Home Money Making Prime Musicians Scored $200 Million in Pandemic Taxpayer Money: Report

Prime Musicians Scored $200 Million in Pandemic Taxpayer Money: Report

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Prime Musicians Scored $200 Million in Pandemic Taxpayer Money: Report

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Early 2021 was a affluent time for Austin Richard Submit, higher generally known as the “Sunflower” singer Submit Malone.

Whereas a lot of his entertainment-industry colleagues struggled to pay hire below the pandemic-era lockdowns that decimated dwell music within the US, Submit purchased a 9,000-square-foot ski chalet in Park Metropolis, Utah, which had been listed for $11.5 million, in an all-cash transaction that February.

By Could, he’d purchased an industrial house in a Salt Lake Metropolis suburb that had been listed for $1.45 million. There, he opened a business forge to craft knives and swords, “as a pastime,” Submit’s consultant instructed town’s planning fee.

However later that 12 months, an organization managed by Submit efficiently utilized for a $10 million grant from a taxpayer-funded federal program supposed to offer “emergency help” to assist struggling arts teams get better from the pandemic.

This system, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, was a lifeline for the live-entertainment enterprise. Administered by the Small Enterprise Administration, it doled out $14.5 billion to establishments like film theaters, ballets, operas, expertise brokers, performing-arts venues, and museums. Not like the Paycheck Safety Program, which many venues did not qualify for, the Shuttered Venue program was a grant, not a mortgage. Certified candidates have been eligible for as much as $10 million with no obligation to repay it.

“SVOG was there to save lots of us, and to hold us via,” mentioned Meredith Lynsey Schade, who was managing an off-off-Broadway theater firm when the pandemic hit.

However the Shuttered Venue program was additionally stricken by ineffective oversight and loopholes that allowed among the largest names within the music {industry} to get enormous payouts, an Insider investigation discovered.

R&B artist Chris Brown acquired $10 million. Rapper Lil Wayne acquired $8.9 million. Nineties rockers The Smashing Pumpkins acquired $8.6 million. Nickelback — sure, Nickelback — obtained $2 million.

All instructed, Insider recognized dozens of firms and limited-liability firms managed by high-profile musical artists that obtained grants via this system. A single financial-management agency in Los Angeles efficiently submitted grants on behalf of 97 artists, venues, and managers, amounting to greater than 1 / 4 of a billion {dollars} in grant payouts, Insider’s evaluation discovered, together with greater than $200 million for big-name artists alone.

Did your favourite musician get an enormous federal payout?

Insider recognized dozens of big-name musical artists whose touring firms scored tens of millions of {dollars} in federal grants in the course of the pandemic.

A bubble chart showing which top musicians

Supply: Small Enterprise Administration

Publicly, the invoice that created the Shuttered Venues grant was marketed as supporting behind-the-scenes employees at indie venues and small levels — not arena-filling musicians.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of many lawmakers who sponsored what was then generally known as the “Save Our Levels” invoice, instructed his constituents the cash could be used for “impartial dwell venue operators, impartial film theaters, and cultural establishments akin to dwell performing arts organizations and museums,” in line with a press launch. At a star-studded ceremony in April, Schumer was honored by the Recording Academy, the group behind the Grammys, for passing the invoice. A spokesperson for Schumer declined to remark.

A whole bunch of musicians and different performing artists signed an open letter to Congress asking them to help “neighborhood impartial venues” the place a lot of them had gotten their begins.

A few of those self same artists managed firms that went on to obtain multimillion-dollar payouts from this system, together with the electronic-music famous person Steve Aoki ($9.9 million) and the “Really feel It Nonetheless” crooners Portugal. The Man ($2.25 million).

The Shuttered Venue program “helped save hundreds of leisure venues and operators throughout the nation in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” an SBA spokesperson mentioned in a press release. Practically half the grant cash went to companies with fewer than 5 full-time workers, “the smallest of small companies,” the spokesperson added.

However among the artists’ companies Insider analyzed would match into that class. As an example, Aoki’s company, DJ Child Millionaire Touring Inc., instructed the federal government it had simply 4 full-time workers on its software for a $71,000 PPP mortgage.

A scarcity of controls

There is no such thing as a indication that funds to big-name artists broke the regulation. Although the laws was focused at “dwell performing arts group operators,” an SBA consultant confirmed to Insider that artists themselves have been included inside its scope.

The federal government continues to be figuring out simply how a lot pandemic-era help went to fraudulent claims. In June, the SBA inspector normal launched a report contending that 8% of the loans disbursed by the Paycheck Safety Program, which pumped about $800 billion into the US financial system in the course of the lockdowns, might need been fraudulent. The company’s Financial Harm Catastrophe Loans, which paid out about $400 billion, had an excellent larger price of potential fraud, in line with the report: one-third. Fraudsters blew the cash on issues like sports activities vehicles, luxurious purses, and gold bars, the inspector normal discovered.

The SBA has disputed these findings, and touted its oversight of the Shuttered Venue program specifically as wildly profitable. The company estimates that lower than 1% of grants disbursed via SVOG have been fraudulent, it mentioned in a report final month.

Business sources contacted by Insider defended the Shuttered Venue program by stating that many artists usually contract with a whole bunch of sound and lighting technicians, costumers, drivers, safety personnel, and different contractors once they put collectively a tour. All these contractors have been out of labor in the course of the lockdowns, the sources mentioned, and artists making use of for grants might have used the cash to assist maintain them afloat.

Steve Aoki

Digital music famous person Steve Aoki requested Congress for cash to save lots of small levels. Then an organization he controls acquired a $9.9 million grant from this system. Greg Doherty / Contributor / Getty Photos

However there was no requirement that they spend the cash that manner. The grant cash was supposed as alternative for misplaced income, and recipients might spend it on issues like current mortgage funds, taxes, and payroll — together with paying themselves.

The shortage of spending controls created alternatives for impropriety, in line with the SBA’s inspector normal and sources reached by Insider.

For one, candidates wanted to get the SBA’s approval on an in depth finances to obtain a grant and to submit documentation displaying how the cash was ultimately spent. (The company denied Insider’s requests below the Freedom of Info Act for information displaying how the artists spent the cash, citing an exemption for confidential enterprise information.)

However after that they had the cash, recipients have been permitted to shift it round to completely different approved makes use of, the inspector normal famous in a report final 12 months. It referred to as the follow “regarding” and out of line with how the SBA administers different grants.

Furthermore, firms that contract with artists to help excursions have been themselves eligible to obtain SVOG funding, elevating questions on whether or not some firms have been paid from artists’ grants whereas additionally receiving grants themselves. As an example, two of the largest sound-system suppliers for touring, Eighth Day Sound and Clair World — which merged in 2020 — every obtained $10 million grants.

Insider contacted greater than 60 grant recipients, together with Clair and Eighth Day, in addition to the entire artists named on this article, to ask how they spent their grants. None of them shared detailed data, and most didn’t reply.

Eighth Day’s president, Tom Arko, mentioned he had no perception into how Eighth Day used the grant cash as a result of Clair World has dealt with its funds for the reason that merger. However he was stunned when an Insider reporter shared the names of among the artists whose firms obtained grant cash. Different stars like Bonnie Raitt and Justin Bieber paid their manufacturing crews from their very own pockets when the pandemic canceled their live shows, Arko famous.

There have been few limits on how the cash could possibly be spent. The grants could not be used immediately for some issues, like shopping for actual property or making political donations. However below SBA tips, the grants could possibly be used to pay “proprietor compensation,” an quantity the company capped at regardless of the proprietor earned in 2019. In different phrases, Submit Malone or the members of Nickelback might have used not less than some grant cash to pay themselves immediately with out violating this system’s guidelines. (There is no such thing as a proof that they did so.)

And artists weren’t the one ones free to get in on the motion: The SBA instructed Insider that grant recipients might pay the attorneys, managers, and accountants who ready their functions no matter was “abnormal and mandatory” — a determine as excessive as 15%, in line with the criticism in a single lawsuit. Against this, the Paycheck Safety Program capped such charges, which it referred to as “agent charges,” at 1% for PPP loans.

Enterprise managers, expertise brokers, and others surrounding the artists additionally cashed in immediately. Two firms owned by Submit Malone’s comanagers, Austin Rosen and Dre London, obtained grants totaling practically $20 million in 2021. Rosen, for one, did not seem like hurting for cash: In 2021 and 2022, he spent $25 million to assemble a Miami Seashore property. (Insider discovered no proof that both man paid themselves.)

Two entities partly owned by the legendary expertise supervisor Irving Azoff, whose agency’s purchasers embody The Eagles, Lizzo, Harry Types, and Gwen Stefani, collectively acquired $17.5 million from this system.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Gwen Stefani and Irving Azoff attend the 37th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on November 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Music mogul Irving Azoff, pictured right here with Gwen Stefani finally 12 months’s Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame induction ceremony. Two entities he partly owns acquired $17.5 million. Kevin Mazur/Getty Photos for The Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame

Marty Singer, a lawyer for Azoff, instructed Insider that the businesses complied with the SVOG program’s guidelines and that Azoff himself was not in want of any bailout funds.

A pandemic-era asset buy seems to help Singer’s description of Azoff’s monetary place. In November 2021, Azoff bought a $21.5 million Beverly Hills property adjoining one other house he owns.

“Irving Azoff didn’t profit personally,” he mentioned. “My shopper does not want SVOG cash to purchase a home.”

Publicly traded firms have been ineligible for grant cash, however the live performance powerhouse Stay Nation nonetheless was capable of profit from Shuttered Venue funding as a slew of its subsidiaries have been bolstered by grant cash, The Washington Submit reported.

In a press release, a consultant for Stay Nation mentioned the corporate has no skill to manage whether or not its subsidiaries entry help applications, including that the subsidiaries used “each useful resource legally obtainable to them to help their workers via this disaster, which was not solely their proper but additionally a wholly comprehensible and human factor to do.”

A $496,000 overpayment

In the meantime, smaller and fewer celebrated organizations struggled to entry Shuttered Venue funding. Many candidates discovered it tough to navigate the SBA’s necessities, which contributed to 30% of functions being denied, in contrast with a 3% denial price for Paycheck Safety Program funds. The proprietor of a New Orleans escape-room firm complained to The Intercept in 2021 that the SBA was creating “winners and losers in the identical {industry} due to the arbitrariness of the awards.”

The company was initially so unprepared for the onslaught of functions that its on-line portal crashed and was offline for 2 weeks. Some small-business house owners have been instructed that the SBA had denied them funding as a result of the company believed they have been useless.

Candidates went to nice lengths to qualify for SVOG funds, scrounging up flooring plans and advertising and marketing supplies and amending years of tax returns to revise their NAICS codes, in line with lawsuits and a music-industry accountant who spoke with Insider. However for others, the method was far simpler. Andre Lorquet, a Florida man, looted $3.8 million from SVOG with a number of phony tax paperwork, court docket information say. He used a few of it to purchase a Lamborghini. (Lorquet pleaded responsible to identification theft and cash laundering in January.)

CHULA VISTA, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 02: Musicians Jonathan Davis of Korn performs on stage at North Island Union Amphitheatre on September 02, 2019 in Chula Vista, California. (Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

An organization managed by the members of the metallic band Korn obtained practically $5.3 million in taxpayer-funded grant cash. Daniel Knighton/Getty Photos

The SBA’s inspector normal has raised questions on this system’s oversight, discovering in a report final 12 months that the “SBA didn’t observe elementary grant administration controls supposed to guard taxpayer funds.”

In a single case the inspector normal reviewed, an software for $55,000 resulted in a $551,000 grant — a $496,000 overpayment. In one other occasion, an SBA worker concluded {that a} recipient who had initially obtained a $4.9 million grant was really eligible for less than $3 million, however the company did not take any steps to get better the $1.9 million in overpayments.

In a response to the inspector normal’s report, the SBA contested these findings, saying each awards have been justified. “The SBA has strong compliance management processes in place to make sure funds have been utilized in accordance with congressional statute, together with ongoing monitoring applications and audit evaluations, and refers any suspicions of fraud to federal regulation enforcement,” an company spokesperson mentioned in a press release to Insider.

The inspector normal is conducting an extra audit of the grant program, which it expects to launch this 12 months.

‘Exterior-the-box’ advisors

Throughout the music {industry}, although, one asset-management agency alone helped unlock greater than $260 million in taxpayer cash for simply 97 artists, venues, and managers, in line with an Insider assessment of the SBA’s grant-recipient database.

That agency, NKSFB, counts among the largest names within the music {industry} as purchasers, together with Submit Malone, Marshmello, Aoki, Godsmack, and Korn. It performed up its success with Shuttered Venue grants: One associate bragged to Billboard that they helped purchasers discover “outside-the-box” funding streams like SVOG.

One firm obtained by far essentially the most grants for dwell performers

The agency started making use of for Shuttered Venue grants on behalf of its artists beginning in July 2021, in line with a lawsuit filed in opposition to NKSFB by Laurence Chief, a rival enterprise supervisor who claimed he pitched the agency on the thought of getting grants for his or her purchasers — for a 15% fee — solely to have NKSFB steal his thought. NKSFB denied the allegations; the case is pending.

A veteran NKSFB supervisor, Michael Oppenheim, was initially skeptical that his purchasers would qualify for the grant, in line with the lawsuit. However after Chief instructed Oppenheim he’d already submitted an software on behalf of an unnamed jazz musician, Oppenheim determined to provide the thought a strive, the lawsuit mentioned.

Inside weeks, NKSFB had submitted functions on behalf of “dozens” of its “fashionable mainstream artist and band purchasers,” in line with the swimsuit. Beneath SBA guidelines, the agency could be permitted to take a minimize of every grant.

NKSFB purchasers acquired practically 10% of the overall grants awarded to performing arts organizations

One enterprise supervisor instructed Insider his purchasers started to “aggressively” press for SVOG cash as soon as phrase of NKSFB’s technique acquired round. The enterprise supervisor mentioned he did not assume artists or managers certified, and went to a outstanding lawyer, who agreed.

“Should you have a look at the title of this system, it is the ‘Shuttered Venue Operator Grant,'” the supervisor mentioned. “Nowhere in there do you hear ‘performer’ or ‘artist’ or any of that.”

NKSFB’s managing associate Mickey Segal declined to remark, citing a company coverage of not discussing shopper issues. Oppenheim died in April.

NKSFB acquired its purchasers more cash than the standard grant recipient

‘Evaluating wounds’

Schade, the theater-company supervisor, who says she’s the kind of individual to “all the time do my homework,” heard in regards to the invoice that will create the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant in early 2021 and threw herself into studying its intricacies. She grew to become one thing of an SBA whisperer to small and midsize arts teams making use of for the grant, reviewing functions and funneling data from the SBA to a 2,500-member Fb group. Their questions in the end grew to become so overwhelming that she employed an assistant to assist her deal with them, she mentioned.

A lot of the cash disbursed via the grant program went to symphony orchestras, theatrical teams — together with all 5 touring productions of “Hamilton,” the Oregon Shakespeare Pageant, and the magician David Copperfield — live performance halls, zoos, aquariums, and small community-arts organizations, in line with a assessment of the greater than 13,000 grant recipients printed on the SBA’s web site.

Grant officers scrutinized candidates minutely, candidates instructed Insider, asking them to submit live performance posters and contracts from earlier excursions to show that they have been legit performers.

Some recipients say it is unfair to critique this system in hindsight. On the time it went into impact, pandemic shutdowns had battered the performing-arts {industry}, leaving tens of hundreds of actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers, safety guards, lighting and sound technicians, costumers, and set designers out of labor. Managers and brokers, who take fee funds from artists’ income, additionally noticed their supply of earnings dry up because the pandemic canceled excursions, three music {industry} managers instructed Insider.

Although she was an up-close witness to the struggles of small arts organizations in the course of the pandemic, Schade mentioned she was in no place to evaluate well-known musicians that had obtained cash via the grant program.

Performing arts teams suffered below pandemic lockdowns. Broadway reveals have been canceled for greater than a 12 months. For a lot of, the SVOG funds got here as a lifeline. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Photos

“Evaluating wounds in the course of the pandemic isn’t a wholesome method to strategy issues,” Schade mentioned. Greater acts have extra bills, she added.

“We will, now, look again three years later and say there wasn’t sufficient oversight,” she mentioned. “However the actuality is that when there is a hearth that is burning you go searching and attempt to put that fireside out.”

The difficulties of the pandemic, although, clearly didn’t have an effect on the entire grant recipients equally.

Gary Osier, a reserving agent whose firm represents dozens of acts together with ZZ Prime, Foreigner, and 98 Levels, seems to have weathered the pandemic with out a lot monetary misery. In November 2021, because the Delta variant raged all through the nation, he was capable of buy a $2.1 million four-bedroom lake home outdoors Dallas utilizing money.

However his firm, Gary Osier Presents, wasn’t fairly as lucky. It utilized for a $10 million SVOG grant, which it obtained in July 2021. The corporate had beforehand obtained a PPP mortgage of $127,000; its software mentioned it had one worker on the time.

The grant got here at a time when the SBA was below strain to do extra to assist the touring {industry}. Only a month earlier, 55 senators had despatched the company a letter urging it to disburse the SVOG funds extra rapidly.

“The SVOG program is exclusive, with mandatory restrictions inbuilt to make sure taxpayer funding goes solely to eligible candidates in want,” they wrote. “Bureaucratic course of can’t stand in the way in which of getting these desperately wanted funds out the door.”

In a press release, Osier mentioned his firm “totally complied with all auditing and monitoring necessities of the SVOG program, together with use of grant funding” and “put the grant funds to work solely for the critically necessary functions for which the SVOG program was designed.”

When requested what these functions have been, he didn’t reply.



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