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Hazel Sobti dashes to center stage carrying a microphone pole, barely skirting a collision with another contestant. Two beautiful women follow her. As a guitarist in a Hawaiian shirt hams up "Rollin' on the River" for an audience bathed in blue light, the luminous beauty from India shimmies in a black dress and gold eye shadow. The three women rock their hips, belting out the song in the 2,000-seat theater at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs. Behind her, on a jumbotron, flashes the name of a reality-TV show: Recreating a Legend.
"This show gives me the chance to show my talent to the world," Sobti says in a later segment, flipping her long dark hair for the camera. "What better opportunity do I get than this?"
But the 24-year-old songstress' big opportunity turned out to be a huge disappointment. And two months later, in October 2011, Sobti found herself more prisoner than star. She says she was exploited by Recreating a Legend creator Roy Anthony Sciacca, an eccentric ex-hair-metal singer and pop memorabilia collector who has been sued dozens of times by everyone from dentists to realtors to the Beach Boys. Sobti, who always dreamed of coming to America from Southern India, says that when she finally got here, Sciacca wouldn't let her leave.
"I was stuck in Coral Springs for months, and it was tragic," she says. "The electricity would go out. We had no food. My credit card was from India, so I couldn't even use it."
Billed as a cross between American Idol and the Olympics, Recreating a Legend was the latest entry in Sciacca's series of failed entertainment ventures. But unlike some of his other shows and festivals that never got off the ground, six episodes of RAL were actually filmed. Famed singers Olivia Newton-John and Betty Wright judged the contestants, as is done on The Voice. But Sciacca's twist was that he helped the women craft original songs.
"I wanted to show the world a true artist," says Sciacca, who has stunningly white teeth, Listerine-blue eyes, and thinning blond hair that cascades over his shoulders.
The wanna-be media mogul's interest in showbiz began young. Roy Sciacca (pronounced "Shocka") was born in the Bronx in 1951 and started singing when he was 2. He moved to L.A. with his artist dad and hairdresser mom at age 9 and began tooling around on the keyboard, the guitar, anything he could get his hands on. "I thought I was gonna be another superstar," he says. "And that's been stuck in my head my whole life."
His mom died when he was young, and Sciacca didn't get along with his dad. But he found a role model in his uncle, a singer in the mold of Dean Martin who was signed to Decca Records.
Sciacca became obsessed with hard rockers Van Halen, moved out of the family home at 15, and fronted bands called the End and Sciacca. He wanted to join the Air Force but "chickened out," he says. "Hair bands were my scene," he adds.
In 1986, the singer met a stunning Playboy playmate named Michele Wasa and launched the crown jewel of his life: Late Night Studios in Hollywood, California. Around that time, he also obtained 28 boxes containing original lyric sheets and other memorabilia from the Beach Boys. When a fire tragically destroyed his studio in 1990, Sciacca and Michele got married and moved to the San Fernando Valley. They had a son and daughter in quick succession before moving to Coral Springs.
Legal trouble came about a decade later, when he formed a company called Creative Licensing International. In 2002, he sold a New Jersey couple on the idea for Powerfest, a series of five weekend-long festivals. The event was supposed to combine drag racing and artists like t.A.T.u., Twisted Sister, and Tommy Lee.
He promised Kelly and Cherry Hartnett the fest would make $43 million in revenue, according to court records, and the couple forked over $200,000.
But instead of shows in Barcelona and Berlin, only one event took place — in Tucson, Arizona. The Hartnetts never got their money back, and in 2008, they sued Sciacca. The Hartnetts claimed Sciacca had tried something similar in 1999, roping investors into something called the Velocity Tour. A judge decreed that Sciacca had to pay back the Hartnetts their money — plus $50,000 in interest.
"It's amazing that he keeps getting people to give him money," says Kelly Hartnett, who regularly checks Sciacca's Securities and Exchange Commission filings and court judgments online. "I don't know one thing he's said he'd do that he actually fulfilled."
Luckily, Sciacca had his treasure-trove of Beach Boys memorabilia to fall back on. Valued at $6 million to $8 million by a London auction company, it included everything from the original sheet music for "Help Me, Rhonda" to the copyright claim for "Don't Worry Baby." The band sued, claiming Sciacca had stolen the 28 boxes.
Sciacca claimed he'd bought them at a warehouse sale. Either way, the trial revealed that Sciacca had been using the items as collateral for years and that jilted investors had made claim to them. Ultimately, the memorabilia was sold at auction, and the proceeds were disbursed among the claimants.