Migos concert at Emory highlights how fraud happens on Atlanta music scene

Two years ago, every few weeks, someone would come to the door of John Briglevich’s recording studio looking for the guys in suite C3. At least half a dozen people all had a similar story. Global Talent Agency had taken their money and not delivered on whatever deal had been promised.

The problem was, Global Talent Agency wasn’t in suite C3. Briglevich, who owns the building on Atlanta’s Westside which houses his Sonica recording studio and two smaller suites that he leases out, had to issue a cease-and-desist letter to stop the business from using his building address.

“They were fraudulently using my address for fraudulent means,” said Briglevich. “You could see the shock in these people’s faces as they realized they had been scammed.”

He wasn’t surprised to hear the company name again as part of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s examination of how the very same Global Talent Agency duped Emory University out of more than $37,000 for a concert that never happened.

In February, Octaveon Woods of Decatur, Ill., operator of Global Talent Agency, was indicted on charges of money laundering and wire fraud by the U.S. Department of Justice. The charges included a March 2017 incident first reported by Emory University’s student newspaper in which the Student Programming Council paid $37,500 to Woods’ company, which claimed to be booking agents for the Atlanta-based hip-hop trio Migos.

Student representatives would later learn the booking was fraudulent. A subsequent investigation culminated in federal charges. Days after the fraud was discovered, a representative for Migos said in a statement to the AJC that the group did not condone such behavior.

In April, Woods, 26, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for transferring $37,500 into a bank account to secure a performance for Migos based on the false representation that Global Talent Agency had authority to represent the group. Other counts for similar transactions were dismissed. Woods is scheduled to be sentenced in July. He and his attorney declined to comment to the AJC.

In the music industry, deals can go bad all the time and sometimes good guys get caught in bad situations, said local industry veterans. Understanding relationships can get murky when it comes to booking agents. An artist may be connected to several booking agents and their agreements are more likely to be informal — made either verbally or by email — rather than through a legal contract.

>>Related: Group sues over canceled Desiigner concert at Morehouse College

It also doesn’t help that Atlanta is a city with a large pool of creative talent but little infrastructure to support that talent, said Richard Dunn, founder and CEO of Muddy Water group. There are no major record labels currently operating in the city, which means there are also no major booking agents. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an agent, said Dunn, who suggests always vetting individual agents through trusted sources.

>>Related: 4 Atlanta recording studios where you could meet (or become) a star

Still, gaining a foothold in the music industry requires a certain moxie, and there needs to be a place for those who are not able to come up through the traditional ranks. “I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t rap but I was hanging around the studio and I became a facilitator of their creative offerings,” Dunn said. As the music industry continues to evolve, booking and promoting shows for artists is one of the few areas an independent young upstart can still fully own, he said. But ethics are ethics.

“You know who is real and who is not because you have probably heard their names a few times,” Dunn said. “There are people who are reputable here in the state who book talent all the time and won’t steal your money.”

As a teenager, Woods had hoped to make it big as a rapper. A 2009 story in the Herald & Review, the local newspaper of Decatur, Ill., indicated Woods had some success performing at venues around the country as “Young Gov.” But he told the reporter that he turned down a contract from the management team of Soulja Boy, the rapper who had just scored a big hit with “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” The deal, he said, was so bad he couldn’t take it.

A decade later, Woods was the one offering bad deals as a booking agent claiming to know dozens of musicians and entertainers with whom he had no relationship, according to court documents obtained by the AJC. Communicating with victims by email and phone, Woods and his associates would promise to deliver a musician at an agreed-upon date and venue. Woods would then demand a 50 percent deposit of the performance fee to be paid by wire transfer, then he would deplete the funds.

After its dealings with Global Talent Agency went bad, the Student Programming Council at Emory was forced to book another artist for its April 2017 event. It reportedly cost at least $85,000 to book Ty Dolla Sign at the last minute, according to the student newspaper.

Performing at colleges (and in Las Vegas) is easy money for musicians, said Rico Brooks, an Atlanta-based talent manager with 15 years in the industry. But the lure of easy money can also be a draw for scam artists who know schools have the money to spend but do not always have policies or people in place to properly review those contracts.

A spokesperson for Emory University previously told the AJC that the school was reviewing its policies for contracts and financial transactions to avoid similar scams in the future. Google and social media can offer some insight — Migos lists booking information on social media, for example — but in Atlanta, where everybody knows somebody, it pays to be thorough.

For many years, Atlanta has been a place where anyone aspiring to be part of the music industry feels they need to come to get to the next level, particularly in urban music, said Denorris Pennyman, a local musician and producer. That alone can make individuals less diligent than they might normally be.

“This is Atlanta, the new Hollywood, and people are hopeful,” he said. “Someone could tell you I can do this for you and I can do that for you and I am in with these people and then you look them up and they are in a picture with these people and you think he or she might actually know that person,” said Pennyman, who has had his own run-ins with flaky folks in the music world.

The bad deals still happen, he said, but he thinks things are getting better. “People are speaking out about getting (scammed) or telling people to make sure they get their agreements in line,” he said. “I think people are more aware, so the flaky ones are having to figure out a whole new strategy.”

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