Enex Steele was arraigned in a Manhattan court on July 28 for allegedly embezzling $400,000 from a royalty fund controlled by the Amer. Fedtn. of Musicians. According to Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, Steele was director of the union’s Sound Recording Special Payments Fund, through which $15-20 million in royalty payments are forwarded every yr. to performers belonging to the AFM.
Steele directed the fund for 3 yrs. until auditors discovered that he had given himself unauthorized payments from the fund for a variety of personal items: a $45,000 pay raise in 2003, $22,500 for leave days, $280,000 in cash advances, and $60,000 for Tiffany cuff links, Ferragamo shoes, a $5,000 tuxedo and Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz rentals. Steele even used the royalty funds to pay for a trip to the Grammy awards; and to Cuba, where he presented a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne to Fidel Castro through a top aide. The AFM’s bd. of directors fired Steele on Aug. 21, 2003.
Steele’s lawyer said that while he “concedes there may have been excesses,” he claims that the dispute is just a misunderstanding. “If you go through [the expenses] item by item, you’ll find that he might have overstepped his bounds,” said Matthew Mari. “But he had wide authority to spend money…He was traveling in very decadent circles. They’re not the kind of people who dine at McDonald’s.” As for Steele’s Cuba trip, Mari claimed that “he went with other business leaders” to recruit musicians for the AFM. “And if you want to give Fidel Castro a token of goodwill, you don’t give him a can of Rheingold.”
Said D.A. Morgenthau of Steele: “He lived up to his name.” [Newsday, 7/29/04: New York Post, 7/30/04]