(KMSP) - Singer-songwriter Zach Treichler has been writing songs since he was 12 years old.
He thought he was well on his way to making a big name for himself in the Twin Cities music scene when he met producer Richard Miranda, who ran a business called House Mix Studio in Shakopee.
According to Treichler, Miranda said he would produce a 12-song demo for him.
“He basically said he worked with all these artists--from Janet Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, Bruno Mars,” said Treichler.
He even introduced Miranda to his friend, Producer Sean Smith, better known as Smitty of the Smitty Pit band.
“Wow, we are becoming a family, this could work,” Smith said after seeing the group of musicians at Miranda’s studio.
Brandon Trevon was already on board as an up-and-coming crossover artist.
“A lot of the talent that was there were friends of mine, family of mine," he said. "I said, ‘Hey, let's do this.'"
"House Mix" would eventually have a roster of about 30 artists. For many of them, Miranda was offering to mix and master a 12-song CD for as little as $500.
Miranda was also putting together musical showcases at the Pourhouse in downtown Minneapolis. He told the new artists they had to sell 50 tickets or pay $250 to cover the overhead. At the same time, Miranda was soliciting investors to bring concerts to town, featuring artists like R&B singer Janee Aiko.
“There were multiple side deals," Smith said. "[He said], ‘Smitty invest in this. Smitty do you want to put some money in this?’”
INSIDER SEES BIG PICTURE
After a year of big talk and bigger promises, it all started to fall apart.
Shanetria Bady saw it all from the inside, as an intern who became Miranda’s office manager.
“He had told me there was a deal that had gone through with Universal Records and he’d get $500,000 a year to manage and mix artists,” she said.
Miranda would never let her see the contracts. Even his real name was elusive.
“I knew him as Luciano,” she said.
Miranda claimed he was really Richard Luciano, great grandson of notorious mobster Lucky Luciano, who, based on Fox 9 research, never had children.
He also claimed to have houses in Los Angeles and Miami--even a private plane.
“He once introduced us to a bigwig in the music industry,” Bady recalled. “We later found out it was a member of his church who was trying to mentor him.”
Bady was helping run those music showcases at Pourhouse, using her own money to buy the VIP swag bags.
One night, when Miranda wasn’t around, a manager handed her an envelope full of cash.
“He handed me the door money. I was told by Rich the door money goes to the venue,” Bady said. “No, the door money goes to those running the event.”
The Pourhouse told the Fox 9 Investigators it never received or asked for any of the ticket money for Miranda's showcase events.
“When we found out everything about the venue was a lie, everything was up for grabs at that point," Bady said. "Every conversation we had [with Miranda] was fabricated."
Back in the studio, the musicians were also getting suspicious, saying Miranda was a chaotic manager who had several angry outbursts--and he didn’t turn out to be much of a mix master, either.
“All he would do is add on a filter," Smith said. "Honestly, any kid on an iPad could do it."
“It seemed like everything was being prolonged, or when it was time to be working on our stuff we were working on someone else's stuff,” said Trevon.
The musicians said their tracks were always being deleted.
They know of only one artist who got their 12-songs, mixed and mastered.
“I believe it was to keep people on the hook,” said Bady. “Even though they were tired and sick of him, they kept coming back, because he had their music.”
Treichler said his total loss is about $20,000. He invested in a concert, paid for a demo album--which he never received--then financed thousands of dollars’ worth of music equipment for one of Miranda’s music studios.
He would ask Miranda what he was getting for his investments, with disastrous results.
“Many times I would bring that to his attention and he would get very aggressive and make threats - even death threats," Treichler said. "Like he’d put me in the trunk of a car and drive into the Mississippi."
The Fox 9 Investigators tracked down 14 people who claim to have been ripped off by Miranda. Most took their losses as lessons learned and moved on.
Four of the artists took Miranda to court for judgments totaling $78,580, including singer Christina Fischer and her mother, who won a civil lawsuit against Miranda after they lost $67,380.
The Fox 9 Investigators found that nothing about Miranda added up.
He said he graduated from music school at SAE Institute in New York and Los Angeles, though the college said there was no record of him as a student.
And those industry contacts? Universal told Fox 9 it has no record of him as an employee or contractor. Atlantic Records never responded to Fox 9’s requests for information.
ONLY RECORD WITH NAME ON IT
The only record the Fox 9 Investigators could find with Richard Miranda’s name on it was a criminal one, a Florida charge in 2001 for “organized scheming to defraud.”
Blake Mooney was the victim.
“It seemed believable, and we bought into it,” he said via Skype.
Mooney said Miranda claimed to be a south Florida DJ, and convinced him to invest $1,000 in a hot new artist--the next Britney spears, he promised.
“We never met the girl, but he did play us tracks for her,” Mooney said.
Then one day Miranda was gone, and so was his money.
"I wonder if he has been able to get away with it because he hasn’t been stealing millions," Mooney said. "It’s a little here and there."
MIRANDA STILL OWES PLENTY OF MUSICIANS
Miranda has a new job: working at the hotel desk of Mystic Lake Casino. After multiple attempts to contact him, he finally called back.
When asked about the allegations, his past clients had made against him he responded, “You’re just going to do what you’re going to do. These people were already part of a studio. This will be part of a book I will never write.”
Miranda claims that because he called everyone a partner, the blame is somehow shared.
“I’m out of the business, trying to do the right thing,” he said. “I’m trying to pay everyone back.”
When asked if he could show Fox 9 the receipts from those who he paid back, Miranda responded, “Yes, how fast do you want me to do that?”
He never produced any receipts, but the Fox 9 Investigators confirmed he paid one investor back in full and is currently paying off another. A dozen other so-called “partners,” however, aren't holding their breath.
Brandon Trevon went a year and a half without being paid and was essentially homeless.
“It’s done a job on me, emotionally. It was emotional, very emotional,” Trevon said. “I haven't even told family members. This is the first time they are going to see this because I felt so embarrassed."
Most of the artists said they stayed in it so long for each other, believing in each other’s dreams, even if the fast-talking Miranda did not.
“You say, 'how could you get hustled?'" Smith said. "If you would’ve been in the rehearsals, you would’ve said, ‘Here, take my money so we can do what we need to do.'"
Authorities have never charged Miranda with any fraud-related crimes based on the accusations from Minnesota artists. Some of them did contact police but were told it was a civil matter and they needed to go to small claims court. Most of them ran out of time and patience.
“He made choices. He made choices. You can choose to lie to someone,” Bady said. "He was lying to us, he wasn’t making mistakes, he was lying to us.”