Summerside taxpayers got kayoed
This action is brought to redress the damage from a fraud and conspiracy. Summerside and its representatives were fraudulently or negligently induced by defendants....to pay $1.3 million to secure rights to a purported 'Official Michael Jackson Celebration/Tribute Show.'"
"In reality the Tribute Show did not exist. It was little more than an elaborate con game orchestrated by Sussmeier and her coconspirators " ... complaint filed by City of Summerside.
So commences the action launched in the courts of the northern district of California, San Jose Division, by the City of Summerside in an attempt to recoup $1.3 million advanced to Ms Katrina Berg Sussmeier, owner and operator of an outfit called Starlink Productions in Los Angeles.
The money was sent as an advance for the concert and as Basil Stewart and his council have recently realized - it never will be.
There is only one thing sure about the end of this sorry mess, and it is this, by the time this case has wound its way through the courts of California we will all be a lot older and the coffers of Summerside taxpayers will be a lot emptier.
Los Angeles lawyers don’t come cheap, doncha know?
And by that time, as the pathetic story of how the taxpayers got taken to the cleaners spills out, several reputations at the Summerside town office are going to take a severe drubbing.
This story starts with the unbridled passion of municipal politicians to play in the big sandbox of international entertainment, allegedly because the economies of their cities get a boost from all the folk who flock in to see and hear geriatric but legendary entertainers - the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys et al.
Just this week Moncton announced another supposed coup - Bono and U2 will grace an outdoor stage there this summer.
Summerside, to use a favourite phrase of Mayor Stewart, began "punching above its weight" when it began panting to get into the big ticket game, without any expertise whatsoever in the tricky game they were beginning to play.
They got their feet wet with a concert by John (Creedence Clearwater) Fogarty and that brought them into contact with a woman and her company. The very cheesy website with its collection of out-of-focus candid pictures of Ms Sussmeier and an assortment of entertainers (most of which you never heard of) should have been enough to warn anybody off. And if the pictures didn’t do it, the copy should have, especially the part where it says ... "Our (Katrina’s) main interest is in seeing your event come off well, not monetary gain."
In any case, in July of 2009 Ms Sussmeier came up with a lollapalooza of an idea that Basil and his troops could not refuse - a Michael Jackson Celebration/ Tribute Show. That proposition was presented to council by enthusiastic staff and with two notable exceptions, the newly-found concert impresarios around the council table bit.
There were only a couple of catches.
Starlink would not actually book the acts and produce the show. That task would fall to a man named Frank DiLeo. He had a long history in the recording business and twice had served stints as Michael Jackson’s personal manager. The acts would be booked and the concert would be produced by Mr DiLeo’s company "DLM Management Group/DiLeo Entertainment and Touring Inc."
The Summerside promoters were told the Jackson family were on-side with the idea. Nobody in Summerside checked to see if that was true. Instead they bought into a story that a movie about Michael Jackson would be released coincident with the stage show, and that would generate all sorts of publicity and excitement, guaranteeing a heavy box office by those afflicted with Michael mania.
But the movie tanked, and as things turned out, no top talent wanted anything to do with a stage show that could well suffer the same fate.
In reality, no acts had been booked anyway, and no performers’ agents had been contacted. When Ms Sussmeier demanded $650,000 in August, 2009 to secure the appearance of Beyonce as headliner, the representatives of Summerside Council did no due diligence.
Instead, they sent Ms Sussmeier a money transfer, because they were told that was the only way to guarantee Beyonce’s appearance on the show.
Not only that, they signed a confidentiality document that forbade them to talk to anybody about any aspect of the deal - including agents or any representatives of the talent supposedly lined up.
That should have been a large red flag, but the Summerside officials didn’t see it waving in the breeze.
In fact, the non-disclosure document was signed by a city official who did not have the authority to do so, and Summerside never did receive a copy of the fully executed document signed by Mr DiLeo and friends. No matter, Summerside thought it was under a legal obligation to maintain an embarrassing silence instead of pursuing due diligence with the appropriate people.
Instead, Summerside accepted the guff that the performers were lined up and confirmed. All through the winter of 2009 and 2010 they were led like lambs to the financial slaughter.
In March of 2010, Ms Sussmeier told Summerside it must come up with another $650,000 and as well sign an amended "Deal Memo and Binder Agreement." Summerside’s statement of claim says Ms Sussmeier told them "Beyonce is waiting for your offer with deposit but won’t be waiting long." She also allegedly said she could "absolutely confirm" that other acts were solid."
In fact, the proposed "Michael Jackson Celebration/Tribute Show" had long since collapsed. The acts were as solid as a bowl full of Jello.
Nonetheless, Summerside once again sent off a second money transfer to Ms Sussmeier to secure the participation of Beyonce. The whereabouts of the first $650,000 seem to be unknown at this point. Bound by the confidentiality agreement, the Summerside civic officials could not independently confirm the truth - that Beyonce’s management had never been approached by Ms Sussmeier, Mr DiLeo, or any of their employees or agents.
That could have been because the estate of Michael Jackson had never given anyone, including Ms Sussmeier and Mr DiLeo permission "to organize a tribute show for Michael Jackson, in Summerside or elsewhere."
While all this was happening, says Summerside’s Statement of Claim, Mr DiLeo and his associates were busy fending off several other lawsuits launched against them for shows and concerts which never took place.
Here’s the topper. Those same people are also being sued in New York State for the same Michael Jackson scam that relieved the taxpayers of Summerside of 1.3 million clams. Says the Statement of Claim, "Summerside and its officials did not know of the prior accusations of fraud against these individuals at the time of the September and March Memoranda and the wire transfer payments."
By March of 2010, the light had finally dawned. Basil and the boys knew they were in serious trouble. On March 1, the city sent an email to Ms Sussmeier demanding it get its money back unless Sussmeier could "ensure" that Beyonce and others "were in place."
There is, of course, a way to "ensure." That is to offer a signed contract, or deal memo or whatever, signed by Beyonce’s management. Instead, city officials Terry Murphy, J DesRosiers, Malcolm Millar and David Morgan received another letter of assurance from Ms Sussmeier, followed a week later by what purported to be letters of intent supposedly signed by management of two lesser artists, but no Beyonce.
The letters made no mention of a concert in Summerside. They were, however, given enough credence by the innocents, to trigger the second transfer of $650,000. Bound by the non-disclosure agreement, they could not check with the management of the acts listed to see if their commitments were real.
The fiction of Beyonce as the headliner, was still alive. No one apparently thought of checking her website or those of the other performers, to see what they were up to in the last week of July.
Nor did anyone apparently think it was passing strange there was no show business buzz about a Michael Jackson Tribute/ Celebration Show starring Beyonce, one of the world’s most famous performers.
Instead, Ms Sussmeier continued to be what the statement of claim terms "evasive" to details, ignoring repeated demands to send Summerside’s money back. That didn’t happen.
So now the people of Summerside have been taken to the courts, as well as to the cleaners. Basil, along with his officials, are being held responsible by the taxpayers, as they should be and there is only an unlikely probability that any of the $1.3 million will ever be returned to the taxpayer's treasury.
Civic adventuring into showbiz as an easy economic fix can be costly, as Charlottetown and now Summerside have discovered to the taxpayers sorrow. It’s a hard, tough business behind the scenes, and a game which should only be played by those schooled to know how it works.
In the matter of Summerside and the show that never was, Summerside punched well above its weight, to paraphrase Mayor Stewart, and the taxpayers got kayoed.
That's the view from here.