What's going on at the Fox Theater?
Icon Concerts, a Bakersfield-based entertainment company, is taking legal action after company officials say $154,000 in ticket sales revenue went missing following recent events at the beloved downtown theater.
And the Bakersfield Police Department is investigating.
According to Icon promoter Doug Castro and a news release from Icon, it all started as they were gearing up for sold-out shows featuring comedian Jeff Dunham on May 11 and 12. The company "became aware one day before the first show that Fox Theater’s facility management, Bender Entertainment, and its owner/operators Bob and Debbie Bender had gone 'missing-in-action' along with the approximately $154,000 from ticket sales and could not be located to discuss the matter," Icon said in its release.
"Fox Theater board members reportedly knew in advance that something was suspicious and withheld the information from Icon Concerts and the talent," Icon said. "At the close of the events, neither Bender Entertainment nor the Fox Theater were able to settle or pay Icon Concerts the revenue for the events."
Dunham is currently on his world tour, Perfectly Unbalanced, and performed at both sold-out shows at the Fox.
“The situation is really unfortunate but in good conscience we couldn't let the fans down and cancel the sold-out shows," Castro said. Revenues from another event featuring comic Kevin Smith were also affected.
"We paid Jeff Dunham out of our own pocket," Castro said.
Bender, who won the contract beginning in January 2016 to run entertainment and events at the Fox — but separated from the Fox prematurely at the beginning of this year — has retained local criminal defense attorney Kyle Humphrey, the attorney confirmed Tuesday.
"This is a fee dispute between two promoters," Humphrey said. "Company A is mad at company B."
"My client won't have any comment," he said.
Bakersfield Police Sgt. Ryan Kroeker, a spokesman for the BPD, confirmed Tuesday that the department does have an open investigation regarding this matter.
"It's currently being investigated by one of our detectives," he said.
While Humphrey suggested it is a civil dispute, not a criminal matter, Castro disagreed.
"Bob rented the Fox to us," Castro said. "That's all he did. We promoted the shows."
Melanie Farmer, president of the nonprofit Fox Foundation board of directors, declined to comment on the allegations.
But Jim Darling, who served on the Foundation board for six years and president for two of those years — well before Bender was hired — said the 1,560-seat venue is in danger of losing valuable momentum.
"Does the Fox have some responsibility here?" Darling asked.
"Did they know about some of these problems (concerning Bender) previous to the Jeff Dunham shows?" he said. "They had to be. They fired the guy."
"This casts a cloud over the Fox," Darling said, and raises questions about leadership and oversight.
But Darling insisted he is like thousands of other Bakersfield residents who love the Fox and believe it is one of the area's best concert and event venues.
"The Fox will overcome this," he said. "How do you dig yourself out of trouble like this? You bring in great shows."