A seemingly well-intended online auction to raise funds for a dying musician has ended with bitter feelings and accusations of fraud.
In June, Chuck Schuldiner, frontman for the groundbreaking death metal band Death, had to undergo expensive medical treatment and surgery on a malignant brain tumor he had been battling for more than two years. His family lacked the funds to pay for the procedures, so several figures in the heavy metal underground coordinated a charity auction on eBay, but the items being sold were mostly from artists whose goods couldn't command the big dollars Schuldiner's care demanded.
That's when Thom Hazaert, an independent businessman in Sun Valley, California, stepped in. A longtime metal fan and former manager of metal band Chimaira, Hazaert offered to spearhead an auction on his new Web site, Allbeat.com. He even launched the site a month ahead of schedule due to the urgency of the situation.
Because he had connections with other managers and numerous labels, he was able to rally support from such artists as Papa Roach, Nonpoint, Godsmack, Kid Rock, Disturbed, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Slipknot, who agreed to donate gold records, autographed CDs, photos, hockey jerseys and guitars (see "Korn, Kid Rock, Slipknot Reach Out To Ailing Death Frontman").
But the benefit was thrown together quickly, and Hazaert, who had never handled an online auction, was running the entire operation with just one other person. As a result, he said, the auction was less than successful and had to be taken down in July because he was ill equipped to handle the traffic, the accounting and tracking down unpaid bids. In one instance, a Fear Factory gold record went for $1,000, but its buyer never materialized. Allbeat's computers only stored the top bids, preventing Hazaert from offering the items to the second-highest bidders, he said.
"Last thing I ever thought was that people would make fake bids on a charity auction just to be a--holes," Hazaert said. "We never thought, 'OK, let's save all bids in case the winning one is fake.' "
In addition, he said, many of the items artists promised to Allbeat, including a guitar signed by Papa Roach and articles from Crazy Town and Slipknot, never materialized.
"People's hearts were in the right place, but I don't think it was that huge of a priority for anybody. The more corporate people may not have known who Chuck was. They committed to send the stuff with the best intentions, but they were all busy, and after a certain point I stopped pursuing them. You can only call someone five or 10 times about something before you get frustrated and give up."
In total, Hazaert said he sold items by Pantera, (hed) pe, Chimaira, Marilyn Manson and Giant Merchandising and brought in well over $1,000, which he said was deposited into an account set up by Hammerheart America Records, whose publicist a close friend of Schuldiner's helped coordinate fund-raising efforts.
After pulling the auction, Hazaert hoped to revamp the site and restart the bidding, but months elapsed, and on December 13, Schuldiner died (see "Death Frontman Chuck Schuldiner Dies").
Schuldiner's family members said that they only found out about the Allbeat auction last week and were dumbfounded they hadn't received much money from the site.
Chuck's mother said the family contacted Hazaert, who told them the merchandise had all sold. In a later e-mail, he said he had found a box of unsold items in his basement, according to Beth Ann Schuldiner, Chuck's sister. And he never told them that many of the articles that had been promised by bands didn't arrive, Hammerheart publicist Maria Abril said.
Beth Ann said that when she talked to Hazaert he was abrupt and remarked, "What difference does it make? He's dead."
"Anybody with half a brain in their f---ing heads should know that's not true," Hazaert said. "I don't even know where they got that from. That makes me ill. The auction may not have been hugely successful, but it brought a great awareness to this cause and made a lot of donations possible. And after the contributions we made to make people aware of Chuck's name, his situation and his music, it really hurts that this is how they try to make me look."
Following her conversation with Hazaert, Beth Ann contacted an attorney, who is presenting evidence to the California state attorney's office, which will review the case. Hazaert said he submitted a paper trail to the Schuldiners of receipts for all auctioned items, and he insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
"My auction was kind of unorganized because I was the only one doing it," he said. "The only thing I did wrong is try to bite off more than I could chew. ... I'd like to say it was just a misunderstanding, but they didn't even try to understand what was going on."
Beth Ann is also considering legal action against a club in Lyon, France, that she claims held a sold-out Schuldiner benefit concert but only forked over $900.
"I'm just mortified," she said. "As hard as Chuck struggled, it sickens me to think that somebody would use his illness for personal gain. Most people we heard from helped out a lot. The poorest of fans from all over world would quite literally say, 'Here's a quarter. That's all I have. But you have my prayers.' And that meant the world to me. But for the few people who tried to make money off of my brother's condition, if we find out who you are, we'll come after you."