Following the Trail of the University of Hawaii's Missing $200,000 - to North Carolina
BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - MIAMI, FLORIDA – A scam by principals in the Miami, Florida-based talent agency Epic Talent LLC that targeted the University of Hawaii and left the school short $200,000 and without the Stevie Wonder concert the company agreed to stage, may extend as far as North Carolina.
Before Epic Talent LLC of Miami opened under its current name in February 2012, its web site said was known for 15 years as BAB Productions.
BAB Productions is also the name used by Charles D. Harrison, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, when he scammed 200 investors of $13 million through a Ponzi scheme, a crime for which he is serving 14 years in prison and must pay $13 million in restitution, beginning in 2009.
Like Epic Talent, Harrison claimed to have ties to celebrities, and said investors’ money would be used to fund concerts for nonprofits including churches, colleges and universities.
However, in reality, the investor funds were diverted back to other investors in Ponzi-fashion and investors, many in their senior years, lost their entire investment despite his promise of a 10 percent return.
Hawaii Reporter has learned law enforcement is looking into a possible connection between Florida’s operation and North Carolina, but it is unconfirmed whether that ties back to BAB Productions of North Carolina or a principal in Epic Talent LLC.
On to Florida
Epic Talent purports to have three principals including director Sean G. Barriero, US Account Executive Sannise “Sunny” Crosby and UK Account Executive J. Spencer. The company bills itself as the agent for America’s top pop stars including Beyonce, Prince, Jay Z and Kanye West.
But on its web site, Epic Talent LLC no longer claims it represents Stevie Wonder, a change from just weeks ago when the company took a $200,000 deposit from the University of Hawaii for a Stevie Wonder concert the principals claimed they could deliver in Hawaii this past August.
Hawaii Reporter was in Florida for several days last week up until Monday, October 1, and there discovered Epic Talent LLC has no worldwide headquarters where the nation’s top talent is supposedly represented. In fact, the headquarters is just a mailbox.
Hawaii Reporter also visited the home of Sannise Crosby, account executive for Epic Talent, at 18800 NW 29th Street in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Her house is in a dilapidated suburb outside Miami where many of the homes are wrapped with bars on their windows and doors.
The Crosby home’s mustard yellow walls were in need of paint, a detail that is notable because also listed at that address is Divine Painting, Inc. and Divine Painting Properties, Inc., two companies headed by Sannise’s father, Gamal Crosby, for which she serves as the executive.
Hawaii Reporter's Jim Dooley reports legal filings in Miami-Dade County, Florida, list pending federal tax liens of $84,867 against Sannise Crosby and $23,565 against Divine Painting. The lien against Sannise Crosby was filed last year and the Divine Painting lien was filed in 2010.
Last year, a Florida used car dealer filed repossession papers for a 2002 Ford Taurus driven by Sannise Crosby and financed by Gamal Crosby, Dooley reports.
Sannise Crosby’s uncle, who was at the home, got Sannise on the phone for Hawaii Reporter by calling Gamal Crosby’s phone, her father.
In a brief conversation, Sannise confirmed Epic Talent LLC has no office in Miami and operates out of a mailbox drop. Sannise promised to meet Hawaii Reporter later that evening, but did not call within 45 minutes as promised to designate a place and time later that evening.
Her uncle denied any knowledge of Sannise’s business dealings or big named stars she claims to represent.
While Sannise’s story is noteworthy, her background may not be as intriguing as her partner’s.
Sean Barriero, 44, is a principal in several other businesses that appear to be operated either from mailbox drops or a home in Miami Gardens.
Barriero lists his business address at 14359 Miamar Parkway in Miramar, Florida, but a visit to that location revealed it is actually a UPS store with more than 400 mailbox drops in that location, none of them belonging to Barriero, according to the store clerk. The store clerk confirmed he had never heard of Barriero.
Barriero is also listed as an assistant vice president for CTN-J Investments, CTN-J Group or CTN-J Inc, depending on the business filing. The head of that company is Charles West, 33, of Miami Gardens, who lives just 0.8 miles from Sannise Crosby.
West also owns All American Casket Supply, which operates from the same phone number as the CTN-J group of companies that Barriero is a part of.
In addition, West runs a business called C.A.R.M Professional Services Inc, which has many of the same principals as the CTN-J businesses, but neither the operator in Miami or Hawaii Reporter could find a business listing for such an organization.
A public records search of Sean Barriero lists a relative in North Carolina.
Behind the 'Wonder Blunder'
University of Hawaii Athletic Department officials – including Stadium Manager Rich Sheriff and Athletic Director Jim Donovan – saw the concert as a way to get the athletic department out from under a $10 million crushing debt.
They relied on Robert Peyton, head of Bob Peyton Entertainment Corp. and BPE Productions, Inc., a Hawaii concert promoter, who arranged the deal. Peyton also said he sent a deposit of $50,000, despite having his house in foreclosure and facing bankruptcy as well as battling a crippling diabetic condition.
University officials said they were pressured by EPIC Talent principals to send the $200,000 deposit to secure the deal on threat of it being cancelled. In an unusual and unprecedented move, the University wired the money to Bank of America in Orlando, Florida.
Another $200,000 was due just before the concert, and Peyton, as noted in Maui Now News, said Epic Talent was trying to increase the original price of $730,000 plus travel.
Wonder’s real agents came forward to say they had not arranged the concert and University officials scrambled.
Peyton continued to claim everything was on track, but University officials held a press conference to disclose that they had opened their own investigation with the help of an outside law firm and also brought the FBI.
On July 10, UH cancelled the concert and refunded some 6,000 tickets.
The next day at a hastily called press conference, the media learned Donovan and Sheriff were put on indefinite leave with pay while the University looked into whether they were culpable in any criminal activity. That would prove to be an expensive mistake with lasting consequences.
Donovan, who hired a lawyer, was reinstated, but he was transferred to a newly created marketing and branding position under University of Hawaii-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple for $211,000 per year for three years.
Sheriff was also reinstated.
The University saga was nicknamed the ‘Wonder Blunder.’
Politics of University Actions Comes Center Stage
Because the legislature has fiscal oversight of the University of Hawaii and the Senate is responsible for confirming the Board of Regents, who in turn appoint the University president, the Senate launched its own investigation on September 24.
In testimony, September 24, at the state capitol, Donovan told Senators he did not want the position and wants to remain as athletic director.
Donovan had 8 months remaining on his contract and was vying for a 3 to 5 year extension, but University President MRC Greenwood was not a fan of Donovan’s before the botched concert and was already looking for a way to bring in her own choice for Athletic Director. She refused Donovan’s request for a 3- or 5-year contract.
Donovan was away when the $200,000 was wired to Epic Talent, but he approved of the idea and did not look into it further.
On September 24, Donovan told Senators he had been excluded from a number of key decisions in his department. When he went on leave, UH vice president Rockne Freitas, a former UH assistant athletic director, took over.
Following the Money
Will the University get its $200,000 back? Not likely, since it may be in a Florida shell corporation, in North Carolina or already out of the country.
But Senators will continue their probe into what happened to the University’s money – and the structural and managerial systems at the University that allowed the institution to be scammed.
They will also examine how these costly mistakes continue to add up for the taxpayer:
• $200,000 to Epic Talent
• $633,000 plus benefits for Donovan (plus his legal bills)
• $50,000 to a law firm to prepare a fact finders report
• $25,000 to another law firm for redacting names from the fact finders report
• Plus the cost of the refund of the Stevie Wonder tickets.
The Senate's second hearing is set for Tuesday, October 2, at 1 p.m. at the state capitol in room 211 and is open to the public.
Invited to appear are UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple, Stan Sheriff Center Manager Rich Sheriff, and Regents James Lee, Carl Carlson and Coralie Matayoshi. Peyton was also invited to appear but he declined after being hospitalized because of his diabetes.
“At this briefing, we will continue where we left off on September 24 and we expect to gain some insight into the University’s budget policy,” Kim said in a statement last week.
The public can view the hearing live on Olelo Channel 52.
A third hearing is schedule for later this week.
Jim Dooley contributed to this report
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