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Music benefits, whether small or colossal, have become a fixture of the industry. Every other weekend in any city you can name, someone is throwing a benefit for some cause. Musicians and music lovers believe in helping each other in hard times. Most often, the fundraising events are legitimate and the organizers are well-intentioned, as they were in the case of "Props for Prez" and "BCD Hearts Prez." Scrutiny of causes and their beneficiaries, however, is often lax or nonexistent.
John May, a partner at BB's Jazz Blues and Soups, a venue that hosts nine to ten benefits a year, recognizes the need for vigilance.
"Generally, everything needs to be quantified," explains May, "otherwise people will pop up and be like, 'Why don't you do a benefit for me?' This city has always been filled with various gigging musicians, and they always rally together, not only for their own musical brothers and sisters, but they'll help a family or a mom or a good cause. They're always lined up to do that. That is a good thing."
He adds, "For me personally, it's always been [important] to quantify the true need of it — make sure it's justified and meet some of the players involved and question who is receiving the money, because it has to be recorded, and to make sure it isn't treated as income to someone."
But sometimes no amount of reasonable vetting would reveal a lack of need.
The community that rallied on Preston Hubbard's behalf knew little, if anything, about his wealth. The musician spoke vaguely of an inheritance to some friends, though he never indicated how much or when it would come through.
A month prior to the benefits, however, Hubbard did know. He had the cash and stocks in hand. One organizer (who asked not to be identified) expressed shock when he was told about Hubbard's wealth at the time of the fundraisers. Neither the planners nor the public had a way of knowing the musician wasn't in need.
While clubs like BB's and nonprofit organizations like the Blues Society claim to have processes in place to review charitable giving, the national scene has recently seen major scams: Portland, Oregon, songwriter Kasey Anderson bilked investors out of $600,000 for a bogus benefit CD for the West Memphis Three. (Anderson was sentenced to four years in jail.) Last year, a Louisville, Kentucky, man named Kyle T. Nunn allegedly stole $9,000 of seed money donated for a benefit concert featuring country star Jason Aldean (no such concert ever occurred).
From May's perspective, a benefit might not always be the best option for musicians facing hard times.
"If you see the documentation, and they're like, 'We're having a hard time keeping afloat,' how much do the medications cost? Certain things can be negotiated, and maybe that's where we can be more helpful, to help rearrange some things. If you're looking at someone who is obviously not under any addictions or lifestyle issues, and just living right on the edge anyway, then all of a sudden they have to have $500 a month just to keep up with their Medicare or Medicaid and medications, they're going to have a problem," May says. "Unfortunately, they might try to milk those or not take them and have a shorter life. Those are things you can work at, but it doesn't have to be done as a benefit. It can be getting the facts together and pointing them in the right direction."
The strange case of Hubbard's benefits hardly rises to the level of felonious deception, but they were a deception nonetheless — not because Prez isn't a fine musician, not because he wasn't gravely ill and not because he didn't have bills to pay. He did. He simply didn't need two days' worth of concerts and auctions to do it.
Hubbard also solicited donations via PayPal. On April 28, 2014, two weeks after leaving the hospital and more than a week after the executor sent notice that his inheritance was on the way, Hubbard posted the following on Facebook:
To my FB familia-
I need help with medical costs, rent, all that. All my T-Bird money is long gone. What checks I do get are a joke. I have no insurance, but have applied for assistance. Anything at all will help and be much appreciated.
Funds can be put in my PayPal account:
Thank you everybody. Much Love!
Eight days after that appeal, according to Ameritrade records, Hubbard cashed in the first $49,000 of his inheritance.