116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Chicago man was sentenced Wednesday to over six years in federal prison and ordered to pay $414,433 to 15 of his 21 victims for a fraud scheme that involved falsely booking performers for concert venues in Iowa.
U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said he found the criminal history of Romel Murphy, 43, convicted of one count of wire fraud, to be the most troubling because there was a consistent pattern of criminal — fraudulent conduct — with the “high likelihood” of reoffending.
Murphy had three previous convictions, which involved schemes with less loss and each only had one victim, whereas in this offense he owes over $400,000 to 15 of the 21 victims he duped.
He defrauded people from about 2017 through the spring of 2019, which was after investigators interviewed him about this scheme, Williams pointed out.
According to court documents, Murphy, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, owned and operated Real Talent Media Group, also known as Real Talent Marketing Group or RTMG, where he would book artists for performances at concert venues across the country and in this federal jurisdiction — the Northern District of Iowa.
He began working for 'K.C.,” as identified in court documents, a national recording artist, as a road manager in October 2017 but was fired the next month.
Murphy then started the booking agency and referred to himself as the president and managing partner, according to the indictment.
When one of Murphy's music industry contacts would request him to book a performance of a national recording artist, Murphy would assure the client he could, the indictment stated. He would then draft and send a fraudulent contract to the client that had falsely been signed by the performer's representative.
The contract would include a deposit and/or some other expense to secure the performer, according to the indictment. The client would sign the contract and wire the funds to Murphy. When the performances fell through, Murphy would promise to refund the client's deposit. He would then create and send a false wire transfer form that would appear to show he sent a wire transfer, but it actually wasn't initiated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyndra Lundquist pointed out that two of his convictions for fraud were committed when Murphy was on supervised release in another. He blames his actions on his gambling addiction, but his fraud was “calculated and planned.” Murphy lied repeatedly to solicit funds from victims and left them with the “fallout” — harming their reputations with managers or artists.
Williams said there is some information from his lawyer and in the record that he had a gambling addiction and the reason for the thefts, but he has no mental health history and there is little information regarding treatment in the record, so he didn’t know the extent of Murphy’s problem, and the probation office wasn’t able to obtain those records.
Murphy had the burden to provide those, Williams added.
Based on his criminal history and violations while on probation and supervised release, when he committed two frauds, and in prison, Murphy doesn’t only commit the frauds in order to gamble but also seems to have an “utter disregard for the law,” the judge noted.
During the sentencing, Ryan Evans, in a victim impact statement, asked the judge to give Murphy less time, even though three years later he was still paying off the debt to performers — about $3,000 month — and in light of Murphy lying to him about a “million times.”
Murphy and his lawyer also asked the court to go below guideline sentencing for less prison time based on his gambling addiction. Murphy asked for home confinement, instead of any prison time, along with paying full restitution, noting he had already paid $50,000 of it.
Murphy also apologized to the victims and the court. He said he went through depression and had struggled with suicidal thoughts. He admitted to lying to family and friends and losing many friends, business relationships and his talent booking agency.
He also told the judge he was out of that business and was now a truck driver. He is in therapy for his addiction and touted his charitable work at a community center. Murphy also said he hoped to share his life struggles with others as a way to mentor others and prevent them from making bad life choices.
Williams said his charitable work was commendable, even if it did only start last year, and he would take into consideration that Murphy was making an effort to pay some of his restitution, but he wasn’t going below the guideline range.
He did, however, sentence Murphy to the bottom of the range at 77 months. Williams also ordered Murphy to serve three years of supervised release following his prison time and to pay $414,433 in restitution to 15 victims.
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