GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A pair of California men who claimed to represent superstar singer Mariah Carey is headed to federal prison after they defrauded $100,000 from the Grand Rapids Pride Center.
Bringing Carey, diva and gay icon, to the 2016 Grand Rapids Pride festival would have been a major achievement.
Instead, it was a fraud that nearly ended the center’s ability to help the LGBTQ community.
“We’re thinking we’re going to bring this community this amazing Pride show, and also use the revenue to fund all the programs and services we do here at the Pride Center,” said Grand Rapids Pride Center administrator Larry DeShane, Jr. “It’s Mariah Carey, it was a wonderful opportunity.”
Federal court documents filed in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo lay out the case against Allen Dean Gordon Clayborn, who also called himself Allen Meme and Raul Meija Pereida.
“They knew their target was going to be small nonprofits, places that really needed that type of endorsement, but their story was fantastic,” DeShane said
The fraudsters came to Las Vegas and took festival representatives to the singer’s show, although federal investigators say the singer had no idea that her name was being used in the fraud.
“They were incredibly polished. They had all their ducks in a row. They fooled a long-time booking agent,” DeShane said.
They presented themselves as Carey’s representatives, producing phony documents, email addresses and even identification badges as part of the scheme, the government alleges.
It was former Pride Grand Rapids administrator Mike Hemmingsen who first noticed that something was wrong. He made sure that everything was documented and brought in the authorities.
“We were the first ones to call attention to it, again that was really truly Mike Hemmingsen,” DeShane said.
In addition to $100,000 taken from Grand Rapids, they also allegedly defrauded a similar organization, Flagstaff Pride in Arizona, which signed contracts with the victims and then received wire transfers.
The pair were charged in 2018 with wire fraud and identity theft after Pereida was arrested in Colorado and Clayborn was arrested in Phoenix.
On Friday, Pereida was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Clayborn, who federal investigators say was the ringleader, will spend five years in prison.
Federal authorities say this is Pereida’s first conviction.
Clayborn has a history of fraud, including accusations of defrauding adult film star Jenna Jameson of $33,000 in 2014-15. It led her to take out a personal protection order against him.
The money from Grand Rapids and another $30,000 from Flagstaff went to Pereida’s bank account, according to court documents.
For the Grand Rapids Pride Center, the loss of money was a near fatal blow, but the organization did not give up.
“We buckled down. We go do what the job is, and the job is to bring our community services and support,” DeShane said.
They worked day and night to pay back investors that gave them some slack.
DeShane said they have learned and have put safeguards in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but the Pride Center is about much more than a festival held once a year since 1988.
He came to the center 30 years ago and has been a part it of ever since. In his words, the center “saved” his life.
“Each week we get over 45 13 to 17-year-olds, who are part of the queer community and the things that they are going through are incredibly difficult.” DeShane said.
He said keeping Pride alive is vital.
“Kids need to know that they have somebody here in this city, next door that cares about them and that they’re not alone,” DeShane said. “That’s why we have a suicide rate of over 25 percent of LGBT youth because they don’t have a Pride Center to go to.”
The sentences also come with an order of restitution of the money stolen, but the Pride Center is not counting on seeing that money back.
This year’s festival is planned for June 15 at the Calder Plaza.