A former executive at the T.J. Martell Foundation pleaded guilty Tuesday (Feb. 8) to federal charges stemming from accusations that she embezzled $4 million from the music industry-supported cancer charity by using company credit cards to buy Lady Gaga tickets and more.
At a hearing in Nashville federal court, Melissa Goodwin entered a guilty plea to a single count of wire fraud over the scheme, in which prosecutors say she abused her position of total control over the foundation’s financial operations, then concealed her actions through bookkeeping trickery.
During the hearing, Goodwin stared straight ahead, offering primarily yes and no answers as Judge William L. Campbell asked a series of questions confirming that she was making her guilty plea voluntarily. Following the session, Goodwin was set to attend a pre-sentencing interview, which the judge said would be taken into consideration during her sentencing.
Goodwin will be sentenced May 20. She faces up to 20 years in prison, a forfeiture of $3.7 million, and a fine of up to $250,000. But she has also purportedly cooperated with prosecutors, which means they could recommend less time.
Goodwin is still facing separate civil lawsuits from the foundation, filed against her and others allegedly involved in the scheme. Tuesday’s guilty plea does not pertain to those cases.
The T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer Research was formed by record executive Tony Martell in 1975, following the death of his son, T.J., from leukemia. Supported primarily by the music industry, T.J. Martell holds multiple annual charitable events, auctions and campaigns with the music community in Los Angeles, New York and Nashville and Miami and has raised more than $280 million.
According to prosecutors, Goodwin used a company credit card to purchase approximately $3.96 million in concert and sporting event tickets, including for Lady Gaga, Celine Dion and the Super Bowl. She also allegedly bought plane tickets, alcohol and hotel stays. Goodwin then turned some of the items over to the owner of a charity auction business to resell.
Prosecutors also say she falsified credit card statements, created fake expense reports, and replaced the ticket expenses with other vendor names to make the charges appear to be legitimate foundation expenses.
Goodwin’s attorney, Worrick Robinson IV, told Billboard after the hearing, “Since the inception of both the internal and criminal investigations, Ms. Goodwin has fully and completely cooperated and today she formally accepted responsibility for her role in this offense. Ms. Goodwin expects to continue her cooperation to ensure the TJ Martell Foundation recovers money owed to it. I fully expect additional facts will come to light as the civil process moves forward that will provide more detail and clarity about the events leading up to Ms. Goodwin’s arrest.”
The T.J. Martell Foundation also issued a statement: “While today’s guilty plea and eventual sentencing will provide some sense of justice, it will not provide closure. We have filed and are pursuing civil litigation against those who we believe may have been complicit with Ms. Goodwin and profited from her illegal activity, as well as those skilled professionals who failed to identify her scheme, allowing it to continue unchecked. We will move forward and continue the work of the Foundation and expect to announce plans in the near future.”
Assistance in preparing this story provided by Melinda Newman.