March 25, 2010, - 2:47 pm
Big Business: Who Owns the Freedom Concerts? How Sean Hannity’s Private Jets, Luxe SUVs, Suites Were Paid
Last week, I told you about Sean Hannity’s Freedom Concert scam and how the ultimate recipient of some of the proceeds, Freedom Alliance, spent millions on cronies and expenses, very little on severely wounded soldiers and scholarships for America’s fallen. In fact, it’s far worse than I originally reported. The scam is far bigger. And it’s big business. . . . for cronies and friends of Sean Hannity and Oliver North. I’ll be writing more in the coming days about the Freedom Alliance, itself, and where the money the charity receives is really going.
Duane Ward & Sean Hannity: Freedom Concerts are Big Business for Them
In fact, despite the written denials of both North and Freedom Alliance chief Thomas Kilgannon, Sean Hannity did NOT pay for his own private jet flights to the various Freedom Concerts. In fact, the money for his expensive travel came right from the revenue of the Freedom Concerts, a big, profitable business, which isn’t owned or operated by Freedom Alliance. While the charity is technically correct that Freedom Alliance didn’t pay for it in recent years, in fact Freedom Concert revenue, which is controlled by Hannity’s speaking engagement agents, did. The operant question here is, who owns the Freedom Concerts?
The answer, according to an insider, is apparently Premiere Speakers Bureau, owned by Duane Ward, Oliver North’s longtime PR man, and the speaking engagement agent for both North and Hannity, as well as many FOX News and other conservative personalities. Premiere runs the Freedom Concerts and owns the FreedomConcerts.com domain name, sells the Freedom Concerts merchandise, etc. While only a $4 surcharge on Freedom Concert tickets goes to Freedom Alliance, the rest is controlled by Ward and his various companies. I contacted Duane Ward via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and telephone. He did not respond to questions, which included a request for Freedom Concerts’ financial records and an accounting of Freedom Concert revenues and Premiere travel arrangements for Hannity to fly in high-style to the events. And the inside source–who asked to remain anonymous because of legitimate fears of retaliation by Ward and Hannity–says it’s a huge profit center for Ward and Premiere.
So huge that on May 3, 2008, Hannity hosted a Freedom Concert in Las Vegas, under the name, “Sean Hannity & Friends Freedom Concert,” but the concert was apparently not even connected to the Freedom Alliance. A disabled retired Marine whom I know said:
I called Freedom Alliance and asked them about it and was told that they–Freedom Alliance–weren’t affiliated with this particular event, even though North would be there.
So where did the money go? Ask Duane Ward. The man needs to release a full accounting and all the financial records for these concerts.
While those buying tickets think all of the proceeds of the concerts go to the Freedom Alliance, in fact, none of the proceeds go to the charity, only the $4 surcharge. The source confirmed that Premiere paid for Hannity (out of Freedom Concerts revenue) to fly to many of the concerts on private jets, along with his entourage, and the source confirms the conversation I described in my report last week, in which North scolded Hannity for wasting so much of the Freedom Concert money on private jets, swanky suites, and luxe SUVs. The source is the second source to confirm the conversation. The particular conversation cited took place in 2008, and there were several witnesses to it, including one of Hannity’s radio producers, who is married to Oliver North’s former personal assistant. Don’t look for her to tell the truth . . . if either of them ever wants to work again.
The source said that North scolded Hannity about this on several occasions, and is, again, the second such witness to confirm that. North won’t publicly admit to this–and knowingly signed a false letter claiming that Hannity pays for his travel and accommodations for the Freedom Concerts–because North makes big bucks from Premiere Speakers Bureau. Premiere books North for several speaking engagements a month, at $30,000-$40,000 a pop. That’s where he makes his money, and is extremely wealthy because of Premiere and Ward. He can’t afford to kill the golden goose.
The source said, however, that I got two tiny details wrong: that Hannity didn’t only fly on Gulfstream 4 or 5 jets, but oftentimes flew on Embraer Legacy 600 private jets. (Hannity usually flies these private planes out of Atlantic Aviation on Long Island.) Also, that Hannity didn’t always use Cadillac Escalades to ferry around his posse. Sometimes, it was the comparable Yukons, Tahoes, or Suburbans. My bad. The costs add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and according to the source, Hannity pays for none of it.
In fact, the source said, frequently Premiere asks those who book Hannity for speaking engagements to pay a set amount of money for travel up-front. Since Hannity almost always insists on a private jet, Premiere tries to increase the set travel fee, then save money on the travel and someone–Premiere or Hannity–pockets the rest. It’s not returned to the sponsor of the speaking engagement.
So, who is Duane Ward, exactly?
Duane Ward was, for many years, Oliver North’s paid PR person. During the Iran-Contra hearings, Rev. Jerry Falwell told North that he did not have good public relations to counter negative media coverage. He suggested that North hire Falwell’s assistant, Ward. Ward worked for North for several years as his personal assistant and press flack. But after the dust settled, North needed a new line of work and income source. So, Ward began setting up speaking engagements for North, and became his first client in what is now Ward’s Tennessee-based Premiere Speakers Bureau. North began to bring in his FOX News colleagues, including Sean Hannity and (recently) Mike Huckabee, as clients. (Other Premiere clients include Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck, Dick Morris, Neil Cavuto, Curtis Sliwa, and many others, many of whom are FOX News contributors or employees.)
Ward has several companies under the Premiere banner, including Premiere Transportation, which provided campaign buses for nearly every major Presidential campaign in 2008, including those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Mitt Romney. And it provides the buses–shocker!–for the Freedom Concerts, when, for example, it’s a short ride from Hannity’s New York location to the Freedom Concert that took place in New Jersey.
And Ward owns something called “Premiere Collectibles,” which includes all of the licensed “Freedom Concert” t-shirts, rain ponchos, etc. sold at the concerts (note Oliver North’s book, “American Heroes,” for sale on the site . . . and click on it to see his phony video pimping it). The source says it’s big money, and that it’s also big money for the conservative personalities who appear at the concerts and are provided booths where their books are also sold at the concerts.
And then there is Premiere’s scamming of the artists who appear at the Concerts. Premiere signs the artists to appear at the concerts. The source says that some of the talent, like at least one artist I know of who’ve appeared at the concerts, are told by Ward’s Premiere employees that since the proceeds are “going to charity,” they are expected to pay their own travel and perform for free. At the same time, other artists, like Montgomery Gentry–according to the source, are paid an appearance fee and luxe travel and accomodations are provided. The source estimates that Genty was paid $50,000 to perform at one Freedom Concert, while the source believes that Michael W. Smith performed for free.
The scams are so deep and so large that Freedom Alliance, the charity that benefits (and also wastes a good deal of the money on expenses and spending on cronies) did not allow media coverage of the Freedom Concerts at one point.
When I was a teen working in Washington during the summers, I helped organize a giant rally in support of Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings. It was a huge success and made Newsweek and Nightline–then big media outlets because cable wasn’t that powerful yet and there was no internet. I thought North was an honorable and decent man who cared about his country.
But his signature on a letter from Freedom Alliance denying what he knows to be true–what he scolded Sean Hannity about in front of witnesses–tells me what I should have realized long ago: that I was naive about Oliver North, that he’s dishonest, and that he’ll go out of his way to protect his friends and cronies and cover up their wrong-doing. And that continuing to make big bucks is more important to him than telling the truth.
Regardless, both Freedom Alliance and Premiere/Duane Ward need to release a full accounting of all revenue taken in and spent in connection with the Freedom Concerts. Where is the money . . . and where did it go?
We’ll probably never know. But I have a pretty good idea. And I know for sure most of it is going to line pockets, not help severely wounded troops or children of the fallen troops.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Tags: big business, Debbie Schlussel, Duane Ward, embraers, Freedom Alliance, Freedom Concert, Freedom Concerts, g5s, gulfstream, jets, Legacy 600, Oliver North, Premiere, Premiere Speakers, Premiere Speakers Bureau, Premiere Transportation, private planes, scam, Sean Hannity, SUV