Six days ago, local rapper Chad Focus posted a video message to his 187,000 Instagram followers, a word of advice from the self-described “#BestMarketerOnEarth” about how to land at the top of the charts.
The message: other aspiring rappers only need a marketing budget of $300,000 to reach the top.
“A lot of these marketers, a lot of these record labels, a lot of these ni–as talking shit, they don’t understand how to efficiently take a artist from zero to $300,000,” he said to the camera. “Instead they spending millions of dollars.”
“If you can efficiently come up with $300,000,” he continued, “you can streamline your marketing efforts. That means playlists, that means your streaming catalog, that means your social media ads, that means radio play–it only takes $300,000 with the right playas.”
Other posts on his account flaunted his success. One video showed footage of Focus rapping in Times Square in front of a billboard with his likeness. Another post claimed Focus had 3.2 million streams on Spotify divided among 258,000 listeners. Yet another shared a screengrab of the landing page on YouTube for his “Get to the Money” music video, which had more than 4 million views.
But according to federal prosecutors, this was all a fraud. In an indictment unsealed yesterday, they allege the mastermind behind the Chad Focus persona, 31-year-old search engine optimization specialist Chad Arrington, used a credit card from his day job to buy likes, shares and views on social media and fund a lifestyle that gave the impression he was a hip-hop mogul. And that he spent 13 times the $300,000 needed to make it.
From at least January 2015 to August 2018, Arrington used a company credit card to make $4.1 million in unauthorized purchases, prosecutors allege. Of those, $1.5 million was paid to accounts controlled by two unnamed co-conspirators, who then sent Arrington hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, the feds say.
A LinkedIn page for Arrington lists his employer–only referred to the indictment as “Company 1”–as Money Map Press, a subsidiary of the local financial publishing giant The Agora Companies. A representative with Agora did not return multiple requests for comment.
In the indictment, federal prosecutors outline a timeline for Arrington’s alleged scheme and the ways he sought to inflate his status as an artist. Three years ago, he used the company credit card to purchase $65,000 in studio equipment. In January 2017, he created the company Focus Music Entertainment LLC for “marketing music management branding entertainment services” and started releasing music under his nom de plume.
To reach an audience, he allegedly enlisted the services of agencies that goose up follower counts, streams and plays. That includes $20,000 spent on the services of the company Streamify in the summer of 2017. The indictment includes an excerpt from an email Arrington sent to the firm that August, saying he had already spent $5,000 and was looking to keep raising his profile. He also feared his numbers would fall off if he stopped paying.
“Could I spent [sic] more money and make sure my track continues to get hundreds of thousands of plays per day?” he asked. “If I stop promotion do you remove me from playlists or are these permanent placements? Will the plays just fall completely off or will we see real listeners and followers and continue to build?”
He paid another company, Fiverr, that promised to “do radio promotion and fm chart placement in US,” “create or design your facebook fanpage,” “promote your hip hop song on fm station and expose to 1000,” “submit music to top records labels” and “guarantee billboard charts n drt n itunes n European,” per the indictment. That alone cost $300,000.
From October 2017 to April 2018, he worked with Jaywan Inc., to promote his music videos and singles. The company, prosecutors say, gamed the numbers on popular platforms, offering rates of 100,000 YouTube views for $1,119, 250,000 Spotify streams for $1,999 and 15,000 Instagram followers for $1,499.
A quick scan of Focus’ social media presence shows the effort had its successes. His verified Instagram account was still active as of yesterday. And the “Get to the Money” video does, in fact, have more than four million views; a lyric video for a different song, “Dance With Me,” has a smaller-but-still-impressive 150,000 views.
“Dance With Me” was even able to land a spot on the Billboard Dance Club Song chart in April 2018, placing 47th and peaking at 40th (oddly, the official music video, showing party footage and aerial shots of the city, only has 1,360 views as of this writing). A remix that purports to have a guest spot from famed auto-tune crooner T-Pain has 4.5 million streams on SoundCloud. We’ve reached out to T-Pain’s representatives for comment.
But other accounts or posts are paltry by comparison. Chad Focus’ Facebook page only has 32,900 fans, and hasn’t been active since last September. Other YouTube clips have much smaller audiences, reaching less than 10,000 people or, in the most recent examples from the last nine months, less than 100. Despite gaudy stream figures on SoundCloud often in the hundreds of thousands, Chad Focus only has 6,403 followers.
The Instagram account for Arrington’s company, Focus Music Entertainment, only had 339 followers and hasn’t been active for over a year.
As for Spotify, where Focus claimed he found a large, steady audience, there is a verified artist page but it appears there’s no actual music linked to it. We’ve reached out to Spotify for comment.
Arrington allegedly continued to use the scheme for other extravagances, such as the billboards (including the one pictured below that was placed on the 28th Street exit of I-83); purchasing tickets to concerts where he was scheduled to perform, most notably $125,000 spent on the One Heartless Summer Harder Than Ever Tour; travel, stays in fancy hotels and luxury car rentals to the tune of $300,000; $100,000 on clothes and accessories, including hats with the word “Focus” on them; and $65,000 worth of jewelry, highlighted by a bear pendant valued at $11,500 on its own.
To cover his tracks at work, Arrington would, according to prosecutors, work with two different unnamed co-conspirators to falsify authorizations for the credit card payments and edit his statement to make it appear like he was making legitimate purchases.
In a June 6 email quoted in the indictment, Arrington wrote to one of the co-conspirators: “I want to get amazing edits to my amex statement. Basically, I gotta change some different vendors and numbers on my amex statement. Gotta look just like the original. I’m sending you a spreadsheet.”
But his employer was apparently aware something was up. In an August 2016 email to one of the co-conspirators, Focus said his account manager had written him three times asking for statements. His account would be suspended if it was not received by midnight on Aug. 9, and if it wasn’t in by noon on Aug. 10, Arrington would be permanently suspended and fired from his contract.
“Please bro move mountains for me,” he wrote. “I would send you more Money if need be but all my invoices I paid for you through the same statement account.”
He continued: “They shut my account down I have no credit to work with you or anyone else. Please bro. Ttyl.”
A March 2017 email with the subject line “Classified Work SHit” was equally frantic. According to the indictment, Arrington gave instructions on how the file size for the PDF of his statement had to be nearly identical to the original, and it couldn’t appear to be edited.
“PLEASE DO GREAT JOB…” he wrote.
The indictment says Arrington’s job with the company ended in August 2018.
Online, however, his promotion of Chad Focus continued apace–most recently for a rap show called Canvas Fest, scheduled for this Saturday at the Myers Pavilion in Brooklyn. According to the Facebook event page, zero people are listed as attending or even interested in going. A fan page for the festival has nine likes.
Going a little further back, he posed this question to his followers, an unknown number of whom are actually real, on Feb. 28:
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland yesterday charged Arrington with counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft.
“If convicted, Arrington faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud conspiracy and for each of two counts of wire fraud; and a mandatory minimum of two years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for each of four counts of aggravated identity theft,” prosecutors say.
A judge ordered that Arrington be detained ahead of a hearing scheduled for June 7.