A Randallstown man who stole $4 million to help boost his aspiring rap career — including buying a Times Square billboard and paying for “likes” on social media — was sentenced Wednesday to two years and six months in federal prison.
Chad Arrington, 33, went by “Chad Focus” and portrayed that he was a successful artist. But in a guilty plea he admitted that he stole from his employer, using a company credit card to finance his dreams.
At his sentencing hearing, Arrington said he’d been humiliated by national public attention on his case, and his attorney said that his actions were in part fueled by amphetamine use and undiagnosed mental illness. While federal prosecutors sought four years behind bars, his attorney asked for one year and one day.
U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett said that if stealing $4 million resulted in only one year of prison, others might say, “I’ll take that chance.”
“The message has to go out,” Bennett said.
Arrington worked for a subsidiary of Agora Publishing, and admitted in his plea agreement that he used a company credit card to purchase sound equipment, studio kits, instruments, and music technology, which he then used to produce a number of hip-hop songs through the company he formed, Focus Music Entertainment LLC.
Prosecutors said Arrington used the card to pay online streaming platforms to artificially increase Arrington’s song play counts on other music platforms; and to purchase “likes,” “followers,” “tags,” and “views” across social media and viewing platforms. He bought billboards across the country, and charged the card for international and national travel and for apparel displaying his name.
One billboard in Baltimore referred to him as the “#1 recording artist in the world.” Another promoted his Instagram account and said: “I will teach you how to be rich.”
Vice reported that one of his songs made the Billboard Dance Club chart and had millions of listens, but those appear to have been a mirage, the court records show. His career didn’t take off.
In order to conceal the scheme, Arrington asked two co-conspirators to use computer software to make false entries on the credit card billing statements in order to conceal the recipient of the payments from Arrington’s supervisor. In addition, Arrington forged the signature of his supervisor on his credit card billing statements to make it appear as though he had received approval for certain purchases.
Arrington then sent those false payment authorizations to other employees who relied on the authorizations to ultimately pay off the outstanding balance of the credit card.
Prosecutors and Judge Bennett noted that 10 employees at Arrington’s company had to take pay cuts to compensate for the money lost. His plea calls for him to pay more than $4 million in restitution.
Arrington, who has been on pre-trial home confinement, spoke at Wednesday’s hearing and said part of his goal was to give kids in Baltimore someone to look up to. He said some of the stolen money was used to pay for events for kids in the community. He said he had let them down.
“I did let down the city; I let down the youth,” he said.
Arrington said he graduated at the top of his class at Randallstown High School and played on the state championship basketball team. He attended McDaniel College, where he also played basketball and earned a degree. He said he was a good worker for Agora.
“I worked hard for that,” Arrington said, referring to his accomplishments.
Bennett said that was what made his downfall so disappointing.
“You can be the role model you were before, in a different capacity,” Bennett said.