Business

Veteran club operator, concert promoter unfazed by legal troubles

When the University of Hawaii announced a fundraiser concert starring singer Stevie Wonder, the school quickly sold thousands of tickets.

There was just one problem: Wonder’s management called to say it had no involvement with the show’s promoters, and the 2012 concert had to be abruptly canceled.

Months later, a federal grand jury indicted a Charlotte man for his alleged role in the “Wonder Blunder,” which became a national embarrassment for the university.

For Marc Hubbard, who has pleaded not guilty and awaits a trial next spring, it was only the latest entry on a legal docket that spans three states, a review of court documents shows.

During a two-decade career, the Charlotte entrepreneur has operated more than a dozen clubs and promoted big-name artists such as Beyonce and R. Kelly, according to his website. But his business ventures have frequently drawn scrutiny from authorities or landed him in court.

Among the more significant cases: A grand jury in South Carolina has indicted him over money raised for an Alicia Keys concert. He’s embroiled in two real estate disputes in Mecklenburg County Superior Court, made two trips to bankruptcy court and pleaded guilty in 1995 to a federal fraud charge, resulting in probation.

The former West Charlotte High School and N.C. A&T State University football player has also tangled with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police over Alcoholic Beverage Control permits, and filed his own suit against the police, records show.

In one of the real estate cases, a trust sued to evict Hubbard from a $1.9 million Cornelius home where he’s been living with his family. In court filings, Hubbard argues he has a valid lease through a company he owns.

Through it all, he says he intends to remain a player on the club scene in Charlotte and nationally, using his “Club Hush” brand. A location on Independence Boulevard, which once drew reality TV star Kim Kardashian, closed this spring as part of a foreclosure proceeding. But he has another spot in the works.

Hubbard, 47, vows to fight the cases pending against him.

“When you have been accused of something people automatically assume you are guilty,” he says. “Our justice system is supposed to be founded upon the presumption of innocence. That is the part that I want to convey. I haven’t been convicted of anything.”

Friends with Cannon

Hubbard grew up in Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood in a middle-class family. His father was a cigarette salesman and his mother worked at First Union, now part of Wells Fargo.

He got his start in business at an early age, working in his grandparents’ now-defunct grocery on Griffith Street, near Southside Park off South Tryon Street. Starting at age 8, he manned the cash register and ran his own snow-cone stand at the store.

“I have an entrepreneurial nature,” he says.

One of his early friends was another Charlottean who rose to prominence only to run into legal troubles: former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon. They attended Irwin Avenue Elementary School and later went to college at N.C. A&T in Greensboro. One year, Hubbard said, they lived a few doors down in the same dormitory.

Hubbard said he doesn’t think Cannon’s prosecution on public corruption charges was fair.

“I think it was entrapment,” he says. “I think they were just singling him out. It wasn’t justice.”

Hubbard says he got his start in the club business a few years after he graduated from college, where he had played linebacker on the football team.

After giving up on a dream to play for an arena football team, he was working at a Charlotte restaurant in 1996. It got sold and he was out of a job, he says.

Hubbard borrowed $7,000 from a cousin to lease a sports bar on Fifth Street in Charlotte. The business wasn’t going well until a group of Johnson C. Smith University students asked him to host a party and hundreds of people came.

“That’s when I kind of developed my brand,” he said. “I cater to 18 to 25.”

Conflicts with police

In a good fit for the competitive club business, Hubbard is an imposing 6 feet, 5 inches, has the ambition to juggle multiple ventures and speaks with confidence, often using the phrase, “You feel me?”

In the years after the Johnson C. Smith party, he would run more than a dozen clubs in the Carolinas and Georgia, according to his website. He would also promote hip-hop concerts, at a time when he says the genre was still coming into the mainstream. His trademark was yellow posters advertising shows that he would plaster for miles along Independence Boulevard, he said.

In April 1997, Hubbard plugged one of his events before the Charlotte City Council: an All-Star Celebrity Cook-out to be held at Independence Park. Hubbard said he wanted to pledge 10 percent of the proceeds toward furnishing video cameras for police cars.

At the council meeting, he also endorsed an amendment brought by then-council member Cannon and another council member, Nasif Majeed, to create a Citizens Review Board. The board would be a panel where citizens could take allegations of police misconduct if an internal department review didn’t find any wrongdoing.

Hubbard, according to the minutes, said the panel would alleviate “the distrust factor” between public and police.

He says he donated about $500 toward cameras. But the contribution didn’t lead to a smooth relationship with the police.

In 2007, he filed a lawsuit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleging civil rights violations, false arrest, false imprisonment and other improper actions by four Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers related to ABC permits for clubs he operated.

Among the incidents from 2001 to 2004, the suit says police confiscated his dance hall permit without due process, dispatched 50 officers to search patrons at one of his clubs and seized more than $14,000 from his cash register, according to the complaint.

Court records show the suit was moved to federal court, where a judge in 2010 dismissed federal charges and sent state counts back to Mecklenburg County court. It’s not clear if the case was restarted.

Hubbard told the Observer he received a “sizable” settlement over the matter, but said he couldn’t disclose further details because of a confidentiality agreement. Court Fulton, senior assistant city attorney, said he has no records of a payout but that any settlement would be a public record. Attorney Bob McDonnell, who represented the officers, said they made no payments.

Hubbard says there was a racial element to the alleged harassment he faced from police. “They don’t hate Marc,” he said. “They just don’t like the type of clientele that I cater to: Young African-Americans.”

Fulton said: “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police acted at all times in a completely professional and appropriate manner when responding to the incidents involved in this matter.”

Indictments in two states

Hubbard found himself involved in a different kind of legal action in the fall of 2012.

In October of that year, a grand jury in South Carolina indicted him on a criminal securities fraud charge related to an Alicia Keys concert. In a news release, the South Carolina attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, alleged that Hubbard in 2008 obtained $700,000 from an unspecified “victim” for a concert but didn’t use the money for that purpose.

Debbie Barbier, an attorney for Hubbard, said her client “vehemently denies the charges and intends to fight them.”

Last month, another attorney for Hubbard filed a petition in federal court in Charlotte asking a judge to stay the proceedings in South Carolina, arguing that no crime was committed in the state’s jurisdiction. A spokesman for the South Carolina attorney general’s office said it would be inappropriate to comment because the matter is pending.

A trial is tentatively set to start on Jan. 26.

Only weeks after the South Carolina charges, the Stevie Wonder case became national news. In November 2012, a federal grand jury in Honolulu indicted Hubbard for wire fraud in connection with the canceled concert. A Miami man, Sean Barriero, pleaded guilty in the case and awaits sentencing, according to court records.

A local promoter in Hawaii, according to court documents, approached the university about a concert in March 2012. He was in contact, according to the documents, with a woman who said she could deliver the concert with the assistance of Barriero and Hubbard.

After Barriero received a $200,000 deposit, he sent $120,000 to Hubbard, who spent it all on personal and business expenses, the indictment states. Hubbard is out on bond as he awaits a trial in Hawaii, scheduled for March. An attorney for Barriero declined to comment.

In a statement, the University of Hawaii said “the unfortunate criminal act” had been “hurtful and damaging” but that the university had made changes to deter future incidents. “The healing is well underway,” the university said, “and we are rebuilding trust within our university family and our community.”

‘Special sauce’

Hubbard said his legal troubles have slowed him down some, but he’s still working to build his club business.

His approach is to offer concert-like experiences, with DJs, lights and special effects, he said. He’d rather spend money on sound systems than marble floors in the restrooms, he said.

In his latest business strategy, Hubbard says he is focused on helping other operators set up clubs, essentially franchising his Club Hush brand. This business model keeps him at home with his family, instead of out all night running clubs, he said.

In Charlotte, Club Hush once occupied the landmark Capri Theater on Independence Boulevard, gaining attention for Kardashian’s appearance during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But the club closed this spring amid a foreclosure dispute.

Now Hubbard is looking to revive the night spot at the former Tryon Mall Theatre on East Sugar Creek Road. Hubbard once operated Club Deep Oros at the same location, but had his application for an ABC permit rejected in 2004, according to ABC records. Later, under different management, the location became The Mansion Lounge, which suffered a fire in 2011.

From the outside, the property appears to need substantial work before opening. Plywood covers one window, and the two marquees are shattered. Hubbard says he may start the club himself or sell it to another operator.

“I’ve got the special sauce,” he says. “People like what I do.” Staff researcher Maria David contributed.

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