BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU- The University of Hawaii lost $200,000 to scammers claiming to represent Stevie Wonder, but the timeline details of who was responsible has not been released to the media until last Friday when the university released a long awaited “fact-finders” report naming the people and businesses involved with the so-called “Wonder Blunder.”
The Office of Information Practices said in a March 28 ruling that the University and its attorneys violated the Uniform Information Practices Act by redacting the August 2012 report released to the legislature and the press. Since, the University agreed to release the unredacted version.
The University paid Torkildson, Katz, Moore, Hetherington & Harris $65,000 to redact names of University employees and outside parties in the report “to protect their rights”, but OIP staff attorney Jennifer Brooks said the document was “of high public interest” and the decision not to release it “appears not to have been supervised by anyone with even a passing familiarity to the actual law governing public records requests.”
Report: System Failures From the Top
There were many other University employees named in the report who played a role in the state institution getting scammed, because they took no initiative to do their own due diligence and simply did what they were told by others involved in the concert plans.
The then University’s Manoa Chancellor Virginia Henshaw and University of Hawaii President MRC Greenwood were largely uninformed about the concert that was supposed to be a fundraiser for the cash strapped athletics department, even though University rules require the president to have signed off on the fundraising plan, the report said.
The fact finders report said Greenwood did not even know about the planned August 18 concert until June 19. By June 22, the University had already sold $108,932 worth of tickets, and by June 24, ticket sales surpassed $200,000.
Rich Sheriff took center stage at the University as the Wonder Blunder played out. Sheriff, the manager of the University’s arena named for his father Stan Sheriff, was the key person organizing the concert in conjunction with local promoter Bob Peyton of Bob Peyton Entertainment Corp. Sheriff admitted to fact finders that he did not do much diligence on Peyton before planning the event with him, and that he sent or received 300 emails about the concert before realizing the University had been scammed.
While it was Karyn Yoshioka in the university’s Disbursing department who executed the $200,000 wire transfer to the EPIC Talent LLC escrow account in Miami, Florida, the report said no one at the University that should have supervised her appears to have confirmed anything about the escrow account or the companies that the money would go to before the money was wired.
Then Athletic Director Jim Donovan, who has since been replaced, was supposed to supervise the concert plans that were being handled by Sheriff, but he didn’t know until July 2 that the $200,000 had been wired several days earlier, or that local promoter Bob Peyton of Bob Peyton Entertainment Corp, the organizer of the concert, had not obtained concert cancellation insurance as the University required.
Tickets, which had been presold to select donors and alumni, went on public sale on July 6 without the insurance in place, another violation of university policy.
The plan that was months in the works came crashing down on July 9, when Brett Steinberg, an agent with Creative Artists Agency (CAA), called the University to tell administrators the concert they were planning was “unauthorized.” Rob Light of CAA followed up with a letter to the University president stating no one in his organization knew about the concert and that he’d been Wonder’s agent for 18 years.
Peyton would not acknowledge they’d been scammed, telling University officials he believed CAA was not exclusive and was just looking for a cut. The now indicted alleged scammers, Sean Barriero of Epic Talent LLC in Florida, and Marc Hubbard of Castle Entertainment in North Carolina, called Donovan the next day to tell him to be patient as they negotiated with CAA.
But the next day, realizing they had been dealing with unauthorized “talent” agents, the university held a press conference and announced tickets would be refunded and the FBI was called in to investigate.
On November 8, 2012, the FBI confirmed University employees had been cleared of any fraud allegations, but Barriero and Hubbard had been indicted by a grand jury in relation to the missing $200,000.
University Criticized for Spending Spree
The University has spent more than $1.2 million on outside legal counsel, public relations contracts and a legal settlement with Donovan as a result of the Stevie Wonder concert blunder.
Besides paying $65,000 to redact names in the fact finders report, the University allocated another $50,000 to study accountability in the Athletic Department.
Then in February, the University spent another $260,000 to study its organizational chart to identify gaps that led to the concert fiasco.
Students and lawmakers have criticized the University leadership for spending more money to study the Wonder Blunder than was lost in the wire transfer, and for wasting taxpayers’ money on outside legal counsel and public relations personnel, and high salaries and perks for themselves, leading to record increases in student tuition.
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who held three Senate hearings to look into the parties responsible for losing the money last Fall, questioned three nominees to the University of Hawaii board of regents about the report in a recent Senate Higher Education Committee hearing.
She asked whether the University should pay the $65,000 bill to the private law firm hired to redact the report, since there errors and violations of Hawaii law.
More on the People Involved in the Wonder Blunder
- Bob Peyton’s company, Bob Peyton Entertainment Corp (BPE Corp), entered into an agreement to hold the fundraising concert featuring Stevie Wonder in August 2012. The University used ticket pre-sales to fund the $200,000 deposit to Epic Talent LLC, the Miami talent company claiming to represent Wonder. The concert, which was supposed to cost the University $450,000, was to be a fundraiser for the cash strapped Athletics department. Peyton helped produce a Stevie Wonder concert when he was working for Hawaii’s most respected concert promoter, Tom Moffatt, in the 1970s and 1980s. In March 2012, Peyton approached the University about holding a concert at the arena. He believed Wonder would give the University a discount since it was a fundraiser. He would hold a second show on Maui. Peyton was in debt and his house was in foreclosure since November 2011. A judgment had been entered against him for $24,000 by the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees. No one at the University looked into his background or financial situation. Peyton died in January 2013 after he lost his leg to diabetes over the Christmas holiday.
- Peyton was working with Colin Davie, a promoter in England, on a Crater Festival in Diamond Head and they hoped Stevie Wonder would be a possible act. Davie introduced Peyton to Helen Williams who according to the fact finders report, claimed to represent Stevie Wonder as his international agent.
Helen Williams, the European promoter based in Spain who claimed to be Stevie Wonder’s UK representative, operated Elite Entourage Management. One university official questioned her authenticity saying she was only in business for 14 months, but his questions were ignored.
- Sean Barriero, head of Epic Talent LLC, a Miami, Florida based company that received the University’s $200,000 in its escrow account and then spent some of the money on personal effects. Epic Talent claimed to have “elite clients” and displays photos and biographies of some of the world’s top entertainers including Beyonce, Prince, Jay Z and Kanye West, with Epic Talent’s contact information as a link to the bevy of stars.
- Sannise “Sunny” Crosby, fiancée to Barriero and account executive with Epic Talent LLC, helped Barrerio keep up the façade of representing some of the nation’s top singers and celebrities – and according to the FBI, helped Barriero spend $25,000 of the University’s money on a Mercedes Benz SUV;
- Marc Hubbard, owner of Castle Entertainment, located in North Carolina, is the alleged orchestrator of the theft.
- Both Barriero and Hubbard were indicted by a federal grand jury in Hawaii in November in relation to the missing $200,000. While Barriero, a British citizen, has pleaded guilty to transporting the University’s money, Hubbard has pleaded not guilty and will go on trial. Court records in South Carolina show Hubbard was already indicted on securities fraud and forgery charges for a similar scam in October 2012 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, for allegedly taking $700,000 to put on an Alicia Keys concert.