Call him the comeback kid.
The Niagara Falls Music & Art Festival is not dead and buried.
No its back with a vengeance and being produced by none other than Rick Crogan - through his for profit company, Balabans LLC.
Yes, Crogan, 57, the founder of the city's largest festival, the Niagara Falls Music & Art Festival, is back despite being charged with three felonies last summer for alleged wrongdoing in connection with the operation of the Festival.
Those charges were later reduced to a single petit larceny charge - and Crogan was given a conditional discharge.
What was long in doubt however in the wake of the case against him and the ultimate disposition of the case was whether the celebrated promoter could ever get his Niagara Falls Music & Art Festival up and running again.
Could he get sponsors and marketing partners?
Would the musicians and vendors come back?
Would Global Spectrum, which manages Old Falls St, welcome him back.
The answer is yes.
Crogan will be holding his 3rd Annual Music & Art Festival - in downtown Niagara Falls - along the three cobblestone blocks of Old Falls Street, between the Seneca Niagara Casino and the Niagara Falls State Park.
The dates are set - the weekend of June 19th -21st, which happens also to be Father's Day weekend.
Crogan said this year he anticipates as many as 100 art vendors from Western New York, Southern Ontario, Western Pennsylvania and North Eastern Ohio, along with food vendors, wine tastings, street entertainers, a beer and wine tent and the best selection of regional musicians assembled in one location.
"This festival will provide you with three full days to showcase your business in front of tourists, local residents, other businesses, and the community at large," Crogan said recently while pitching for more vendors to participate.
"Whether your medium is painting, photography, glass, wood, fiber, sculpture, etc… you will find great exposure and opportunity at this event," Crogan said.
Artists and artisans, bringing their own tables, tents, and professional displays, set up in 12×12 foot spaces create a colorful ambience and shopping experience along the cobblestone street.
"This is a real artist/ artisan event," Crogan said, "Work must be original, one of a kind items. Kits and reselling are not allowed. Reproductions must be clearly identified as reproductions. When the customers come, they know they are being treated to a display of talent - and real art for sale."
The artists at the Festival will be judged by a panel of professionals, with winners being announced on the Main Stage Saturday at 3pm. Ribbons will be distributed to three winners in each category: professional, amateur and student.
And he is attracting marketing partners like Quality Inn and Legends, Regal Tip Drumstick, Lewiston Music, and Sheraton At The Falls.
Crogan said more are welcome.
And frankly he needs them.
Unlike the Hard Rock and the Blues Fest, Crogan does not take taxpayer money to put on his shows.
But it was less than a year ago, with the 2014 Festival only days away, when his arrest on three felonies: third- and fourth-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud shattered Crogan's life and shocked the community.
Charges were brought against Crogan as part of an investigation by the Niagara Falls Police Department and the Niagara County Sherriff's Office.
Crogan pleaded not guilty in Niagara Falls City Court.
The case was later transferred to North Tonawanda City Court when all of the judges in Niagara Falls City Court recused themselves.
For a time it wasn't clear if the Festival would even come off.
The event is funded through sales of vendor spaces and marketing partners and does not use taxpayer money.
Would everyone run away?
Despite being under the cloud of three felony charges, Crogan pulled off a successful 2014 Festival.
There were 25 local food vendors and 40 art vendors.
Thirty five local bands played before an estimated 25,000 concert goers during the three-day festival.
Asked why the bands were all local, Crogan said, "We have so much talent in this area there is no need to bring in $20,000 - $30,000 bands. We have so much talent that wants to play and wants to have exposure."
"We drew more than the taxpayer funded Hard Rock concerts," Crogan said.
"It was the Artpark crowd (without taxpayer subsidies). Tons of Lewiston people, tons of people from LaSalle. Great music is great music. People would like to see a name event, sure. But not some (Hard Rock has-been) act from the 70's or 80's, who are getting ready to retire."
But after the Festival ended Crogan now had to face the ordeal of a coming trial.
Two women, Becky Marchetti, 50, and Christine Salamone, 31 were at the heart of the case against Crogan.
Marchetti, who worked as a volunteer on the festival, went to police claiming Crogan had taken festival money donated by a local business and spent it on himself.
Her beef was that she thought the Festival would be a not for profit event, staffed and run by volunteers.
The manager of tellers for Encompass Niagara Credit Union, Marchetti opened up bank accounts in the name of Crogan's for-profit company, Balabans LLC, because, she said, Crogan told her that the Festival needed an interim bank account until it could be registered as a not-for-profit.
But one day Crogan told her that he decided against making the Festival a not-for-profit, and wanted it to remain under Balabans LLC.
Marchetti, who expected to be on the board of directors, was furious. She became a woman scorned.
She hounded Crogan for months. Tried to destroy his work for the upcoming 2013 Festival.
Despite her efforts, which seemed to include disparaging Crogan to anyone she could find associated with the Festival, the 2013 Festival was a huge success - an estimated 25,000 people attended.
Marchetti had retained powerful local attorney Robert LaDuca, who was a former assistant district attorney for Niagara County - and was well connected to law enforcement in Niagara County.
It was then Marchetti went to police claiming Crogan had taken festival money donated by a local business and spent it on himself.
The company Marchetti was referring to was Renewal by Andersen Window Replacement in Rochester.
Salamone, the other woman involved in the case, worked as "creative director" at Andersen.
Crogan pitched Salamone to get Andersen as the main sponsor for the 2014 Festival. A verbal deal was struck.
"At that point we shook hands and it was just a verbal agreement," Salamone said in her deposition. "We paid him the full $15,000 up front, with no signed contract and we were not getting the amount of events that he (verbally) promised."
The Andersen complaint was flimsy.
Andersen's name and logo appeared on stages and promotional material in connection with Crogan events - just as Crogan said he promised.
But the investigation continued.
Crogan's personal bank records, along with those of the festival, were seized and examined by a forensic accountant.
One law enforcement official involved in the case said at the time, "He was taking money from the festival and funneling it through his account. The most recent allegation is that he took some money from (Andersen) and the money fell right into his personal bank account."
Another law enforcement official, confused about whether this was a not for profit or for profit business, said "Crogan took the money for sponsorship but failed to use the money for his festival and used the money for his own expenses."
What investigators did not know is that Crogan operated as a for profit entity - Balabans LLC.
Andersen's $15,000 was not a donation. It was an investment. In return they got advertising and exposure. As long as Crogan delivered his end - as a businessman he could spend his money as he wished.
An owner (or member) of an LLC, by law, can pass profits and losses directly to his personal account. Therefore passing income from his LLC to himself, whether from a sponsorship or any source of income, is not a crime. All income and losses belong to the owner - not the LLC.
Pretty soon the dust cleared.
The prosecution came to realize they had a flimsy case, built around a lot of hasty assumptions, confusion over whether it was a for profit or a not for profit festival, the words of two unhappy women who operated - as it pertained to Crogan - in a world of verbal, not written contracts, and the unreasonable certitude that there would be other people who would say they were duped by Crogan.
None of which happened.
The festival was also sponsored by Joe Cecconi's Chrysler Complex, Smokin' Joe Anderson, Certo Brothers Distributing, and Niagara Falls Redevelopment.
None of them complained.
Police failed to grasp that business law permits a person to take money out of their business and place it in their personal account, but the DA finally got it.
Ultimately, a plea bargain was offered.
To have three felony counts reduced in a plea agreement to a single count of petit larceny, a charge that would be brought against someone who took a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store, is virtually unheard of.
Crogan, exhausted from the stress and the expense of the case, pleaded guilty to a single count of petit larceny - the same charge given to shoplifters and - as part of a settlement that allowed Crogan to move on with his life - he paid $5,000 in so-called "restitution" to Andersen and made a $5,000 donation to the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, where his spouse Michael sits on the board of directors.
Crogan was sentenced to perform 50 hours of community service - which he has completed and a one year conditional discharge by North Tonawanda Judge William R. Lewis.
The Niagara Falls Music & Arts Festival continues.
It started out as the Main Street Music & Art Festival, founded by Crogan in 2010 when Crogan was recruiting what he called "the Creative Class" to "rebuild and invest its heart and soul in Niagara Falls."
Purged of malcontents who almost destroyed the city's largest festival, Crogan now has an able team - part of that "creative class" he always wanted to inspire -and collaborate with. His team now includes Theresa Brockman, Volunteer Coordinator, Michael Murphy, Logistics Coordinator, Cynthia "Cindy" Youngers Chilberg, Music Coordinator, Amanda Hart, Buffalo Art & Social Media Coordinator and many others.
Crogan, the home town boy who came home after a string of successes in Miami's South Beach, Montgomery Al, Manhattan, Orlando & Lady Lake, and Venezuela - never forgot his roots - like when how as a boy he used to clean his parents' bar "Cousin's Lounge" on Main Street.
When he moved to Atlanta, he lived with his partner Michael Murphy, originally from Mississippi. Both of them took a gamble and moved to Niagara Falls and were married here.
Murphy manages Campus Manor, a 388 unit apartment complex in Amherst.
The couple purchased a home in The Park Place Historic District, next door to Rick's mother.
The comeback kid has come full circle.
To contact Crogan call him at his office 716-534-9960 or on his cell 716-534-1546 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the website www.festivalatthefalls.com.
|Brave, Rick Crogan appears on stage at the 2014 Festival. After being arrested on trumped up charges just a week before, Crogan undaunted, kept his composure and made the Festival the biggest ever.