You know how it is: you go to the cashpoint expecting to withdraw £360 million, and – d’oh! – your account is empty. At least, that’s the situation that Courtney Love found herself in, according to a statement issued by her lawyer yesterday.
It’s thought the missing third of a billion was siphoned off by fraudsters. Now, even post-banking meltdown, when trillions of dollars get tipped into fiscal black holes to no perceivable benefit, that seems like a pretty major oversight. How out-of-it do you have to be to fail to notice the disappearance of such a vast sum?
Then again, musicians have always been easy targets for embezzlers, since they’re usually away on tour, or simply too wasted to keep an eye on their finances. It’s not cool to have you accountant (as opposed to your drug-dealer) on speed dial. But white-collar criminals know this, and have exploited the financial negligence of celebrities to enrich themselves time and again.
The Charlatans, for example, kissed goodbye to the profits from their first four albums, thanks to the machinations of a dishonest accountant. Trevor Williams, a friend of the band as well as an employee, squirreled away £300,000, telling Tim Burgess and co that he was offsetting future tax bills (you can well imagine Burgess’ eyes glazing over at that point). The fraud saw Williams imprisoned for 20 years. “We are staggered at the depth of his deceit,” reflected band manager Steve Harrison, ruefully.
It’s rarely possible to recoup such colossal losses. Recently, Leonard Cohen was reluctantly spat back out onto the live circuit by the need to plug a gaping hole in his retirement fund left by a former manager. Kelley Lynch allegedly helped herself to £5 million of the singer-songwriter’s savings while he was away training to be a monk (you turn your back for one minute etc). So if you thought prices for his O2 Arena shows were a little steep, now you know why.
Cohen’s plight proves that it’s not only drug-addled hedonists who fall foul of fraudsters. Even the wisest, most abstemious musicians can be victims. More frequently, though, it is the naked, starry-eyed desire for fame – rather than an inability to scan the small print – that causes musicians to get ripped off.
This is especially true of boy bands. ‘N Sync began a bitter legal battle against former manager Lou Pearlman in 1999, claiming he “took advantage of our trust”. In 1998, the Backstreet Boys filed a lawsuit alleging that in the preceding five years, they had received only $300,000 in royalties – despite selling almost 100 million albums.
Although you could argue that, while being cheated out of potential earnings by an avaricious manager is unfortunate, mislaying £360 million of your own money is just monumentally careless. And a bit embarrassing.