Entertainment giant Criss Angel wants your money.
In part one of this article, I told you about multi-million-dollar checks that were freely handed over to celebrities and large entertainment companies. These funds were part of the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG) program, created to keep recipients afloat during the shutdown. In the United States, bailing out the wealthy is often "business as usual". But the more I probed, the more I learned about the disparity between a privileged few and thousands of Las Vegas gig workers who struggle from pay to pay.
It's important to understand the difference between a grant and a loan. A government grant is a financial award given by a federal, state, or local authority that is intended for a beneficial project. The grantee is not expected to repay the money but is expected to use the funds for their stated purpose. During the pandemic, many businesses also applied for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which were intended for employers to compensate their staff. Although loans are meant to be repaid, the PPP program instituted loan forgiveness if recipients were able to meet certain criteria. So....a loan requires payment, but grants do not. And grants are what certain famous celebrities swooped in to collect.
To illustrate the point, let's take a closer look at magician Criss Angel, whose Magic Revolution LLC received $6,694,936.00 in U.S. Government aid. Created in September of 2018, Magic Revolution LLC is listed as a producer of MINDFREAK LIVE at Planet Hollywood Casino. You might experience your own mind-freak when learning that a multi-millionaire entertainer would ever accept government handouts, but apparently, $6.7 million wasn't enough for the TV star. Upon closer examination of the SVOG payout document, I discovered that Angel Productions Worldwide Inc., Angel's studio on West Sunset Road, received an additional $4,335,279.75 in no-obligation government aid.
If an entity qualifies for a grant, then of course they're entitled to collect it. But why would a worldwide superstar willingly accept $11,030,215.75 in government handouts....unless things weren't going quite so well? Early this year, the magician announced that he'd be selling off dozens of illusions and props from his warehouse. He claimed that an undisclosed portion of the sale would go towards pediatric cancer (why not state the amount?), while at the same time positioning himself as Sin City's savior. "We have several projects in development which will help bring Las Vegas back to life" he boasted. None of this really adds up, but the taxpayer dollars certainly did.
After part one of this report was published, I received a direct text from a high-level executive who had endured working several miserable years with Criss Angel. Their response to my article was strong, unfiltered, and priceless: "Oh, holy shit. Drop the mic. Wow, he's such a POS. I'm not even going to ask how you got this information. I'm just excited to watch. Everyone hates him".
Wrestling midgets, anyone?
There are certain aspects of the SVOG program that seemingly defy logic. For instance, it's meant for shuttered venues, yet talent representatives, live venue promoters, and theatrical producers could apply. Those who qualified received 45% of their gross 2019 income, up to a maximum payout of ten million dollars. Looking at the list of Las Vegas recipients, one name that stands out is Steve Beyer Productions, Inc. This talent agency received an SVOG grant of $7,596,741.88, meaning its reported 2019 income was upwards of $16.7 million.
It's understandable if you've never heard of Steve Beyer Productions. I hadn't, either, until the name showed up on SVOG's report. Beyer's huge disbursement was enough to make me do some research....and I STILL can't wrap my head around the fact that he received $7.6 million in taxpayer dollars. The agency represents such obscure talent as "Lil' Elmo and the Cosmos", "The Santa Band", "Street Folk", "Jeff Hobson", "Extreme Midget Wrestling", "Krazy Kirk and the HIllbillies" and my favorite...."Oompoporama".
These amazing celebrities apparently generated over $16 million in 2019. Do you know any of them?
Just like with Criss Angel, I received a strongly-worded text from one of Steve Beyer's industry counterparts, suspicious of the massive income that was reported by such a small-scale talent agency:
"Steve Beyer got 7 million and who is he going to pay with that money? He has no theater. I don't even know if he has another person on his staff. There's no way he did that kind of revenue in 2019. All he does is supply bands for casinos. I hope there is a legal recourse for this. The government just made a very unethical and slimy person very wealthy. There has to be some kind of fraud. I know plenty of people who he books, should be interesting to see how he calculates paying them if he pays them at all...to rip off the small people is insane. It's called a Shuttered Venue Fund and I'm not clear what venue he has".
Marc Savard took the dough, THEN shut the show.
I also reported that comedy hypnotist Anthony Cools (net worth, $12 million) received over $200K in SVOG funds. It turns out that his counterpart Marc Savard (net worth $30 million) applied for and received $313,014.39 through Marc Savard International, LLC. Savard's long-running comedy hypnosis show at Planet Hollywood's V Theater is very popular, so there's no reason to doubt his reported 2019 income of $696k.
One thing that might stick in your throat, however, is that Savard publicly announced on Facebook that he would be deliberately shutting down his show on August 1st in response to returning mask mandates...despite receiving taxpayer funds to keep it OPEN. I reached out to Savard, offering him a forum to elaborate on this decision, but he never responded. The show is currently scheduled to return on September 4th.
Actor/comedian Brad Garrett (net worth $50 million) has a small comedy club located inside MGM Grand's The Underground, a hard-to-find corridor between the hotel's lobby and parking garage. It's literally underground. Garrett is a beloved celebrity who's helped thousands through Maximum Hope Foundation, a charity he founded to assist families of seriously ill children. He's also affiliated with Paws For Paul, a therapy program providing hospice support animals.
Brad Garrett's Comedy Club received $1,648,313.85, which allowed it to temporarily take over a much larger space at MGM Grand Garden. Initially capped at a maximum of 50 audience members to permit physical distancing, the more expensive location made it possible for a rotating list of comedians to remain gainfully employed. After successfully returning to its original location, Brad Garrett Comedy Club is now slated to expand on November 27th, proving that SVOG funds can be immensely helpful when utilized as intended. Thank you for your contributions to the Las Vegas community, Mr. Garrett.