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US promoter disappears with $800,000

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Police are to be asked to help track down an American music promoter who persuaded Cabinet ministers to lend him $800,000 to set up a recording studio at Dockyard — and then disappeared.

Lawyers for the Government have failed to find Anthony Blakey in Georgia to serve him with a legal demand to return the taxpayer funds, plus interest.

A government spokeswoman said: “The matter is by no means closed and efforts are ongoing to determine the best means by which to effect recovery of sums advanced in good faith.

“The Bermuda Government has initiated the appropriate steps to engage both the local and US authorities regarding a criminal complaint as part of the recovery effort of these funds.”

The spokeswoman added: “As the Government has previously done with UK nationals who stole money from the Government, the same efforts will be made to recover these funds, return them to the Government of Bermuda, and to bring this matter to a favourable conclusion to the benefit of the Bermudian taxpayer.”

Mr Blakey, from Atlanta, convinced David Burt, the Premier, and Jamahl Simmons, then the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, along with their Cabinet colleagues, to agree to the loan in April 2018 to pay for recording equipment for the historic Moresby House, on Pender Road, in Sandys.

A source said it was hoped that a state-of-the-art studio in the renovated building owned by West End Development Corporation would attract celebrity musicians to the island and gain valuable social-media exposure to “get Bermuda on the radar”.

Mr Blakey is understood to have first met politicians on the island in 2016 after he attended a City of Hamilton fashion show.

He told people he met here that he was a successful songwriter for music publishers Sony, BMI and Universal — a claim The Royal Gazette has been unable to verify — and that he ran a global entertainment company in Atlanta.

Another source said he appeared to be a wealthy individual who claimed to fly to and from the island on private jets.

The source said: “Everyone was under the impression that he was multimillionaire status.”

Mr Blakey set up an exempt company, Savvy Entertainment Ltd, which took over the management of Cross Island, the site of the 2017 America's Cup, as a venue for events.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, said at a press conference in February 2018 that the events would have a pre-negotiated fee and any revenue would go to the Government to help defray the $39 million cost of Cross Island's construction.

Mr Blakey also persuaded Dame Jennifer Smith, a former Progressive Labour Party premier, to lead an affiliated local charity, Savvy Foundation Bermuda, designed to provide arts and sports programmes for young people. But the recording studio never materialised, the charity never ran any courses for young people and only a handful of events were held.

The proceeds for one event advertised at the start of last year — “Vegas Night” at The Shed on Cross Island — were supposed to “go towards Savvy Foundation” to “help enhance the young people of Bermuda”.

But the organisation's charitable status expired last December and it has failed to file annual financial reports with the Registry General — a legal requirement.

Dame Jennifer, who signed a declaration in September 2018 to become a Savvy trustee for three years, declined to comment on her involvement.

But she denied that she led the charity. Dame Jennifer added: “I'm not interested in this.”

The $800,000 loan agreement was signed by the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism, Mr Blakey and Danilee Trott, a Bermudian event planner who worked for him.

The agreement said the pair traded as Savvy Entertainment and that the loan would be placed into a bank account provided by them.

A civil action filed at the Supreme Court in June last year against Mr Blakey and Ms Trott said they had defaulted on $778,204 of the loan.

The government spokeswoman said: “Upon default on the loan, the Government of Bermuda made a demand in accordance with the terms of the loan to recover the sums owed.

“The Government also retained counsel in Atlanta, Georgia, and attempted to serve Blakey with the demand.

“Blakey has to date successfully evaded service of the demand. The Government has registered a charge on the chattels that were to be used in the proposed business.

“The Government will obtain judgment in Bermuda and expects to have that judgment registered as a foreign judgment in Georgia.”

She added that counsel in Atlanta had tried to serve Mr Blakey with the demand at Savvy Entertainment's listed address in the city and had hired a “process server to do so after hours and at irregular times, without success”.

She said: “The address listed is an apartment complex at which Mr Blakey did not reside.”

Attempts to find him where he was believed to live in Georgia also failed.

The spokeswoman added that Ms Trott had been served with a demand for payment, adding: “We are advised that she does not dispute the debt.”

But Ms Trott said she had no shares in Savvy Entertainment — confirmed by a check of the company's incorporation documents at the Registrar of Companies — and had not been served with a demand for payment.

She added she had not been given any of the loan cash and had been unable to reach Mr Blakey since spring last year, when he stopped responding to calls, e-mails and texts.

Ms Trott said: “I have not had any communication with Mr Blakey in a very long time.”

A third source questioned if the ministry did its homework before it decided to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money.

The government spokeswoman said: “In relation to carrying out the necessary due diligence on the individuals, financial and bank statements were reviewed by the ministry's financial controller.

“All elements of tracking Savvy's expenditure of the loan were carried out by the controller.”

There was no response to a question about what the controller discovered about how the cash was spent.

Mr Simmons, who lost the Economic Development and Tourism ministerial portfolio in November 2018 and is now chairman of the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation, said: “In relation to the Savvy project, due diligence was conducted by our technical officers and the reasoning behind this project was sound.

“The collective view at the time was that, if successful, this investment would be of tremendous benefit to Bermuda.”

Mr Blakey could not be contacted for comment.

A Bermuda Police Service spokesman said today: “The Bermuda Police Service has received no such report to investigate this matter from Government.”

The Registrar of Companies said Savvy Entertainment would be struck off the list of incorporated companies soon.

The Registry-General said it had sent a request to the Savvy Foundation for its financial statements. Savvy Foundation's constitution stipulated that, if it was wound up, it had to pass on any assets to another registered charity with similar aims.

A TIMELINE

• September 2016: Savvy Entertainment Ltd is registered as an exempted company in Bermuda, with all $12,000 in shares in the company held by William Anthony Blakey, known as Anthony Blakey, a songwriter and music promoter from Atlanta.

• March 2017: The West End Development Corporation announces it will renovate historic buildings at Dockyard before the 35th America's Cup, including Moresby House, also known as HMS Malabar, on Pender Road. The House of Assembly hears that the Government gave Wedco $3 million to carry out the works and will be paid back under the terms of a promissory note.

• May 19, 2017: The newly renovated Moresby House is unveiled with the Government announcing it will be rented as a commercial space after the America's Cup.

• August 2017: Savvy Entertainment hosts the Battle on the Rock event in Hamilton, part of its Poseidon Games international hydroflight competition.

• January 2018: Savvy hosts a live music event at City Hall attended by American music industry executive Shanti Das.

• February 2018: Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, announces that Savvy Entertainment will take over management of Cross Island, the home of the 35th America's Cup, and that a charitable branch of the company, Savvy Foundation, has applied for charitable status. He says former Progressive Labour Party premier, Dame Jennifer Smith, has been invited to join the board of the international foundation and to be resident director of the charity in Bermuda. The press conference hears that Moresby House will be turned into a recording studio by Savvy Entertainment.

• April 2018: The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism signs off on an $800,000 loan to Mr Blakey and Danilee Trott, a Bermudian event planner who works as chief operations officer for Savvy Entertainment, to set up the music studio at Moresby House — which is to become known as Savvy House.

• September 2018: Dame Jennifer signs a declaration to become a charity trustee of Savvy Foundation Bermuda for three years, along with Ms Trott, Natasha Dowling, Judy Roche, Anthony Blakey and Timothy Blakey. Claudette Simons is also named as a trustee. Ms Simons said: “I really have had no involvement in this organisation other than signing the trustee form. Have never been contacted about anything to do with Savvy.” Ms Roche declined to comment and Ms Dowling said she was involved only for a short time to help set up the charity. The charity's constitution says decisions cannot be taken by the board without Mr Blakey and Ms Trott present, but Ms Trott said she had little to do with the organisation, as it was separate from Savvy Entertainment. Dame Jennifer declined to comment and neither Anthony nor Timothy Blakey could be contacted.

• December 2018: Savvy Foundation is granted charitable status by the Charity Commissioners, even though the application viewed by The Royal Gazette at the Registry General appeared to be incomplete. The application form's section on funding included what appeared to be an internal note, written by someone from the organisation, to remind them to fill in more details. It said: “Insert a couple of lines on primary funding source — we will need to give the Commission some information on how we are going to pay for the programmes. Is the primary funding coming from Savvy Ent in Bermuda/US/other Anthony B endeavours?” The letter granting charitable status makes no mention of the missing information on funding but does raise a question about two of the charity's trustees — Anthony Blakey and Timothy Blakey — living at the same address. The letter said: “As such, the commissioners query independence on the board.”

• February 2019: Savvy Entertainment advertises a “Vegas Night” at The Shed on Cross Island with proceeds to go to the Savvy Foundation.

• June 2019: The Government of Bermuda files civil proceedings against Anthony Blakey and Ms Trott for defaulting on the loan from the Ministry of Economic Development and Tourism in the amount of $778,204.

• August 2019: Wedco says Moresby House and the nearby Star of India building, which was the headquarters for Savvy Foundation, are available to rent.

• December 2019: Savvy Foundation's charitable status expires and no application is submitted for renewal. The organisation fails to file its financial statements, as required by law.

• June 2020: Atlanta-based Savvy Entertainment Inc and Savvy Entertainment Youth Foundation Inc, which are run by Anthony Blakey, are reinstated as a domestic profit corporation and a domestic non-profit corporation, respectively, in Georgia by the Secretary of State. Both entities had previously been dissolved but successfully applied for reinstatement and “paid all fees and penalties due”.

• September 2020: The Government tells The Royal Gazette it has been unable to track down Mr Blakey to serve him with a demand for payment and has now “initiated the appropriate steps to engage both the local and US authorities regarding a criminal complaint” about the missing funds.

Update: this story has been amended to include a comment received today from the Bermuda Police Service which notes that the BPS has “received no such report to investigate this matter from Government”.

NB: To view the loan agreement between the Government and Savvy, as well as Savvy Entertainment's share capital document, click on the PDFs under Related Media

On the run: Savvy Entertainment chief executive Anthony Blakey

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Published September 23, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated September 24, 2020 at 9:05 pm)

US promoter disappears with $800,000

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