Rich Mendez, the maverick music industry executive whose label Rich Music ended the year at No. 7 on Billboard’s Top Latin labels chart, will begin serving a federal prison sentence on Jan. 8.
Mendez, 49, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for wire fraud but will continue to work on his music company from Miami’s Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security facility.
He is also hoping to get a reduction in the sentence through President Trump’s recently passed First Step Act, which allows inmates to participate in programs that can reduce their sentences. Regardless, he says, he plans to continue participating actively in Rich’s day-to-day, and during his time in prison, his son, business partner and Rich Music COO, Josh Mendez, will run the company.
Rich is home to hot urban talent like Sech, Dalex, Justin Quiles and Dímelo Flow. The company, which employs nearly 40 people, operates from a business and creative hub called The Social Hive in Miami which includes recording and video studios.
“Josh is going to do a hell of the job running the company, and I’ll still help run the company,” Mendez tells Billboard. “I don’t want this to affect anything that has to do with the company. At the end of the day the company and the business should stand for itself.”
“We have prepared for this and we are going to continue to produce spectacular music for our artists,” Rich Music general counsel Phil Reizenstein tells Billboard. “Everybody is committed, and the artists are all aware of this so we are prepared. He [Mendez] employs 40 people and we expect to double that next year. We are not going to let anybody down.”
The beginning of Mendez’s troubles goes back to 2010, when he worked with a business that sold timeshares in Orlando, where he lived. According to a 2015 federal indictment, Mendez and seven others were “engaged in a scheme to fraudulently induce timeshare property owners to send them money.”
Mendez, says Reizenstein, wasn’t initially aware that the operation was fraudulent. When he found out a few months in, he shut the operation down and returned over $300,000.
“He entered into what he was told was an honest business […] When he realized what was going on, he stopped it, he took responsibility and he gave the money back. That’s not something criminals do,” he adds.
While three Florida courts declined to prosecute Mendez, a grand jury in Dallas indicted the case in 2015 because one of the credit-card processing companies was based in Texas.
“A very aggressive prosecutor in Dallas, Texas, chose to prosecute him in this indictment,” says Reizenstein, who was surprised at both the prosecution and the tough sentence.
“I thought it was over,” says Mendez. “Then five years ago, just a couple of months before the statue of limitations ran out, the feds came in and indicted me. When we got that call it was like a car wreck. It was crazy.”
Ironically, those five years since the indictment have turned out to be the most productive and successful for Mendez in the music industry. Rich Music has grown consistently, especially over the past 24 months. The label ended in the top 5 of Billboard’s year-end Latin Rhythm Labels Albums chart, and Sech alone placed nine tracks on the Hot Latin Songs chart, including No. 1 “Otro trago.”
“These have been the toughest 10 years and the best 10 years,” says Mendez, who ultimately hopes he will be pardoned by Trump. “I’m proud of having gone through the past 10 years and still built a company that’s respected and endorsed by my peers.”
All his partners and artists, he says, are aware of what’s going on and have pledged to stand by him. That includes InGrooves, with whom Rich has a major distribution deal.
“Josh will run the company, but I will still be making decisions. I’m not going to disappear,” says Mendez.