Fox Theater Foundation officials declined to comment in recent days on allegations that $154,000 in ticket sales went missing following recent events at the popular downtown theater.

But after a report of the allegations was published in Wednesday's Californian, the foundation released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The foundation, the statement said, "is aware of an ongoing contractual dispute between two outside entities over recent shows by comedians Jeff Dunham and Kevin Smith at the theater. The theater has not entered into any agreement with ICON Concerts other than the rental of the Fox Theater as a venue and associated day of services. Since the Fox was not a party to the disputed agreements related to Jeff Dunham and Kevin Smith, we cannot speak to any specifics of those agreements."

Wednesday's story was precipitated by a news release from Bakersfield-based ICON Concerts, which stated that ICON was organizing two sold-out shows featuring comedian Jeff Dunham in May when 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.

The event promoter suggested Fox Foundation board members knew something was amiss and withheld the information from ICON.

The Bakersfield Police Department confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating the matter, and Bob Bender, who was formerly contracted by the foundation to operate the theater's concert and entertainment, has retained a criminal defense attorney.

"ICON Concerts," the Fox Theater Foundation said, "was previously informed that the Fox would be managing the operations and were required to sign new rental agreements with the Fox directly. At that time it was up to the promoter to explore all options."

Fox leadership went on to say that "ticketing for such shows was handled by third parties not affiliated with the Fox Theater Foundation. At no time did the Fox Theater Foundation or any of its Board of Directors ever receive any ticket proceeds to be paid to ICON by such third parties for the subject shows.

"It should also be noted," the statement continued, "that the Fox Theater has also not received payment for the venue and services provided during both of the Jeff Dunham shows."

ICON responded to the foundations statement Wednesday, noting that for recent shows, in order to reserve and use the Fox facility, the foundation directed that ICON work through Fox’s exclusive acting manager, Bob Bender and his company, Bender Entertainment.

"As the venue’s agent, Bob Bender and Bender Promotions was responsible for receiving and holding all revenues and proceeds from ticket sales for the shows," ICON said in its statement. "As the fiduciary agent holding the funds, Bender was to disperse those funds at the conclusion of the shows to pay outstanding costs of the shows, including rent for the theater, and remit the remaining funds to ICON."

However, Bender never remitted any funds to ICON, never accounted for the funds, and has failed to respond to inquiries, ICON said.

"During a meeting the day prior to the first of the two Dunham shows, when Fox first informed ICON that they were previously aware of problems with Bender’s handling of promoter funds and requested that ICON not cancel the pending shows, the Fox offered to waive the rental fees and staffing costs of those shows if ICON did not cancel them. ICON is unaware if Bender remitted any portion of the collected funds to Fox."

The local event promoter concluded with the following:

"ICON has tendered the matter to the Bakersfield Police Department for investigation, and awaits their findings into the matter. As the investigation is ongoing, ICON supports the efforts of the Bakersfield Police Department and awaits their findings before taking further action."

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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