BLACK CELEBRITY SWINDLER (ATHLETES & RAPPERS)
For four years, Calvin Ramarro Darden Jr., (no photo available) was the investor of choice for Nelly, Latrell Sprewell and several other rappers and athletes, had the world by the balls. He pimped an invite-only American Express Centurion Card. He flew first class and traveled by limo when he touched down. At home, his garage housed an Infiniti SUV, Lamborghini Murcielago, Yamaha Motorcycle and a Mercedes-Benz CL600C coupe.
Even his homes were name brand: the Legend and the Newswalk, an exclusive Brooklyn loft condo for when he was “working late.” He even left the blinds at his primary residence in Long Island open so folks in the complex could see how he was living, friends say.
But Darden’s high-flying life came crashing down on December 17, 2004, when the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged him in a 26-count indictment with grand larceny and related crimes. He faced 45 years. Eight months earlier, on April 14, 2004, Wachovia and Canadian mutual-fund giant AIC slapped him with a civil suit to recover the almost $4 million he owed the two companies.
Nelly had invested $950,000 with Darden in June 2003 and the money was missing. Nelly wanted it repaid. But the multiplatinum rapper wasn’t the only one who had been taken for a ride. Darden, who according to sources hooked prospective clients by telling them he managed Shaquille O’Neal’s money, also owed hip-hop producer Rockwilder close to half a million dollars and approximately $300,000 to Latrell Sprewell.
But those debts seemed miniscule compared to his corporate debts: $632,000 to Wachovia Securities and almost $3.2 million to billionaire Michael Lee-Chin of AIC. But Green was way too late. Once the site of lavish parties, 60 Pembroke¬—the complex’s largest home—now lay silent:
The black reef sharks in the $350,000 aquarium had died; the home movie theatre was vacant. On April 20, Darden was forced to leave his Long Island waterfront home for a different waterfront residence: another gated community with water views and easy access to LaGuardia Airport, an important departure point for the jet setting Darden. But in his new community, Rikers Island, the guards are responsible for watching the residents, not the guests. Darden isn’t sitting in Rikers for those alleged crimes, however, but for a smaller, victimless one: outstanding parking tickets on his 2003 Lamborghini Murcielago.
Calvin Darden looked like a can’t-miss kid when he left Atlanta’s Morehouse. Groomed by the House’s well-regarded internship program, which emphasizes success in corporate America, he was a fine prospect to the Wall Street firms in need of diversity. Except that, according to a Morehouse spokesperson, “Mr. Darden apparently entered Morehouse in 1992, but he did not graduate.” (KING was unable to verify whether or not Darden falsified his education on his resume to land jobs at S-B, Wachovia and Merrill Lynch.)
Darden had the right pedigree: His father, Calvin Darden Sr., started his career as part-time deliveryman at United Parcel Service. Three decades later, he helmed their U.S. Operations. In 2002, Fortune named Darden Sr. the eighth-most powerful black executive, just ahead of Oprah. He retired this year but still sits on the board of directors of Coca-Cola Enterprises and Target. Fortunes shifted after UPS’s initial public offering in 1999. Cal Darden Sr. received shares that today have a total value of roughly $15 million.
In September 2001 he also signed up Nelly, who according to those familiar with their dealings, Darden met through Destiny Child’s Kelly Rowland. Darden’s relationship with Nelly, according to court documents, was copasetic the first couple of years.
By 2002, he began making serious inroads to the insular urban sports and music industry.
It was an image that depended on a balancing act. In order to finance the high-flying lifestyle he felt necessary to lure clients, Darden became dangerously deceptive. In April 2003, court records show, Darden falsified his Smith Barney earnings, to receive a large signing bonus with Wachovia. He’d done the same thing, records show, when he left from Merrill Lynch in 2001. That same month, Wachovia gave him an advance of $632,448, a forgivable loan aimed at poaching what the company perceived as a big earner.
Darden seemed sexy to the major investment firms who valued his access to stars. A year earlier, he had become close with celebrity publicist Marvet Britto, who represented then Houston Rocket shooting guard Cuttino Mobley. Mobley, whose money was handled by Darden, asked Britto to introduce the broker to other top brass celebs.
To many of those prospective clients, Darden seemed impressive. “He came off as a really bright guy,” recalls Carter, who met Darden through Britto. Carter, generally “skeptical” of money managers, chose not to invest.
But a few Britto clients, whom, Britto stresses, formed relationships with Darden on their own, did. Cheryl “Salt” James from Salt N Pepa was an early investor. She gave Darden an undisclosed sum that was later returned. Through her husband and manager Gavin Wray, she refused to comment citing the pending criminal case. Sprewell followed suit, investing $300,000, which has not been returned.
Darden also made contacts outside of Britto’s sphere, forming a friendship with Rockwilder, who became both a friend and client. “He got me for like a half [a million dollars],” Rockwilder explained during a brief telephone conversation. Rockwilder consented to a sit-down interview with KING but changed his mind after speaking with his lawyer.
Gensler, who partnered with Damon Dash to open a boutique branding company in 2003, was one of Darden’s strongest advocates. In the fall of 2003, he invited Darden to accompany him to work. He had someone he wanted Darden to meet. “We were sitting in a Rocawear showroom,” Gensler recalls. “Michael Lee-Chin was meeting with Damon. I was trying to introduce Calvin to Damon and I introduced all of them. I thought it would be good synergy.”
Lee-Chin had come from Jamaica to Canada for college. He’d stayed to build Canada’s largest mutual-fund company. AIC’s slogan preached restraint: “Buy. Hold. And Prosper.” But despite a personal net worth of $1.8 billion, Lee-Chin still had stars in his eyes. Like Darden, he wanted a slice of the burgeoning sports and entertainment pie. Two months before meeting Darden, Lee-Chin and Johnny Cochrane had attempted to start a sports agency/money management firm with Cochrane handling negotiations and Lee-Chin and AIC providing investment advice. They pursued LeBron James as their first client, but the venture never got off the ground.
It took just six months for Darden and Lee-Chin’s relationship to sour. In that time, Darden spent a small fortune. He blew through $330,000 on his AmEx in three months. In March alone, he spent an astonishing $166,000 (see sidebar). On March 23, 2004, Lee-Chin fired Darden and demanded his money back. Darden claimed he didn’t have it. (Since Lee-Chin’s loan was originally based on fudged numbers, the civil suit appears to have a lot of merit.)
All of Darden’s fast friends from his former life are gone. There are no celebrity supporters; even his father is absent. As he’s led out of the courtroom for the bus back to Rikers, Calvin Ramarro Darden Jr. looks scared and vulnerable. The swagger is gone. The high life is just a memory.
Darden is currently out on a $1 million dollar bail-put up by his father.
Source: Adam Matthews @ King Magazine.