His Sister's Keeper

Is Darrin McGillis a noble crusader for his late sister's kids, or a courtroom junkie who thrives on drama? Both, actually.

McGillis, on the other hand, was moving up. He had dropped out of school in the ninth grade and began organizing parties such as “the Triple City Kickass Dance Party” at the Crystal Palace in Milwaukee. At age fifteen he began doing street promotions for teenage acts by passing out flyers and hanging up posters. Then he'd rent out the Palace, charge entrance, and turn a profit. In 1986 McGillis took out a loan and promoted his first major concert at the Eagle's Million Dollar Ballroom: The rap group World Class Wrecking Cru, Dr. Dre's first act, was almost a sold-out show.

In 1987 McGillis promoted a Christmas dance party at Milwaukee's 15,000-seat Mecca Arena. “Next thing I knew, a year later I booked a concert for Menudo,” McGillis recalls. Edgardo Diaz, the group's founder and manager, asked McGillis to become Menudo's concert promoter. McGillis accepted and put together a four-city tour. “I was like this one-man operation,” McGillis says. The Puerto Rican heartthrobs made headlines in San Antonio, when some of the 1200 squealing fans who had rampaged through the mall where the band was signing autographs began tearing off their clothes and earrings.

By 1989 McGillis had begun promoting other concerts by acts such as the Jets and Exposé. In 1990 he convinced Menudo's lead singer, Angelo, to record for a company he owned. The move set in motion a lawsuit domino effect. Menudo sued Angelo, but that didn't stop the teenybopper from recording three songs for one of McGillis's six companies, World Wide Entertainment. Then Angelo signed with Warner Bros. in Mexico and McGillis's lawyers in Puerto Rico filed for an injunction against the singer. The court denied it; McGillis appealed to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico and the high court ruled in McGillis's favor. Time Warner (now AOL Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros.) bought Angelo's contract from McGillis to avoid a lawsuit. But he sued anyway, for lawyers' fees not included in the settlement. The company countersued, and in the end a new settlement was reached. McGillis also agreed to stop sending letters to Gerald Levine, CEO of Time Warner. As for Angelo, he released one album that flopped, and Warner Bros. dropped him from its label.

A leaner, more jovial McGillis hanging with Menudo
courtesy Darrin McGillis
A leaner, more jovial McGillis hanging with Menudo
Attorney Virginia Stanley is in awe of Darrin McGillis, but not enough to continue working  on the case
Steve Satterwhite
Attorney Virginia Stanley is in awe of Darrin McGillis, but not enough to continue working on the case

In 1991, after scandals involving drugs, sexual abuse, and financial scams broke up Menudo, manager Diaz formed a new Menudo out of Miami and asked McGillis to reverse the group's tainted image. McGillis appeared on Entertainment Tonight and Fox News, giving the new band a good rap. He claims he also purchased exclusive booking rights for Menudo in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Eventually the new Menudo produced five albums. McGillis says he owns the rights to three Miami Menudo songs, three Ruben Gomez songs (a singer who was in the band when Ricky Martin was a member in the late Eighties), three Angelo songs, a 30-minute Miami Menudo music video, and two CD compilations of all the songs he owns. Finally McGillis claims he also owns the rights to a group called Explosion, which recorded only one album in 1993.

In 1997 the Miami Menudo changed its name to MDO when Sony Discos signed them on their Spanish-language label. That year McGillis took a sabbatical from the music business and embarked on a new mission. During his ascent in the Latin teen-music scene, he grew apart from his sister. “Wendy was always part of my life,” McGillis reflects. “I just needed my own space to make it.” Suddenly in 1997 he was at the center of her very bleak existence.

By the summer of 1992, Wendolyn and Brian Backhaus were no longer together. She began living with Robert Jon Jones, the son of Janet Jones, Janet Chaulklin's best friend from Escanaba. Jones also was into cocaine, and it helped to reinforce Wendolyn's growing addiction, McGillis asserts. The couple got high often and argued constantly. “He's a very vicious, violent individual,” McGillis charges. In 1992, according to court documents from Nevada, Jones was arrested for beating and sexually assaulting Wendolyn. Four years later the State of Nevada convicted Jones on lesser charges.

Gerald Benge came into Wendolyn's life in December 1992, says Janet Chaulklin. He was Wendolyn's neighbor in Las Vegas, living in Section 8 housing with his wife and two kids. Wendolyn was about three months pregnant with Robert Jones's child at the time. A month after meeting her, Benge left his family and headed for Utah with Wendolyn. “He still owes us about $8000 in child support,” says Carolyne Benge, his ex-wife. The new couple moved in with Benge's father, Larry, and lived there for about eight months before the elder Benge kicked them out. Benge smoked marijuana every day and dabbled in cocaine, according to his ex-wife. Toward the latter part of Wendolyn's addiction, she began using crack, say family and neighbors.

In June 1993 Wendolyn gave birth to her fifth child, in Las Vegas. She returned to Salt Lake City shortly thereafter and by the spring of 1994, Wendolyn, her children, and Gerald Benge were in a homeless shelter, where they lived for eight months. While at the shelter Wendolyn and her babies were referred to the Salt Lake City Housing Authority. She applied for housing and a week after giving birth to another child, Benge's son, the family moved into a three-bedroom house in early 1995.

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