In recent weeks, state senators investigating the incident have grilled university officials over what went wrong, highlighting deficiencies in the school’s administration, missteps and policy violations.
But the hearings before the Senate Special Committee on Accountability have thus far failed to expose where the money went and who was ultimately responsible for authorizing a transfer of $200,000 to Epic Talent, a little-known Florida promotion company.
A new investigation by the Hawaii Reporter followed the trail of the funds, unearthing new information about the company.
Epic Talent was previously known as BAB Productions, according to the company’s website, and lists three principals including director S. L. Barriero, account executive S.S. Crosby and UK account executive J. Spencer.
The website describes Epic as a “relaible [sic] consulting source for accessing big name entertainment for public concerts, corporate events and fundraisers around the world” and includes photos of stars such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
However, when a reporter flew to Florida to visit the “worldwide headquarters” of Epic Talent, the agency appeared to be operating out of a P.O. box. The Reporter later confirmed as much with account exec Sannise Crosby in a brief conversation.
Other Epic staffers were listed as principals in several other businesses that appeared to be operated from mailboxes, the Reporter added, noting a public records search of Barriero found a relative in North Carolina.
Interestingly enough, Epic Talent’s former name, BAB Productions, also shares the same name as a concert promoter in Charlotte, N.C., that was implicated in 2007 as part of a Ponzi-type scheme where two men used $8.6 million from new investors to pay off previous investors.
University of Hawaii University President M.R.C. Greenwood recently testified employees faced “extreme pressure” from Epic to release the funds before the concert.
“They made a mistake in pushing to move the money when they did not have things in place that should have been in place and I apologize for that, but that is what happened,” she said.
The school tapped local promoter Bob Peyton for help with the show. Peyton, who also gave Epic Talent $50,000 of his own money, continued to urge the school not to cancel – even when the deal began to fall apart and Wonder’s agents at CAA came forward to say they had not arranged the concert.
New testimony from Rich Sheriff, GM of the school’s Stan Sheriff Center, raised questions about whether university officials knew Peyton was facing financial difficulties. The promoter was reportedly recently discharged from a bankruptcy case and his home is in foreclosure.
Sheriff told senators the Wonder event was the first time he’d worked with Peyton but his superiors “had checked out Mr. Peyton. I had seen his resume, so I knew he had done shows in Hawaii for 30 years,” the Reporter said.
Asked if he thought the concert promotion was a scam, Sheriff said Peyton felt that “he was working with legitimate people.”
But whether Peyton was “scammed from the beginning, I can’t say,” the Reporter quoted Sheriff.
Though Peyton was invited to testify, the promoter was unable to appear in front of the senate committee. Peyton is undergoing treatment for medical problems and has had several recent surgeries including a leg amputation, his lawyer told the paper.
Fallout from the failed concert has already cost the University of Hawaii an additional $1.1 million. That figure includes payments to law firms and a three-year contract for the school’s athletic director, who was put on leave following the incident then reinstated in a desk job after an external investigation found no wrongdoing on his behalf.