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NOV 25 - DEC 03, 2014

Crogan Takes Plea Deal - A Single Misdemeanor

By Frank Parlato

November 25, 2014

Music promoter Rick Crogan (r) with spouse Michael Murphy (l)

Niagara Falls music promoter Rick Crogan, who was charged last June with three felonies --grand larceny, larceny, and scheme to defraud -- all of them connected with his Niagara FallsMusic and Arts Festival held on Old Falls St., pleaded guilty to a single count of petitlarceny, a Class A misdemeanor, last week.

Crogan will be sentenced Dec 18 before North Tonawanda Judge William Lewis for the lowest-leveltheft offense in New York, defined as the unlawful taking of property or services valued at nomore than $1,000.

A sentence for conviction of a Class A misdemeanor in New York may include imprisonment for aterm not to exceed one year and a fine not to exceed $1,000. Oftentimes first time offenderssuch as Crogan get off with probation.

While the alleged crimes were committed in Niagara Falls, Crogan’s case wound up in NorthTonawanda because all of the judges in Niagara Falls City Court recused themselves.

The original charges against Crogan arose out of alleged misuse of $15,000 of festivalsponsorship monies from Renewal by Andersen Windows of Rochester.

As part of the plea deal, Crogan agreed to make restitution to Andersen, paying back $5,000 oftheir investment and to pay another $5,000 to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center whichdonated no actual money to the festival but were to receive some proceeds from the event.Crogan made both payments last week.

Part of the controversy --and it certainly would have been part of the case had it gone totrial--was confusion over whether Crogan's festival was operating under a not for profitstatus.

Crogan originally met with a group of volunteers - led by Becky Chappell- Marchetti - who wereto be the board of directors for a not for profit to be formed to own and operate the festival.

Crogan later decided to operate the festival under a private, for -profit Limited LiabilityCorporation called Balabans LLC.

The whistle-blower in the case was Marchetti who, as the manager of tellers for EncompassNiagara Credit Union, opened several bank accounts for Crogan.

According to Marchetti, she opened accounts for the for-profit company because Crogan told herthey needed a bank account to tide them over until the festival could be registered as a 501cnot-for-profit, which never occurred.

This led to the prosecution's position that his personal use of monies from Andersen wasillegal.

Crogan's position was that the festival was owned and operated by his private corporation andthat taking money from the festival bank accounts for his personal use was not illegal since hewas withdrawing his own money from his business for his personal use.

Marchetti said she and others who volunteered to work on the festival did not know the businesswas continuing to operate as a for-profit company or that they expected that Crogan wouldadjust the festival's finances to reflect it’s not for profit status.

Crogan, by accepting the plea deal, admitted wrongdoing when he made allocution before thejudge. In this case Judge Lewis asked Crogan several yes or no questions including the all-important one: Did you take something that did not belong to you?

Crogan answered "yes."

So why did he plead guilty to a single misdemeanor?

The Niagara Falls Music And Art Festival, founded and executed by Rick Crogan, attracted more than 20,000 people without a dime of taxpayer money in 2014. No wonder they wanted to lock him up-- he drew more than all the publically subsidized concerts put together.


It can be looked at least in two ways:

1- That Crogan admitted to being a thief, albeit a petty thief. Was he out of money needed todefend this case? If he was innocent did he decide not to gamble years of his life in prisonversus a lenient plea bargain which saw a reduction from three felonies where, if convicted,he faced years of jail time.

2.- Apropos of this: If the case against Crogan was so good, why did the prosecution reducethree felonies to a misdemeanor normally given to shoplifters and others who steal less than athousand dollars?

Perhaps at the root of the lenient plea bargain were weaknesses in the prosecution's case.

An owner of a private LLC would not be prohibited from passing income from his LLC to himself.Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti said, at the time of the arrest, that Crogan "wastaking money from the festival and funneling it through his account,"

Funneling of money from Crogan's for-profit corporate account to his personal bank accountwould be legal if the festival was run by a for-profit company, which Crogan said it was.

The burden of proof for the prosecution would be to prove that Crogan committed fraud with hisvolunteers by misleading them to work under false pretenses.

However, no one claimed to have made a "donation," nor did Crogan ever give anyone a receiptthat indicated that money paid to his company was tax deductible, as might be the case for anot-for-profit. Just the opposite he signed checks and gave receipts through his for-profitcorporation.

Another weakness in the case was that there was no contract between Andersen and Crogan, makingit uncertain if Crogan could have been convicted for accepting money illegally for Andersen'ssponsorship, without a written contract that would prove fraud being claimed by the sponsor. Itwas not as though Andersen got nothing for the money invested. Andersen's name and logoappeared on stages and in promotional material that was released in connection with eventsCrogan promoted.

The festival was also sponsored by Joe Cecconi's Chrysler Complex, Smokin' Joe Anderson, CertoBrothers Distributing, and Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

None of these lodged complaints.

Weighing also in Crogan's favor is he appeared to do the near impossible.

Despite being charged with felonies connected to his successful 2013 festival - where 18,000were said to have attended - Crogan was able to stage another successful Niagara Music and ArtsFestival in June 2104. Thirty-five local bands played before an estimated 21,000 concert goerson Old Falls St. during Crogan's three-day festival in 2014. In addition, there were 25 foodvendors and 40 art vendors who sold their wares.

This was done without a dime of taxpayer money.

"We drew more than the taxpayer funded Hard Rock concerts," Crogan said at the time. "It wasthe Artpark crowd (without taxpayer subsidies)."

Some also pointed to curious anomaly that Crogan was targeted while some mammoth taxpayerboondoggles have received no scrutiny whatsoever.

In 2011, Idaho promoter Mark Rivers walked away from Niagara Falls without accounting for$480,000 in public money he said he lost staging his wintertime Holiday Market festival - whichconsisted primarily of a bunch of sheds, tents and a rented ice-skating rink. The Hard RockCafé has never been called upon to account for more than $700,000 in public money it has rakedin for staging Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster's concert series despite their receiving two andthree times as much in taxpayer money as the bands they hired are known to perform forelsewhere.

After Crogan's June arrest a wave of sympathizers on Facebook flocked to his defense.

Following announcement of Crogan's plea deal, the tide has turned the other way with mostFacebook posters opining that Crogan must have been guilty.

Some posted questions such as: If he is innocent why did he plead guilty?

And why did he pay the money back?

Why take a plea deal if you can prove it was a mistake?

Whistleblower Marchetti answered the posters, saying, "He took a plea, which means he admittedguilt and is making a deal to get lighter punishment."

Marchetti also took a swipe at the Niagara Falls Reporter's coverage.

"There's that waste of ink (the Niagara Falls Reporter) that spews it's filth around. It willbe interesting to see how they spin his admission of guilt after they published several storiespointing the finger in ten directions trying to deflect blame. He did this. He admitted this.What else do you need?"

But Crogan has some defenders.

Alisa J. Pucci wrote, "To get the great bands from all over is very hard work. The bands lovedto play for Rick and the city.... If people think they can do better, try. Get a not forprofit yourselves and get all this thing together and see how you do. Get the sponsors and thelike."

Sandra Fournier wrote, "Would this community event have happened in the first place withoutRick Crogan?.... I'm not taking sides, but I want to know who's going to fill in here and makethis kind of thing happen, specifically for the local businesses that got some benefit out ofwhat has happened in the past."

Even Marchetti admitted that what Crogan accomplished was impressive.

"It is a wonderful event," she posted. "I hope it goes on. I hope it grows and succeeds formany years, as a community event for the benefit of all those in the community."

Still, in the end, Marchetti complained about the plea deal, posting, "(B)y taking a plea,there is no trial, so the truth never comes out. That's our legal system. I have offeredseveral times and will continue to offer to share the documents. His attorney did what he couldto keep him out of jail. I would love for the entire truth to come out. It was no picnic beingcrucified (in the press and on Facebook etc) for coming forward these past several months. Heeven harassed me at work to try to intimidate me…. (The) Judge isn't ruling on what he actuallydid…. It is not a final ruling. He cut a deal. He admitted guilt. It must be making him veryuncomfortable to not be able to speak up publicly. I know how that goes!"

After sentencing on Dec. 18th perhaps Crogan will tell his side of the story.






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