting her dream [fashion company] at a flea market in Brooklyn to winning the [Council of Fashion Designers of America awards] against all odds — and then work together to kick open the doors at the Met.”
The medium is the message. pic.twitter.com/b4Ssr6HkYR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 14, 2021
She apparently knows as much about James as James knows about tax law.
And keep in mind, these are just the problems with the taxman in the Post’s report. For someone stepping out at the Met Gala with America’s top socialist bedecked in a “Tax the Rich” dress she designed, James’ history makes her sound a lot more like the kind of person AOC would be railing against than the kind of person she’d be palling around with.
There’s the allegations of unpaid rent, for one.
“In August 2020, James’ landlord filed papers to evict Brother Vellies from their location at 71 Franklin St. in Brooklyn, as well as demanding more than $25,000 plus interest for staying beyond the end of her lease,” the Post reported. “The case was settled.
“She was sued by a previous landlord in February 2018 for more than $5,000 in unpaid rent at her shop’s old address at 209 West 38th Street in Manhattan.”
Cultural Brokerage Agency has also been a habitual offender when it comes to nonpayment of workers compensation insurance, which pays out when someone is hurt on the job. In October of 2019, the company faced a $17,000 fine from the New York state Worker’s Compensation Board for not carrying insurance between March of 2017 and February of 2018.
The state told the Post that the firm currently owes $62,722 to the state. Not a single payment has been received.
There were also allegations James mistreats her employees, often having unpaid interns picking up full-time responsibilities.
One intern said James was “quite cold” and that “she never gives recognition or acknowledgment to her team.”
“I experienced a lot of harassment when I worked for her,” a contract employee told the Post.
“Aurora would ask me to do things that were not in anyone’s job description, like scheduling her gynecological appointments. The work environment was so hostile that I was afraid to ask for my check.”
Don’t ask about how much was withheld in taxes, either. I hear that’s a sore spot.
The great irony is that this could have all been avoided. There wasn’t any particular artistry in the outfit Ocasio-Cortez wore.
If AOC had picked out a white dress from some random independent clothier in her district, had a decent tailor do a bit of work on it and then had someone paint “Tax the Rich” in big, red letters on the back, it likely wouldn’t have looked that different from what Aurora James came up with. If anything, that seems like a punk rock thing to do at the Met Gala, where the ornate, abstract outfits resembled nothing so much as an uncomfortable midpoint between the fashions of “The Hunger Games” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”
Instead, she collaborated with James on a “Tax the Rich” dress — and, if the New York Post’s report is to be believed, didn’t check thoroughly as to whether the rich person she was working with paid her taxes. Nice work, everyone.
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