Lights Over Paris leader charged in loan case
30-year-old performer scammed bank out of millions
The leader of a promising rock band, Lights Over Paris, allegedly funded his "lavish lifestyle" of travel and a luxury bus by submitting false documents for millions of dollars in bank loans, prosecutors said Friday.
Robert Brandon Mawhinney, whose stage name is Robb "TaLLLLL" University, has been ordered held without bond because he was deemed a flight risk by U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick in Los Angeles, prosecutors said.
Mawhinney, whose 30th birthday was Friday, travels abroad frequently and has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cyprus, said spokesman Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Mawhinney, who appeared in federal court on Thursday, was arrested earlier this month at Miami International Airport after he returned from Buenos Aires, prosecutors said.
Mawhinney is charged with making a false statement in a loan application, authorities said. He allegedly applied for loans by submitting phony brokerage statements showing he had almost $9 million in assets, but the real statements showed less than $10,000 in the brokerage accounts, authorities said.
His attorney wasn't available for comment Friday.
A Comerica loan officer and her supervisor visited Mawhinney in a Burbank, California, studio to assess his creditworthiness, and Mawhinney falsely told them he owned the studio with friends Jason and Matthew Salazar, court papers said.
Those two friends are brothers who owned the studio, and they were charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit loan fraud, authorities said. The brothers are planning to plead guilty, according to their attorney and prosecutors.
Mawhinney told the bank representatives that he was a successful ghostwriter for various artists, the documents said. He protrayed the studio as a side business and said his real passion was writing music, court papers said.
Mawhinney needed the loan for equipment purchases and finishing the recording room in his studio, court documents said.
The bank representatives told him they would need his tax returns and financial statements, court papers said.
Mawhinney is accused of falsely stating he had $9 million in a Charles Schwab savings/brokerage account in May 2010, court papers said.
"At the center of this case are the false documents (such as the Charles Schwab brokerage statements) that the defendant gave to the banks to frustrate their efforts to verify that he was credit-worthy, that there was sufficient collateral for the loans," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ranee A. Katzenstein told CNN in an e-mail.
In August 2011, Mawhinney left a voice mail for the bank loan officer saying he would take care of his outstanding loan payments, but he was in a lot of pain and on heavy medication after having been in a car accident, court papers said.
Mawhinney's tax returns showed a Culver City, California, certified public accountant as having prepared the returns, but the CPA told authorities he never heard of Mawhinney, court papers said.
Lights Over Paris was deemed an up-and-coming band by Billboard.com in August 2010, when it ranked its "Turn Off the Lights" album at No. 6 on the "heatseekers albums" chart, which is composed of top-selling albums by new or developing acts.
The band describes itself on its website as "a mix of melodic rock hooks with pulsating dance rhythms and a taste of hip hop."
"Their headlining 52-city 'Turn Off The Lights' tour electrified audiences and inspired new fans with their unrivaled style and eclectic approach," the band's website says.
Mawhinney allegedly obtained four loans amounting to $6.25 million from Comerica Bank and then defaulted, prosecutors said. The bank lost about $6 million, authorities said.
JP Morgan Chase, Zions Bank and Bank of America also lost money on loans to Mawhinney, prosecutors said.
Mawhinney used the loans "to pay for travel, entertainment and a luxury tour bus that cost well over $750,000," the prosecutor's office said.
If convicted, Mawhinney faces up to 30 years in prison. He will be arraigned February 11. He lives in the luxury WaterMarke Tower in downtown Los Angeles, authorities said.
In the related case involving Mawhinney's two associates, Matthew Salazar, 29, of Valley Village, California, and his brother, Jason Salazar, 28, who has California addresses in Grover Beach and Fresno, have agreed to plead guilty, authorities said.
The brothers own Matt Salazar Recording Productions of Burbank, California, and are part owners of LA Sound Gallery, also in Burbank, authorities said.
"They admitted in court documents that they provided false documents to Bank of America, Greystone Bank and Huntington National Bank to obtain about $1.7 million in loans for their music business," the prosecutor's office said.
If they plead guilty, each brother would face up to five years in federal prison, the prosecutor's office said.
Their Los Angeles attorney, Mark Werksman, said the brothers have been cooperating with federal investigators and will enter guilty pleas "sometime in the near future."
"They committed these offenses at the direction of Mr. Mawhinney," Werksman said.
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