Baltimore rapper Chad Focus posed a question in February to his Instagram followers: How much would you pay to be famous?
The answer could be his freedom, if federal prosecutors have their way.
The aspiring rapper, whose real name is Chad Arrington, is facing more than 20 years in prison for allegedly spending about $4.1 million with a company American Express card, which helped him maintain the illusion that Chad Focus was the “No. 1 recording artist in the world.” Federal investigators say Arrington fraudulently spent the money on items that helped exaggerate his music’s popularity, including multiple billboards throughout the country, fake streams of his songs on Spotify and bundles of tickets to his own concerts.
“They was Focused on becoming Famous. I was Focused on becoming Successful. Somehow I became BOTH!,” the Randallstown 31-year-old wrote in an Instagram caption in May.
Arrington’s persona as Chad Focus was that of a self-made music sensation. His billboards claimed “I will teach you how to be rich,” and featured images of the rapper standing on piles of money. In music videos, he surrounded himself with luxury cars, beautiful women and crowds of dancing people.
“No matter what I’m facing, my profits bound to double cuz I’m never scared to put the work in to gain the muscle,” he sings in his song “Get to the Money.”
But long before he became Chad the rapper, Arrington was an aspiring entrepreneur with a bachelor’s degree in communications from McDaniel College in Carroll County. He was an aggressive pitchman on YouTube and other media, promoting several get-rich schemes.
Arrington created videos promising followers could make thousands of dollars per month from the comfort of their own living rooms. One of his products gave followers tips to increase their website traffic. Another marketed instructions on how to be a business mogul. Several of the YouTube videos come with a notice that users had flagged the content as “possibly a scam, spam, or commercially deceptive content.”
In one documentary-style video posted in 2017, Arrington talks about growing up in Maryland with a close family of three kids and a mom who worked as a nurse. He gives viewers a tour through his home, showcasing a professional recording studio and home office.
As Arrington walks from room to room, he reflects on how he was raised to be the best and to reach his full potential.
“I was always … raised up … to be not mediocre,” he says in the video.
Members of Arrington’s family declined The Baltimore Sun’s requests for comment.
The indictment paints a contrasting picture of Arrington, detailing a fake-it-til-you-make-it scheme allegedly spanning from January 2015 to August 2018. Court records do not name the company that issued Arrington’s credit card, although his LinkedIn page said he was working at the time in search engine optimization for Money Map Press, a subsidiary of the Baltimore publishing giant The Agora Companies. An internet search of companies controlled by Agora and Money Map Press found several articles authored by Arrington.
Agora and Money Map officials have declined to comment.
Arrington’s public defender Andrew Szekely declined to comment on the case.
Federal investigators claim the fraudulent spending began in 2015, when Arrington allegedly started charging what would eventually amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for international and national travel expenses. The spending spiraled to include music equipment, expensive jewelry and business ventures to bring bike sharing programs to Maryland, according to the indictment.
Arrington allegedly forged credit card banking statements and the signatures of supervisors with the help of several unnamed co-conspirators. More than $1 million of that spending went to entities and accounts controlled by four unidentified people, who in turn kicked back hundreds of thousands to the aspiring rapper, the indictment states.
But Arrington’s spending went beyond enriching himself and co-conspirators, prosecutors say. The indictment states many of the charges were a grab at fame for the Chad Focus brand.
Behind the splashy billboards boasting of hit singles, investigators say Arrington bought likes, followers, views and other bogus measurements of popularity. Payments were made to multiple services that claimed to artificially increase his songs’ play count on music platforms such as Spotify, create radio promotions and boost music chart placement in the United States and Europe.
One of the companies Arrington allegedly used was Streamify, of Texas. The rapper emailed Streamify support personnel in August 2017 to ask what would happen if he ceased payments to the service, the indictment states.
“Will the plays just fall completely off or will we see real listeners and followers and continue to build,” he allegedly asked in the email.
Arrington’s company Focus Music Entertainment later filed a lawsuit against Streamify in 2018. The complaint states that Arrington paid tens of thousands to increase “absolutely real” plays of his songs. According to Streamify documents filed with the lawsuit, the music company warned that increasing the number of plays should be done “slowly” to avoid alerting Spotify that the increase could be artificial. The complaint states the onus was on Streamify to authenticate the views.
“Focus pays only for legitimate streams,” Arrington’s attorney wrote in the court filing. “Focus does not pay for falsified or fake streams.”
In an agreement Friday between U.S. attorneys and his federal public defender, Arrington was granted release to the custody of his mother. He is being placed on house arrest with electronic monitoring.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Gallagher also granted federal prosecutor Derek Hines’ request for additional conditions. Arrington was told to refrain from using computer systems or internet-capable devices, excluding phone calls with his attorney. Arrington was forbidden from contacting potential witnesses, including members of Focus Music Entertainment and employees and vendors associated with his former unnamed company and its affiliates.
He was also banned from using social media and from creating music or entertainment that in any way relates to the case.