Belfast Telegraph

Antrim promoter guilty of fraud over Hal Ketchum 'gig'

Country star Hal Ketchum
Country star Hal Ketchum

By Staff Reporter

A country music impresario from Co Antrim has been found guilty of fraud over an alleged concert in the Shetland Isles featuring American star Hal Ketchum.

A judge described James McGarrity's evidence as "a tissue of lies and fabricated actions" as he handed him a sentence of four months' imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, for making a false representation over the gig between May and September 2013.

McGarrity (39) of Ramoan Avenue, Ballycastle, had told Shetland Country Music Club he could arrange for Mr Ketchum - who had 17 entries on the Hot Country Songs charts between 1991 and 2006 - to perform a concert in October 2013.

He also supplied a false Flybe travel itinerary in July 2013, knowing it had been designed or adapted for use in fraud.

Giving evidence by live-link at Dungannon Magistrates Court, the chairperson of the Shetland Country Music Club said McGarrity had spoken of plans to bring Mr Ketchum on a UK tour and offered a date for the island.

A fee of £6,000 was agreed with half to be paid in advance, which was transferred directly into McGarrity's account.

Arrangements began and tickets went on sale.

James McGarrity
James McGarrity

But a club member discovered Mr Ketchum was not embarking on a UK tour and was scheduled to perform in Texas on the dates in question.

Concerned, the chairperson contacted Mr Ketchum's then-manager Tracie Ferguson, who confirmed no such booking had been made.

McGarrity was contacted and sent a copy of Flybe flight details for Mr Ketchum indicating the relevant dates.

Not convinced, the chairperson demanded the paid money to be refunded. McGarrity agreed on condition she spoke to Shetland Press to remove negative reports on him. The first £3,000 was returned and the second was to be paid in instalments.

The chairperson said: "It took a while to get all the money back."

Under cross-examination, defence counsel Francis Rafferty asked the chairperson: "You engaged with Ms Ferguson as Mr Ketchum's manager. Were you aware he was also her lover?"

On being told this wasn't known, the defence enquired: "Were you aware Mr Ketchum has had his issues with women and alcohol?" But before an answer was provided, he added: "After all, if he didn't, what would he be writing songs about?"

The chairperson said she knew nothing of Mr Ketchum's private life and engagement was through Ms Ferguson, who gave evidence by live-link from Texas.

She described being a friend of Mr Ketchum's for 30 years but rejected being his lover. Her employment ended when Mr Ketchum married and his wife took over management.

She confirmed being contacted by the music club and clarifying no booking was made.

The live-link then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to hear evidence from Doug Merrick, a "country music entrepreneur" who had managed Mr Ketchum until early 2010.

The content of emails was disclosed, which McGarrity claimed indicated Mr Merrick was enthusiastic and agreed to approach Mr Ketchum and others for a UK and Ireland tour in 2013.

He told the court: "You must understand, I'd stopped working with Hal by then. It's perplexing to me. Hal had new representation at that time. But certainly (the correspondence) is not from me, that's for sure."

Taking the stand, McGarrity said he "had toured Hal before five times, all of which were very successful".

"I knew Doug (Merrick) represented him and I got in touch… he agreed. I suggested the Shetlands club pay me a fee and I would look after the event.

"They agreed to £6,000, with half paid in advance."

Defence barrister Francis Rafferty asked his client: "Why would they pay a fee before Mr Ketchum had set one cowboy-booted foot on the island?"

He replied: "To ensure they were serious about the event. The £6,000 payable was to enable me to cover Hal's fee, flights and hotel and allow a small fee for me… I believe Doug and Hal fell out and it left him unable to meet the agreement with me."

In respect of the fraudulent flight confirmation, McGarrity described booking this and the hotel through a website and paying for it with a credit card, although it transpired he had insufficient funds to cover this.

Under cross-examination, prosecution counsel Stephanie Boyd put it to McGarrity: "You invented an email, sending it to the country club."

This was denied and McGarrity referred to the hotel bookings, but the prosecutor said: "You claimed to book a hotel but you didn't because they contacted you, asking for your credit card, which you did not provide. You did not pay any money."

McGarrity said the hotel was lying.

Ms Boyd told McGarrity: "You didn't have Hal Ketchum, you didn't have an agreement with Doug Merrick. You had nothing."

McGarrity shot back: "I totally dispute that 100%."

But District Judge Stephen Keown said: "This can only be described as a tissue of lies and fabricated actions. The defendant is guilty on both counts.

"This was compounded by him attempting to deflect from all responsibility, taking us here, Scotland, Texas and Tennessee.

"Even when such evidence was laid out he put blame on all others except himself.

"It was clear no credit card payments were made despite the protestations otherwise."

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