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Music accountant charged over alleged $2.2m fraud

An Australian music industry accountant has been charged over the alleged embezzlement of A$2.2 million (€1.35m) from prominent clients including festivals and artists.

Damien Luscombe, a former partner and business manager at accountancy firm White Sky Music, is accused of several counts of obtaining financial advantage by deception and using false documents, reports The Age.

White Sky, which looks after the finances of of more than 500 artists, promoters, music festivals and record labels, reportedly suspended Luscombe in October last year after discovering discrepancies in the accounts of multiple major clients. The firm called in external auditors and provided a statement to Victoria Police’s fraud squad.

Alleged victims include Grammy-winning artist Gotye, electronic music group Peking Duk and organisers of the Laneway Festival.

Victoria Police have given the following update on the case.

“A 38-year-old South Morang man was charged with a range of offences including obtain financial advantage by deception and make/use false documents”

“Detectives from the financial crime squad have charged a man following an investigation into allegations of fraud relating to the management of a Collingwood-based business between 2011-2022,” says a spokesperson.

“A 38-year-old South Morang man was charged with a range of offences including obtain financial advantage by deception and make/use false documents.”

According to The Music Network, White Sky has declined to comment on the latest developments, but in October last year the company said it was in “absolute shock”.

Luscombe was bailed to appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 1 June.

 


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90% of Viagogo tickets in NZ ‘sold by scalpers’

“Scalpers” were responsible for 90% of tickets sold through Viagogo in New Zealand, a court has heard.

The NZ Commerce Commission has gone to Auckland’s High Court, seeking a declaration that Viagogo misled consumers by claiming to be an “official” seller of “guaranteed” tickets to events, including concerts.

Stuff reports it also wants the court to make an order requiring the Swiss-headquartered resale site to make clear to customers that it is not an official ticket seller.

“Viagogo admits that over 90% of tickets that are sold in New Zealand are from scalpers; people selling tickets in commercial quantities,” says Andy Luck, representing the commission. “It’s a website for ticket scalpers to sell to the general public.”

Luck says that Viagogo resold just over 323,000 tickets to event in New Zealand between 18 July 2016 and 31 October 2022, with the court told that 1,300 complaints or communications about the company had been received by the commission.

“Viagogo tells the world it’s a secondary market, and the world knows it”

Viagogo denies misleading consumers or using the word “official” in relation to any event. “Viagogo tells the world it’s a secondary market, and the world knows it,” says Aaron Lloyd, representing the platform.

The case is due to conclude early next month.

The commission previously sought an interim injunction preventing Viagogo making allegedly “misleading” representations back in 2020, but withdrew its claim after the firm made changes to its website.

Last year, an investigation by ITV News, based on research carried out by anti-touting campaign group FanFair Alliance, found that just three people were responsible for over two thirds of UK festival and outdoor event tickets listed by Viagogo. Fewer than 10% of tickets on the site were being sold by ordinary consumers, it added.

In response, Viagogo said it “acted swiftly to remove the relevant listings and have returned several to the site that have clearly demonstrated that they are legitimate and valid”.

Viagogo MD Cris Miller says in a separate statement: “Viagogo cannot make detailed comment on the legal claims while the matter is before the court. However, we can say that the issues raised by the Commerce Commission relate to the way our ticketing website worked in the past and do not reflect current operations.

“We believe that we have addressed the matters of concern raised by the NZ Commerce Commission and have made it a priority to ensure the Viagogo website is operated transparently and in compliance with consumer expectations and consumer protection legislation. We remain committed to complying with these requirements.

“While it would be easy to prejudge Viagogo in this matter, we ask that you allow the court process to play out and hear the perspective of both sides.”

 


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UK ticket touts ordered to repay over £6m

Two UK-based ticket touts, who were jailed after fraudulently reselling event tickets, have been ordered to pay back more than £6 million (€6.96m) or face a further eight years in prison.

Peter Hunter and David Smith, who operated as the company BZZ Limited, were jailed in February 2020 for four years and 30 months, respectively, following an investigation by the National Trading Standards eCrime Team and trial at Leeds Crown Court.

The pair committed offences between May 2010 and December 2017, making a net profit of £3.5 million in the last two years of fraud alone, buying and reselling tickets to concerts by artists including Ed Sheeran, Madness, McBusted, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, as well as to shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Yesterday’s (14 December) confiscation order follows a lengthy investigation by National Trading Standards and a complex and extensive financial investigation conducted by the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Economic Crime Unit (RECU). Smith and Hunter were found to have benefited from their crimes by a total of £8,750,732.00. They have been given three months to pay back £6,167,522.02 and face an additional eight years’ imprisonment should they fail to pay.

“We hope this sends a message to all those who choose to engage in fraud that there are severe consequences”

Ruth Andrews, regional investigations and eCrime manager for National Trading Standards, says the result “concludes a landmark case that demonstrates once and for all that dishonestly buying large quantities of tickets and reselling them at inflated prices is an unacceptable, illegal and fraudulent practice”.

“All too often fans looking to buy tickets to sport events, music concerts and other high-profile events find that official tickets sell out in minutes before reappearing on secondary ticketing sites at vastly inflated prices,” says Andrews. “This can have a significant financial impact on consumers and I hope this ground-breaking case helps drive long-term changes in the secondary ticketing market.

“The defendants have learnt again today that crime does not pay and their futures have been irrevocably damaged by their criminal behaviour as a result. We hope this sends a message to all those who choose to engage in fraud that there are severe consequences.”

Hunter and Smith, used dishonest and fraudulent tactics to purchase multiple tickets from primary ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster, Eventim and AXS, circumventing the platforms’ terms and conditions and their automated systems to block multiple purchases. They also engaged in “speculative selling” by listing tickets for sale on secondary ticketing websites that they had not purchased and did not own.

“Yesterday’s developments should be a trigger for wider investigations to tackle the excesses in this market”

The duo’s appeals against their convictions were rejected by the Court of Appeal in November 2021.

“Music fans should be delighted with the result of this landmark case,” says Adam Webb, campaign manager for anti-touting organisation the FanFair Alliance. “The sums involved are staggering, and give an indication on the massive harm being inflicted on consumers. However, Hunter and Smith are only the tip of the iceberg. They are not outliers by any stretch of the imagination, and many others still operate outside of the law.

“Yesterday’s developments should be a trigger for wider investigations to tackle the excesses in this market – whether that’s the activities of touts, their methods of acquiring tickets in bulk from primary agents, or the secondary platforms they sell through.”

 


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Rob Da Bank prevails in Bestival court case

Bestival founder Rob Da Bank has won his court case over a £649,000 loan taken out to bail out the event.

A trial at Central London County Court heard the former BBC Radio 1 DJ, real name Robert Gorham, and co-director John Hughes were personally loaned almost £1 million by TicketLine Network between 2016 and 2018.

Gorham was sued after only £350,000 of the first loan was repaid and none of the second, leaving £649,000 – plus interest – still outstanding. However, Gorham denied ever signing up to a personal loan, telling the court he was not heavily involved in the financial side of the festival.

“This was a multi-million pound, very busy business, with me driving the customer-facing side and the artists, a whole raft of things in the festival world,’ he said. “The finance and accounting was not my department…. I never signed up to a personal loan.”

“We are so grateful to our legal team for proving our innocence beyond any doubt”

His barrister Jonathan Miller said: “Our case is that it was not a personal loan – and what they say happened, didn’t happen – in a nutshell.”

Da Bank tweeted: “Truth and justice has prevailed” after the court ruled in his favour last Friday.

Founded by Gorham and his wife Josie in 2004, Bestival was took place in the Isle of Wight before switching to Dorset’s Lulworth Castle – site of its family-friendly Camp Bestival sister festival – in 2017. It was last held in 2018.

“We are so grateful to our incredibly loyal friends and families for keeping us going — and to our legal team of Russell, Sara and Jonathan, for proving our innocence beyond any doubt,” he says.

“We are now looking forward to getting back to what matters most to us — our kids and families, messing about with mates in fields and festivals, and launching our brand new Camp Bestival festival in August.”

Camp Bestival 2022 takes place in Dorset from 29-31 July and has expanded to a second site in Weston Park, Shropshire from 19-21 August. Acts will include Rag’N’Bone Man, Fatboy Slim, Rudimental and Becky Hill.

 


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Court dismisses case against Blockfest founder

A money laundering charge against the founder of Finland’s Blockfest festival has been dismissed by the Helsinki District Court.

Kalle Kallonen was accused of transporting €10,000 in drug money from Finland to Spain in May 2021.

However, Iltalehti reports the charge was thrown out after the court ruled evidence pertaining to the case acquired by the FBI from encrypted messaging app Anom was inadmissible.

A similar charge against Kallonen’s co-accused – Finnish rap artist William, aka Ville Virtanen – was also dropped, with the court ordering the state to reimburse the pair’s legal costs of around €5,000 each.

Both Kallonen and Virtanen denied the allegations, which were part of a larger criminal case involving 10 people

The report adds that the case is likely to continue before the court of appeal.

Both Kallonen and Virtanen denied the allegations, which were part of a larger criminal case involving 10 people in total. Several other defendants have been jailed, mainly for aggravated drug offences.

Founded in 2008 in Tampere, Finland, Blockfest has grown to become one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the Nordic countries. Taking place at the Tampere stadium, the two-day festival attracts some 75,000 festival-goers each year.

In 2019, Blockfest was acquired by Live Nation Finland following years of collaboration with the festival.

 


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Bogus Justin Timberlake booking agent admits fraud

A woman has admitted scamming a charity out of $100,000 by posing as a booking agent for artists including Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Ed Sheeran.

Atlanta, Georgia-based Carissa Scott pleaded guilty to one count of fraud following a hearing in a New York federal court earlier this week.

Under the name Canvas Media Group, Scott and fellow defendant Nancy Jean were charged with conspiring to defraud investors in events including a December 2019 benefit concert for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, set up by relatives of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Prosecutors said Canvas Media “falsely represented that they could book top-tier musical acts to perform at the concert”, and sent organisers a contract asking for $500,000 for his performance and a $275,000 deposit. One investor in the benefit show subsequently sent a $100,000 partial deposit to Jean and Scott.

Law360 reports that bank records allegedly show Scott and Jean immediately started using the money on leasing a Mercedes-Benz, making large cash withdrawals and going shopping.

Scott also reported she could book other artists for the concert, including Drake, Flo Rida and Ed Sheeran

According to legal papers, the investor requested proof of the booking when Timberlake’s social media account failed to mention or promote the event.

The investor then received a telephone call from an “unidentified male”, who falsely claimed to be Timberlake’s manager. He stated that Timberlake would perform at the benefit for an increased fee of “between $800,000 and $1 million”. When the investor baulked at the demands, Canvas Media said Bruno Mars could perform instead for $600,000.

Scott also reportedly claimed she could book other artists for the concert, including Drake, Flo Rida and Ed Sheeran.

The real managers for Mars and Timberlake later told investigators they had never heard of Canvas Media and had never spoken to Scott and Jean, who were arrested in January 2020.

Scott, who has been ordered to pay $100,000 (€86,500) in restitution, is due to be sentenced on 24 February next year. The status of the case against Jean is currently unclear.

 


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Four sentenced over Madonna stage collapse

Four professionals including the former head of operations for Live Nation France have been sentenced, following the collapse of a stage in France in 2009 that killed two people.

Technicians had been setting up the stage at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille for a Madonna concert when the partially-built roof fell in, bringing down a crane.

Charles Criscenzo, a 52-year-old French worker, and Charles Prow, a 23-year-old Briton, were killed while eight other workers sustained injuries in the accident. One of the injured workers took his own life two years later.

Yesterday (17 February), the magistrates of the court of Marseille (south), where the concert was to be held in 2009, convicted four defendants of manslaughter and involuntary damages, and acquitted three other defendants.

Live Nation France was ordered to pay a €150,000 fine, and Tour Concept €50,000

After a decade-long investigation, Jacqueline Bitton, at the time head of the French operations for Live Nation, received the most severe sentence: a suspended two-year prison term and a fine of €20,000.

Tim Norman, head of the British firm Edwin Shirley Group (ESG) which owned the stage, received a suspended two-year term as well as a €15,000 fine.

A manager at a French subcontractor hired by ESG, Tour Concept France, was given a suspended 18-month sentence and a €10,000 fine, while a British foreman hired for the job by ESG got an 18-month suspended sentence.

Live Nation France was ordered to pay a €150,000 fine, and Tour Concept €50,000.

After the concert was cancelled, Madonna said she was “shocked” by what happened and sent her condolences to the families of the victims. She did not appear at the trial.

The 60,000-seater Velodrome is France’s second-biggest sports arena and home to the Olympique de Marseille football club.

 


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