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The Heavy Metal Grifter

Gabe Reed was a failed rock star who reinvented himself as a concert promoter. Now he's in prison for defrauding fans and rock's elite out of $1.7 million
Diana Milena

A mong Dallas’ elite at the upscale restaurant Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano, Gabe Reed charms, dazzles and exudes confidence. He drops rock legends’ names that would mesmerize any 1980s hair-metal child. As the founder of Gabe Reed Productions, he could easily be mistaken for one of the rock gods that fans around the world worship. His name has appeared on concert posters and in press releases alongside rock & roll luminaries like Gene Simmons of Kiss, Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil and ZZ Top’s Texas guitar slinger Billy Gibbons. (His appearances on Simmons’ hit A&E show, Family Jewels, are still available online.) Simmons called him a “wonderful promoter.” Reed’s so-called enemies claim otherwise.

Many of those enemies are victims — 23 in all, with combined losses of $1.7 million. These victims include aspiring bands, concert promoters and a single mother who was trying to help her daughter fulfill her own rock & roll dream when she claimed Reed bilked her for her life savings.

The FBI claimed in Reed’s April 19th, 2017, criminal complaint that he forged documents and identities to dupe friends into investing tens of thousands of dollars in his tours. He conned investors by flaunting his longstanding relationships with musicians like Simmons, showing props from alleged previous tours, and fabricating financial records related to his all-star music events. He duped a friend, for example, identified in his arrest-warrant affidavit as “M.C.,” into investing $100,000 in the Titans Tour, an all-star concert with musicians from legendary rock groups like Guns N’ Roses, Kiss and Mötley Crüe onstage together for the first time to play their hits. He claimed he had contracts with Simmons, Simmons’ former Kiss cohort Ace Frehley and other rock stars to headline the tour.

He didn’t.

Reed spent the investors’ money for the Titans Tour on child support, a birthday, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, the Four Seasons Beverly Hills and Mr Chow of Beverly Hills.

Last November, Reed admitted to defrauding his victims. He made false promises and then used their money for personal expenses, according to the April 23rd press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of California. He pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and is currently serving a 57-month term in prison.

The Titans Tour wasn’t the first time Reed gulled rock stars, their backers and promoters into trusting him to handle all the financial matters involved in putting on a tour.  He’d already left behind a trail of angry clients who wanted their money back. The pile of civil lawsuits filed against him was stacking up in courthouses across the country since Ava Zoller, the single mother, filed her initial complaint in August 2011. The claims all sounded similar. He promised pipe dreams to aspiring rock bands, investors and promoters and failed to deliver on them. The judgments against him soared into the millions.

He ignored those, too.

“While we initially make allegations of fewer victims and a lower loss figure, at the time of sentencing, we argued — and the judge agreed with us — that there were 23 victims who suffered approximately $1.7 million in losses,” Thom Mrozek, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office Central District of California, tells Rolling Stone.

The judge issued the final order on March 5th. He denied the prosecution’s request to add two additional victims to the restitution and reaffirmed the restitution amount of $1.6 million. Reed plans to appeal.

The FBI began investigating Reed in 2016 after he finished his first Metal All Stars Tour, which he claims was a success. Several concert promoters pointed out in emails that Reed had stolen their deposits paid to secure the all-star bands. In some cases, Reed claimed he would refund the money or reschedule the show. Years have gone by and fans and promoters are still waiting.

As he did with the Titans Tour, Reed sold the Metal All Stars concert with metal-legend headliners like Slayer’s Tom Araya, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Megadeth’s Marty Friedman. Only they had never signed contracts to headline the tour.

“Some of the stuff that I’ve been accused of, it was like, ‘I don’t know, I had lawyers, and it was, like, business,’” Reed tells Rolling Stone. “You wouldn’t have Gene Simmons and those types of characters doing business with you if you really ripped off a guy in South America.”

Reed was a boy from Abilene, Texas, when he discovered Simmons’ alter ego, the Demon. His parents were divorced, and Reed was passed around to different family members. When he was a child, his grandmother took him to a Kiss concert, and he banged his little head along with the thunder god and dreamed of joining Simmons onstage one day.

As a teenager in the 1980s living with his father in Boston, Reed began skipping school to groom his rock-star image. He wore a pentagram necklace and makeup, and colored his long hair like a skunk’s coat — one side bleached white, the other dyed black. It looked flammable.

At 15, Reed boarded a plane to Los Angeles, heading to the Sunset Strip, where aspiring musicians dreamed of becoming as famous as Mötley Crüe. He began calling himself “Tomi Child” and passing out a demo tape at various L.A. hot spots that showcased the voice of a heavy-metal angel. His look captured the interest of director Penelope Spheeris, who was filming the second installment of Decline of Western Civilization, about the city’s heavy-metal scene. “Oh, yes, yeah, I’m going to be a famous rock star, yeah,” Reed told Spheeris in the documentary. “I think it will come pretty easily for me, you know, because I’m different from everyone else.”

After appearing in the film, Reed thought he would soon join the rock-star elite. He went to the Cathouse, a rock club on the corner of La Cienega and San Vicente that had become home to a new, gritty underground rock scene; a place where musicians mingled with actors such as Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr.

It was here that Reed first saw Simmons standing near the bar. The Kiss bassist had started a new record label, Simmons Records, and was on the hunt for new talent. Like most fans, Reed had only seen Simmons from afar: onstage wearing demonic makeup and platform boots and wielding an ax-shaped bass.

With his skunk hairdo ready to catch fire, Reed introduced himself to Simmons and repeated a line he’d used in the Decline of Western Civilization documentary: “I’m going to be famous.”

“Yeah, I heard that,” Reed says Simmons replied.

Simmons must have heard Reed’s demo tape and liked his look. He offered Reed a record deal and put together a backing band called “Split Image” with Reed’s friend, guitarist Keri Kelli from Night Ranger. It seemed like a perfect match, but the deal eventually fell apart. The reasons why are unclear. Reed doesn’t recall a record deal. His ex-wife does, while his musician friend Sean Bowie said one was pending. Simmons didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Bowie claims the deal fell through because Reed couldn’t sing. Reed had taken vocal lessons from the late Elizabeth Sabine, a vocal coach known as the “Heavy Metal Grandma” whose students included Axl Rose and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. “While I was by no means an amazing singer, I was probably no worse than a lot of ‘singers’ at the time,” Reed says. “The bottom line is that although I may have had a little stage fright and awkward insecurity [as a teenager], I could sing and took it somewhat seriously.”

Whether or not he was a good singer, his dream of becoming a rock star ended when the record deal fell apart. He married, started a new family, picked up a GED and enrolled in community college, eventually graduating from UCLA. While at law school in Dallas, Reed landed a summer job with John Howie, a hotshot personal injury attorney. When he interviewed for the job, Reed claimed to Howie that his grandmother was charging her credit cards to pay his bills. Howie called him after the interview and hired him. “Anyone with a grandma paying with her credit card needs a job,” Reed recalls Howie telling him.

Howie began teaching Reed how to land cases and how to convince juries that your client deserved the maximum judgment. Reed spent long hours with Howie, putting together cases. Howie told Reed that it’s not if you’re smarter than the other side that divides the winners from the losers, but how hard you’re willing to work to make it happen. Working with Howie, Reed felt like a rock star again. “To me, it was like a replacement of the music because you do marketing to get the good cases,” he says.

“When the money was invariably late, I got ominous phone calls and emails” – Gabe Reed

But while he never became an attorney, he posed as one for a couple of years at a well-respected Dallas law firm. A former colleague claimed Reed had copied one of their colleagues’ bar numbers and changed one digit. When applying for a new firm later on, the HR department conducted a background check and discovered Reed didn’t have a license to practice law. The state of Texas has no record of him passing the bar exam.

Reed had been savvy enough to keep his John Hancock off of legal documents. One of his former colleagues recalled, “Looking back now, I realize he never signed any legal document.”

But Reed didn’t let this new revelation hold him back. He began offering legal advice to old rock-star friends from his Sunset Strip days, including Kelli. He recalled helping Kelli and Steven Adler, a former drummer for Guns N’ Roses, set up a corporation and trademark the name “Adler’s Appetite.”

A year later, in 2006, Reed helped Adler find tour musicians to perform on his South American tour after Adler and Kelli had a falling-out. Adler invited Reed along for the ride. Reed didn’t know what to expect. Adler hadn’t been part of Guns N’ Roses for nearly two decades, and Reed had never been on tour. When they arrived in Buenos Aires, thousands of adoring fans were screaming and chasing after their caravan as they drove away from the airport. Some fans were leaning out of their car windows to touch Alder. Others swarmed the hotel, waiting on Adler to arrive. “This level of extreme pandemonium continued throughout the tour,” Reed says.

Three years later, he experienced that same level of extreme pandemonium with Kiss. He’d just started his business, Gabe Reed Productions, and scored the chance to promote the opening night of Kiss Alive 35 World Tour in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t an easy gig, he says, and he faced a few “bumps in the road.”

“First of all, with any major band like Kiss, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Metallica, you have to deal with the players involved with that particular band and breaking through those politics to get them to take your offer to do a show seriously,” Reed says. “With Kiss in particular, I had to deal with getting [Kiss manager] Doc McGhee — someone who has seen and heard practically everything and anything in his 40-plus years as a legendary manager of acts, including Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi and Kiss.”

“The only thing that I know of Gabe is that Gene didn’t know him very well, and he was always very slippery,” McGhee tells Rolling Stone. “He did come to us with many, many, many deals but none of them worked out. We did do something where he was the co-promoter in Santiago, Chile, and he did a good job … but Gene did [the Rock N Roll Allstars Tour] that was a total disaster and started the whole process of Gabe getting caught.”

Reed was a first-time concert promoter, but he was serious and persistent. He’d learned from various sources what other promoters in Santiago were offering and proposed more money and favorable conditions like covering hotel and flight expenses. He also agreed to hire one of Doc’s associates to work as his consultant on the show. “I pulled out all stops to make the deal happen,” Reed says.

His next roadblock was convincing the band’s agent, the legendary Rod MacSween, who was known to work with the same promoters. Reed figured out that a major promoter would reach an agreement with MacSween to promote the entire tour and then make profit by selling shows to third-party promoters. Reed haggled with MacSween over the price until they reached an agreement, and a final contract for Reed to promote the opening-night show was issued.

But Reed didn’t realize that he would have to wrestle with South American promoters to get them to pay their show deposits on time. “South American promoters always think that there is flexibility in what the contract terms are and specifically the dates when deposits are due,” Reed says. “When the money was invariably late, I got ominous phone calls and emails from Rod, which were followed up by Doc, which precipitated my aggressive calls to my South American partners expressing the peril that their slowness to release money was causing.”

After a few days passed, the deposits for the opening-night show finally came through. Reed, though, had one minor final hurdle to cross: making an entire Kiss stadium show happen.

Reed had to juggle like a circus performer to make sure Kiss received its first-class treatment. “Almost every day was some level of squabbling over the cost of hotels, how many hotel rooms, what hotels, class of flights, cost of freight, what we would or could provide locally, on and on and on,” he recalls.

Once the band arrived in South America, Reed had to deal with a number of major logistical issues: making sure that crowd control and security were in check, that the media had arrived for the press conference and that the police were ready to escort the band to and from the show. He also had to double-check production was proceeding smoothly to set up the giant flame-filled stadiums that fans had grown to love, and verify that all permits had been secured. Then he tracked ticket sales.

“After pulling off a successful show with Kiss, my reputation grew in South America and I became sort of the go-to guy if you wanted to tour South America,” Reed says.

In 2012, Reed returned to South America, bringing together rock legends from Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses and Kiss onstage for the first time to play as part of the Rock N’ Roll Allstars. They planned to play 10 impromptu jam sessions in different South American countries. Reed had come up with the idea after some friends invited him to watch Camp Freddy, a rock all-star band featuring Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro, Billy Idol’s Billy Morrison and Guns N’ Roses’ Matt Sorum, at the Roxy. Each time they gathered onstage, they’d invite other well-known musicians like Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello or Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde to join the jam.

Reed was convinced he had concocted a brilliant blueprint to take into South American arenas, one that would allow everyone involved in the tour — himself especially — to earn a huge payday.

A friend, Tony Sullivan, introduced Reed to Sorum after the show. (Sullivan would later sue Reed for breach of contract.) At the time, Reed hit it off with Sorum and shared his idea about taking Camp Freddy out of the Roxy and into South American stadiums. Reed had already hosted tours for Vince Neil and Mötley Crüe in South America and made some money (though he’d later claim he lost a few million dollars putting on the Crüe tour). But he still believed money could be made from South American fans who lost their minds whenever an Eighties rock legend arrived to play a show.

Reed failed to mention that in orchestrating rock tours to South America, he was leaving a trail of federal civil lawsuits behind him. A year before, South American promoter Ariel Vigo, for example, filed a lawsuit claiming Reed stole several thousands of dollars from him after he paid a deposit for Mötley Crüe to play a show. While Reed says he did so on the advice from his attorney, a federal judge awarded Vigo $1.4 million. Ava Zoller, a former client of Reed’s, pointed out in her 2011 lawsuit that Reed had milked her life savings and crushed her daughter’s rock-star dreams. Reed argues in court documents and prison letters that he refunded some of her money. The federal judge sided with Zoller.

Reed and Sorum quickly put together deals with Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, Billy Idol’s Steve Stevens and a few others to form the Rock N’ Roll Allstars core band. Then they landed Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach and Collective Soul’s Ed Roland. It was a good lineup, but Reed thought they needed more firepower to get a higher fee from promoters and create a level of excitement among South American rock fans that would have them sprinting to buy tickets.

So they began soliciting well-known artists like Axl Rose, Kid Rock, Ozzy Osbourne and Paul Stanley, who Reed says turned them down because Stanley “has a high level of integrity.” Simmons didn’t turn them down and agreed to perform after Reed offered him $75,000 a show. Simmons appeared at the press conference wearing a studded gold-plated jacket.

Reed’s sales pitch to tour investors worked something like this: The investor would come in, say, with $1 million, which Reed used to cover the main stars’ initial deposits. Once the main headliners were secured, Reed began selling shows to various promoters, in some cases, for $550,000 each, which he used to cover the investor’s $1 million remaining tour expenses. Reed’s and the investors’ profits would come from the net of the promoter fees (after expenses), merchandise and meet-and-greet sales, and sponsorships. He claimed the investor would more than double the initial investment.

The various promoters would pay half of their cost upfront as a deposit to secure the show, and the rest shortly before or on the day of the show. The problem, Reed says, is some of the promoters weren’t able to pay the other half of the deposit or wanted to pay less. Their failure to pay led to show cancellations and Reed refusing to return promoters’ deposits.

When they arrived in South America, Simmons and company were treated like gods of thunder. Fans scaled security fences, waited at stoplights and danced in front of the all-star rock band’s vans, singing a soccer chant for Simmons who began leading the chant at shows. There were so many fans that Reed couldn’t figure out why South American promoters were struggling to sell tickets for the Rock N’ Roll Allstars tour.

“I’m like, ‘You’ve got Gene Simmons,’” he recalls. “I was there when he was playing with Kiss,” which appeared to be a sold-out show.

But watching Simmons without his makeup, blood-spitting and fire-breathing isn’t nearly as spectacular as when he’s soaring over the crowd like a mad demon wielding his ax-shaped bass with other costumed members of Kiss. South American promoters began asking Reed if he could just do the shows for $100,000, but since he was paying Simmons $75,000 each show, Reed claims he wouldn’t earn enough money to pay other members in the band, the road crew or the planes transporting artists and equipment.

Then Reed’s head of tour security, Rob Kaneiss, was approached by someone who told him about Reed’s Mötley Crüe tour in 2011. Tommy Lee’s drum set was held for ransom to get Reed to pay money he owed promoters. Kaneiss, a former U.S. Navy Seal, was worried because he’d been hearing rumors about Reed’s money problems with the Rock N’ Roll Allstars. Through State department connections, Kaneiss had gotten a heads up that promoters in Peru, Ecuador and Guatemala were all connected to the drug cartels.

“The [rock stars] have fucking wealth and any bad actor could have locked down the hotel and ransomed them.”

By the third stop of the 10-stop tour, Reed canceled the remaining seven shows because he says promoters couldn’t pay the rest of their deposit due to poor ticket sales. Canceling shows for tens of thousands of fans is the kind of decision that can ignite riots in South America. But if that wasn’t bad enough, Reed also decided to keep promoters’ initial deposits, claiming that their contracts specifically stated that if he or the promoters canceled a show, he is allowed to keep their money.

“Gabe and his lawyer had found a loophole,” Kaneiss says.

Drug cartels, of course, don’t pay attention to legal loopholes. Kaneiss learned the tour group was going to face a major security risk when they landed in Lima, Peru. Reed would be killed and his all-star rock band kidnapped. “The [rock stars] have fucking wealth,” Kaneiss says, “and any bad actor could have locked down the hotel and ransomed them.”

When they arrived at the hotel, one Ecuadorian promoter wielding a Rambo knife attacked and nearly killed Dallas publicist Jeff “Smitty” Smith. He was trying to kill Reed, but Kaneiss and his security team intervened. The promoter, Kaneiss says, was enraged over the show cancellation because his wife’s and mother’s lives were being threatened by the cartel.

Kaneiss scrounged up some petty cash from the rock stars to give the promoter, hoping to calm him down. Kaneiss also expedited Reed’s departure from South America. At about 2 a.m., Kaneiss sneaked Reed and his second wife, Diana Milena, out of their hotel room through the hotel parking garage and to the airport to catch a plane back to the States. He notified the State department that Reed was “coming in hot.”

“The folks in Hollywood don’t realize what a clown piece of shit [he is],” says Kaneiss. “I don’t know how he got into the industry. The next thing he knows, he fumbles his way through one tour and as soon as he gets one tour [under his belt], stupid fucking rock stars believe him.”

A couple of years after his hasty retreat from South America, Reed formed another all-star heavy-metal band and toured Europe, where metal bands still have a huge following. Similar to the Rock N’ Roll Allstars, it would be the first time for metal legends like Slayer’s Tom Araya, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford and Megadeth’s Martin Freedman to share the stage together to jam their respective bands’ legendary songs. European investors and promoters lined up to take Reed’s deal, knowing full well the Beatle-esque pandemonium that would follow the band’s arrival in Europe.

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Duff McKagan, Gene Simmons and Matt Sorum during the 2012 Rock N Roll All Stars tour in Argentina. Photograph by Matias Altbach Matias Altbach

But Araya, Halford and Friedman hadn’t signed a contract to headline the tour. Araya and Halford’s management had declined Reed’s offer two months prior to tour investors signing their contract. Friedman had never been offered a contract.

Pantera’s Phil Anselmo had also planned to headline the tour until Reed began missing payment deadlines. Then he dropped out. Megadeth’s Nick Menza also backed out of the tour, as did Mötley Crüe’s Neil, Venom’s Cronos, and Accept’s Udo Dirkschneider, leaving Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde and Ozzy Osbourne’s Rob “Blasko” Nicholson to headline. “Honestly, it was tough to get paid,” Blasko says. “This situation was highly irregular.”

Other artists on the tour made similar claims. Jasin Todd from Shinedown says Reed sent bogus checks that his bank wasn’t able to deposit. Todd told Reed that he wasn’t leaving for the tour until he wired the money. “This started getting scary,” Todd recalls. “I was like, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?’”

“The folks in Hollywood don’t realize what a clown piece of shit [he is]” – Rob Kaneiss, Reed’s former head of tour security

Shadows Fall bassist Matt Bachand was supposed to receive $17,000 after he finished playing the tour, according to a series of emails from Reed, who agreed to pay Bachand with interest every day he was late. Reed never paid Bachand a dime.

Bachand now works at a minimum-wage retail job and blames Reed for his current predicament and the debt he says he still can’t afford to pay. “He was giving excuses, saying, ‘Don’t worry’ and using stalling tactics,” Bachand says.

Reed blamed promoters who he says were slow to pay and claims he may have had issues paying artists in a timely manner, but, he says, it’s just the way the music business sometimes works. “It’s a weird lesson I learned from Gene: Everyone is going to say bad shit about me,” he says. “[It’s like] Donald Trump. He’s like the excess. To his credit, he’s trying to make stuff happen … It’s like me in a weird way. I’m just doing business.”

Though headliners like Anselmo and Neil fled the tour, the lesser lights on Reed’s Metal All Stars Tour continued to play most of the shows and even pacify disgruntled fans who were pissed the headliners had gone home.

“The only thing I objectively know for sure,” Reed says, “is that despite my having to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses because of the discounted fee and [the promoters’] failure to cover expenses that they previously agreed to pay, the shows themselves did sell tickets and the promoters did make significantly more money than they would have previously, at my expense.”

Promoters thought otherwise and contacted the FBI.

“It’s a weird lesson I learned from Gene [Simmons]: Everyone is going to say bad shit about me” – Gabe Reed

Special agent Ryan Heaton works on the FBI squad White Collar 1. A few complaints about Reed had been submitted to the FBI’s complaint website, IC3.gov, bundled together and sent to him. “[The complaints] were generally about giving Gabe money and not coming to fruition,” Heaton says.

Heaton pointed out that Reed had some credibility among investors because he had done shows with Simmons and knew other people in the music industry. He used those connections to secure deals even though he had been leaving a trail of lawsuits in his wake.

White Collar 1 picked up the case in January 2016 and spent about 15 months investigating Reed and identifying additional victims while other victims came forward — between 20 to 25 people. “It’s all based on evidence,” Heaton says. “Speaking to them, we were able to corroborate what was alleged.”

Heaton contacted Reed’s former partner Kendra Jackson Helms, who shared what she had discovered about Reed’s headliner deception. At the time, she had been contacted by 20 concert promoters seeking her help to get Reed to return their money. She told them to contact the FBI fraud agent.

“Gabe is correct that I’m biased against him,” Helms says. “Because like so many others, I was a victim to his fraud. But despite the fantasies in Mr. Reed’s head, my only motive in this entire situation was to ensure that he could not continue to destroy the dreams and careers of so many people in the industry.”

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Reed’s 2017 arrest photo. Photograph courtesy of Collin County Sheriff’s Department

The Saturday in late April 2017 when Reed was arrested was just another day with his family spent debating what to order for lunch. Reed and his new girlfriend Joy Pendleton had moved in with his daughter and her fiancé a month earlier. The idea was to give Reed a refuge to put his life back together. Eventually, he planned to find his own place in Dallas. He was considering a new Metal All Stars Tour to South America and says he had begun corresponding with Simmons about his Vault project and putting together some shows for his band in South America. “My goal at the time was to get my life back on track and make money to make things right with my investors,” he says.

What Reed didn’t realize is that the FBI had been in touch with Simmons about Reed’s questionable business dealings.

When the food delivery guy knocked on the door, Reed recalled him looking really nervous. He handed Reed the food and quickly left.

Reed sat down at the kitchen table with his family when there was another knock on the door. He thought maybe the delivery guy had forgotten something. He looked through the peephole and says he saw dozens of men in blue blazers. “I had seen enough movies to know that this was not good,” he says.

“’Open up, this is the FBI,’” he recalls the agents saying. “’Gabriel Reed, we know you’re in there.’”

He didn’t know why the FBI was knocking on his door. He didn’t realize the agency had been contacted by his victims who all claimed he’d stolen money from them or that agents had delved into his bank account and discovered the wire fraud. But he knew it was serious and handed his phone to his daughter and told her to call his attorney friends Matt Gallagher and Mark Robinious, who represented him at his first hearing at the federal court in Sherman, Texas.

“It is now all a blur to be honest, but I remember calmly answering the door and being surprised that the FBI had gone through all of this trouble for me,” he says. “It was like they were arresting the Unabomber.”

The last time I saw Reed last July, it was less than 24 hours before he had to report to prison. He had tried to get the judge to delay his report date so he could prepare for his upcoming hearing in late October. He told the federal judge in L.A. that he needed to delay his report date so he could work with his new court-appointed attorneys to build his case. The judge told him he could do so from prison.

“I remember calmly answering the door and being surprised that the FBI had gone through all of this trouble for me” – Gabe Reed

We met at a downtown pub in McKinney, Texas. It was several months after he had pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and a few days after a federal judge in L.A. denied his request to delay his report date. I expected him to look like Edward Norton from 2002’s 25th Hour, with his head shaved and bruises on his face to show inmates that he was able to handle himself in prison. Instead, he looked as he did when we first met: like a rock star who’s seen better days. He was trying to play it cool, but he looked frightened as if he were staring down the barrel of a handgun. He’d been obsessed with researching the prison, trying to prepare for his 57 months behind bars.

Reed discussed his years as a promoter, losing the love of his life and marrying his second wife at the Graceland Chapel in Las Vegas. Two days after his arrest in April 2017, Pendleton caught the first flight out of Dallas and left him to deal with his criminal problems. “It is safe to say that Joy preferred to live in the Hollywood Hills house (with a view of the Hollywood sign, no less) and the 36th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Residences in Vegas,” he says. “But when the rough got going, she was out of there.”

We met several times over the course of a couple of months at a high-end Mexican restaurant in Dallas and a wine bar and pub in McKinney. Though Reed claimed alcohol and drugs impaired his financial judgment, drinking and taking shots at the bar didn’t seem to impair his excuses.

He spreads the blame on his inability to keep good business records, though he claims his willingness to rip off investors was partially fueled by trying to maintain a lifestyle he thought his ex-wife wanted.

She didn’t. “When I met him, I was an award-winning young filmmaker and college student with a bright future,” Milena says. “I gave up everything that I was doing, put my entire life on hold and did what he wanted. I was his companion, and I became his trophy wife. I got to travel the world with some of the biggest rock stars, and I am grateful for those experiences, but eventually I wanted my life back.”

When he was arrested, Reed had stolen $100,000 from a Titans of Rock investor, whom the FBI didn’t name in an arrest-warrant affidavit. At that point in 2015, he had already sold shows as part of the Metal All Stars World Tour and then canceled all but two of those shows. Shortly after the cancellation, Iron Maiden’s former lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno posted on social media: “I was embarrassed by the way this was handled, and I’m very sorry for the fans. I never have and never will charge for a meet n greet. And I had nothing to do with this All Stars fiasco.”

Three years later, he was still planning to reschedule the tour when the FBI arrested him.

At the pub in McKinney, I sat across from Reed, both of us in black, nursing my beer and my shot and watching him struggle to keep from becoming the life of the party as he’d done with aspiring rock stars and investors when he took them out for drinks on the Sunset Strip.

“It’s horrible,” he says. “This experience has been very humbling. It’s really taken me back, way down a step. It virtually destroyed my life.”

Though he seems sympathetic, I can’t help but think of aspiring artists like Bachand, who says his dreams were shattered when Reed refused to honor their contract together. “Something like that really just spoils the illusion that people in the business are legitimate,” Bachand says. “It’s hard for me to put trust in that.”