ESTATE GATE: DEEP THROAT, PRINCE, KOPPELMAN, LONDELL

The Prince saga keeps getting stranger and uglier. Following new revelations in a recent Wall Street Journal piece (behind a paywall here), will Londell McMillan and Charlie Koppelman (who were hired by Bremer Trust to advise the Estate) have to return the fees they’ve commissioned on various Prince deals? We know that $6m in fees has been collected from the UMG masters and pub deals alone—could their piece of deals with Irving Azoff’s PRO and with Uni for merch add another $2 to the pot? What if they’ve spent all or part of this money.

While most insiders think Londell and Charlie were more likely negligent than intentionally fraudulent in their dealings on the recordings deal, the distinction becomes cloudy in the wake of the WSJ story, which details a flap over a tribute concert and suggests the pair may have breached their fiduciary duty.

After hiring an unknown, untested Minneapolis promoter, Jobu Presents, LLC, for the event (rather than an established player like Live Nation or AEG), Charlie allegedly staked said promoter the $2 million fee due to the Estate for the rights without disclosing this and then—according to the story— got caught on tape confronting Jobu chief exec Vaughn Millette after the latter pulled out of the show, demanding repayment of the $2 mil and threatening to go after Millette’s “reputation, any money you have, any money your family has.” Jobu sued, and the tape and accusations of fiduciary breach hit the fan. The suit charges that Londell and Charlie misrepresented fundamental aspects of the planned tribute, including falsely claiming that proceeds would go to charity. Could civil or criminal charges be filed in this case?

Could estate attorney Jason Boyarski also end up seeing his fees affected by all of this? That would be unfortunate, as Jason is respected and well-liked, but he may become collateral damage because Charlie brought him in. He shares a practice with David Fritz, Koppelman’s son-in-law.

This latest chapter unfolds just as UMG looks likely to try to claw back the $30 million it paid for an array of Prince masters. Many believe the label group may have been misled about which recordings would revert and when. WMG owns all Prince soundtracks entirely (including top seller Purple Rain) and all pre-’96 recordings ex-U.S. in perpetuity, but a cascade of U.S. reversions was believed to begin in 2018. However, many of these apparently didn’t revert until 2021—though nobody seems quite sure about that, let alone which reversions were digital, which physical and so on.

Many insiders wonder what Koppelman was doing in the middle of this thing in the first place. Yes, he did a one-off Prince deal at EMI in 1990, and was a real force in the ’80s and ’90s—he and partner Marty Bandier bought and sold big companies right and left during the company’s heyday and made tens of millions during their fabulous run, which included gigantic records by Vanilla Ice, Wilson Phillips and Tracy Chapman—as well as establishing Daniel Glass as one of the top players in the biz. CK stepped down as CEO in 1997; then the Berrys took over the company and it all went south.

But Koppelman hasn’t had a prominent post in the biz in this millennium. From 2000-04 he served as Chairman of Steve Madden’s shoe empire (Madden later went to the pokey for securities fraud). In 2005 he took the Chairmanship at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and stayed with her company until 2011, when he exited to focus on his own CAK Entertainment, doing brand development and consulting for artists and other celebs.

Could this saga get stranger weirder still? We wouldn’t bet against it.

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