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2 indictments, 1 guilty plea in Wonder blunder fraud case

By Gregg K. Kakesako & Ken Kobayashi

LAST UPDATED: 6:22 p.m. HST, Nov 8, 2012

One of two men indicted Wednesday on charges related to the bungled Stevie Wonder concert pleaded guilty today in a Honolulu federal court to a felony count of transporting $200,000 taken by fraud from the University of Hawaii.

Sean Barriero, 44, of Miami, is cooperating with federal authorities, U.S. assistant attorney Les Osbourne told the court. Barriero, who was released on a $50,000 unsecured bond, faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 21 in federal Judge Leslie Kobayashi’s court.

The U.S. attorney's office and the FBI officials announced earlier today that a grand jury returned indictments Wednesday against Marc Hubbard, 44, of North Carolina, for wire fraud, and Barriero for transporting $200,000 taken by fraud.

FBI officials said the UH cash appears to be unrecoverable at this time.

Hubbard turned himself to authorities at the federal court house in Charlotte, N.C. today and will be extradited later, officials said. If convicted, Hubbard faces up to 20 years in prison.

Barriero, who is a British citizen, entered his guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang this afternoon. 

Vida G. Bottom, Special Agent in Charge of the Honolulu office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told reporters this morning that its investigation cleared UH  officials on any criminal wrong doing. Bottom described the university as the "prime victim."

"In fact, the university officials we spoke to during this investigation were open, honest, and available to us — without precondition — throughout our investigation," Bottom said.

The university also allowed the FBI to secretly record a telephone conversation with Barriero during the investigation.

 Hubbard will face a detention hearing in Charlotte on Tuesday where a federal magistrate there will determine when and how he will be transported to Hawaii. The FBI said the extradition will take several weeks.

A Hawaii investor previously had transferred $50,000 to Barriero in May 2012 to secure the concert, $27,500 of which was transferred to Hubbard, the indictment states.

The indictment further alleges that in July 2012, an authorized agent for Stevie Wonder reported that neither he nor his management had any knowledge of the concert. None of the $250,000 was transmitted to Stevie Wonder or his management.

Hubbard, a concert promoter and club operator from Mecklenburg County, N.C., was also arraigned last week in Spartanburg, S.C., on securities fraud and forgery charges for allegedly soliciting $700,000 from a victim in 2008 to promote an Alicia Keyes concert.

In June, the UH transferred $200,000 to one of Barriero's personal bank accounts in Florida.

According to U.S. attorney Florence T. Nakakuni, the $200,000 the UH sent as a downpayment for the Aug. 18 Stevie Wonder concert was divided in the following manner: $120,000 went to Hubbard; $11,250 was wired to woman in Europe, and Barriero kept $68,750.

Bottom said the FBI investigation reveals that there is no cash to recover at this point.

But the FBI seized and impounded a black 2010 SUV Mercedes which Sannise Crosby apparently paid $25,300 as a down payment. The Mercedes in being held by federal officials in Miami after it was seized on Sept. 13.

Crosby, the FBI affidavit states, purchased the 2010 Mercedes on June 30 for $50,255 using a check from Epic Talent, which is managed by Barriero. The FBI found the Mercedes parked at a Miami address for Barriero.

Bob Peyton, the Honolulu promoter who initially approached UH officials about coordinating a Stevie Wonder concert to benefit UH athletics, told the Star-Advertiser in July that he had wired the UH's $200,000 concert deposit and $50,000 of his own money to Epic Talent in Florida. The Star-Advertiser also reported in July that Epic did not have an actual office in the Miami building where it received mail.

Hubbard told Barriero he had a relationship with Wonder's management to book the UH concert, according to court records.

The nine-page indictment also revealed that a  July 16 phone call between Barriero and an UH official was secretly recorded by the FBI with UH's consent. The UH official is not identified in the indictment.

"During the phone call, Barriero assured the UH official that the UH's $200,000 deposit had been sent to Stevie Wonder's management and that Barriero had not taken his fee," according to the indictment.

The indictment said none of the funds that the UH wired went to any escrow business accounts, but all ended up in Barriero's personal Bank of America account in Florida.

The indictments were announced at a news conference this morning at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu.

In a written statement afterward, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood thanked the FBI and the U.S. Attorney.

"We trust this will help the university move past the failed concert episode and move forward with its many important missions," Greenwood said.

She said the university looks forward to the prosecution of those charged and hopes to get some restitution.

The Wonder concert saga began in June when university officials announced that the pop star had agreed to an Aug. 18 performance to benefit the UH athletics department. Ticket sales were well under way by July 10 when then-UH athletic director Jim Donovan announced that there would be no concert after all because Wonder and his representatives had not authorized the event. About 6,000 ticket holders had to be refunded.

UH officials said they had paid $200,000 to a Florida company that purported to be authorized to book the star. Wonder's representatives later contacted UH officials to say they had not authorized the concert nor received any payment. 

Greenwood acknowledged that the university was apparently a victim of fraud.

The debacle led to a special state legislative panel to investigate the incident and its aftermath.

 UH officials announced in July that then-Athletic Director Jim Donovan and Stan Sheriff Center arena manager Rich Sheriff were placed on indefinite paid administrative leave while an investigation of the canceled Stevie Wonder concert was conducted. 

Sheriff was reinstated and Donovan, whose athletic director's contract was to expire in March, was re-assigned to a new, vaguely defined marketing role in the UH-Manoa chancellor's office in a three-year deal that pays him more than $200,000 annually. Documents released to the Star-Advertiser under the state's open records law showed that the UH agreed to the deal in return for Donovan agreeing not to sue the school.

The legislative panel that investigated the debacle has yet to release its findings.

A UH Board of Regents task group, made up of five regents and four accounting and business professionals, is conducting its own investigation. The group hired the accounting firm of KMH LLP, under a $50,000 contract, to look at the accounting procedures and controls at the athletic department and UH system to see if procedures were violated and to see if changes need to be made to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Wonder blunder indictment

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