11:21am PT by Eriq Gardner
Meet the Lawyer Claiming He Was Tricked Into Selling Grammy Awards Tickets
This story is about Matthew Blakely of the Blakely Legal Group who represents actors, television producers and athletes and is a member of the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards each year.
Blakely is in the midst of a difficult situation because he sold premium tickets to the 2013 Grammy Awards at the Staples Center for an amount somewhere between $65,000 and $89,500. Those who wound up with the tickets were denied entry, and now Blakely is facing a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court after failing to refund the money. (Update on status of litigation: See bottom of story)
There's more to this story, of course, which takes us to a cross-complaint that Blakley filed this week against the Hollywood Entertainment Group and an individual named Craig Banaszewski.
According to Blakely's tale of what happened, he met Banaszewski at a movie industry social event. Banaszewski represented himself as a high net-worth individual interested in investing in film projects and other entertainment ventures. Sometime afterward, Banaszewski got back in touch with Blakely to inform him that he had recently formed Rockstar Management Group, which represented some antiquated rock bands from the 1970s and 1980s who were looking to revive their popularity.
And then, the hook...
"Banaszewski explained to Blakely that as part of his plan to revive the popularity of his artists, he needed them to make appearances at relevant 'entertainment industry' events," states the cross-complaint. "Banaszewski then represented that he was also a member of the Recording Academy, but his status with the Recording Academy only afforded him the opportunity to acquire balcony tickets, and he was hoping to secure for his artists much more exclusive seating, red carpet access and access to exclusive Grammy after parties."
In short, Banaszewski wanted Blakely to get him tickets.
Blakely says he initially declined but then reconsidered after the guy "reiterated interest in potentially funding the film projects for Blakely Legal clients."
So the two worked out a deal, payments were made, and Banaszewski got his tickets. Apparently, they were then resold.
The ticket-holders weren't able to gain access to the event, according to Blakely, because some members of the group exhibited "poor etiquette on the red carpet, such as demanding autographs and photos of VIP celebrity invitees." This drew the attention of event staff, and when it became known that this group of ticket-holders had gone through a ticket broker, the serial numbers on the tickets were "red-flagged," and they were denied entry.
As a result of that night, Blakely stated in the cross complaint he lost his membership with the Recording Academy and his reputation within the music industry was tarnished. He says that he only discovered later that Banaszewski had duped others. He points to a lawsuit brought against Banaszewski by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over illegal resale of Oscar tickets.
Here's the problem with the version of events offered by Blakely, who has taught law at the University of La Verne College of Law and guest-lectured at USC: Either he's not telling the truth or he's probably not a terribly good lawyer. What's worse for a lawyer — being victim to an alleged fraud or not being sharp enough to catch it in the first place?
The lawsuit filed by the Hollywood Entertainment Group asserts that Blakely was aware at the time he sold the tickets that the purpose of the transaction was "to enable Plaintiff to re-sell the Tickets for a profit."
But even if that's not true, the least amount of due diligence into Banaszewski's background would have resulted in the attorney finding this 2005 article from The New York Times website that spells out Banaszewski's trouble over those Oscar tickets. If Blakely really was looking at someone who was going to buy his Grammy Award tickets — full of conditions against resale he knew about — and potentially become a partner for his clients, why didn't he simply run this guy's name on a web search engine?
"I meet with all kinds of people in business," Blakely tells THR. "When I’m not busy negotiating deals, I’m lecturing law students. In any given week, I’m in a different country. The point here is that there simply isn’t enough time in my schedule to allocate to internet research of every random person encountered. Moreover, I didn’t have the guy’s full legal name."
His attorney, James Bryant at The Cochran Firm, adds a background check "wouldn't happen until a deal comes up or a project gets developed. It happens all the time. People are constantly talking and saying they will do certain things. He just didn't think I should Google this guy to find out whether he was a ticket broker."
Banaszewski declined an opportunity to respond.
UPDATE: At the request of the parties in the dispute, the case was dismissed in October 2014. We've added comment from Blakely, who wishes to point out that anyone "with a filing fee and an attitude can race to the courthouse to file a lawsuit." The original version of the story also said per Blakely's papers that he had lost membership in the Recording Academy, though the attorney admits a mistake. He says, "It turned out, I had simply failed to complete my membership renewal for the year, which was later rectified."