Northside Media targeted by serial grifter in its final days
In May, we mentioned that Brooklyn music festival Northside and McCarren Park film series SummerScreen seemed unlikely to happen in 2019; both were productions of Northside Media, which also owns Brooklyn Magazine. In July of 2018 Gothamist published a report saying former staff of the company were owed unpaid wages. Now another piece of the story of the company's demise has emerged via a lengthy report from Observer about Daniel Spence, who they say is a grifter who "used dating apps to scam his way across the U.S." Two of his targets, they say, were Casey Holliday, who worked for Northside, and Daniel Stedman, its founder. The company was already in decline when he met them. From Observer:
In addition to Brooklyn Magazine, Northside ran an annual music and tech festival, along with a food summit, both to wild success.
But behind the scenes, Northside was in trouble. In 2015, with a peak staff of around 25, the media company was sold to a Los Angeles conglomerate, which apparently mismanaged it. Two years later, the founders bought it back, accumulating heavy debt. By last year, its staff had dwindled to nine, and freelancers were demanding back-pay. After multiple relocations and the shutdown of Brooklyn Magazine’s print edition, there were rumblings of closure.
Holliday didn’t mention any of this to Spence in his apartment but alluded to it afterward. For two weeks, as Holliday pondered a relationship, Spence peppered him with more Northside questions—its valuation, price tag, investor interest. Holliday invited him to the upcoming music festival, where Spence could meet some people.
If Spence’s introduction to the media company was accidental, his interest in profiting from it fit a pernicious, eight-year pattern that stretched across several states. Spence was a scam artist, having bilked people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they allege, through Ponzi-like schemes, shell companies and other outright lies.
Days later, Spence was face-to-face with Northside co-founder Danny Stedman, a well-regarded influencer credited with creating one of Brooklyn’s most revered cultural brands. Stedman was seeking deep-pocketed investors interested in Northside’s cool cachet to save Northside, but two recent candidates had fallen through, and by the time Spence came around, Emily recalled, “Danny’s desperation was evident.”
Spence offered to inject millions into Northside in return for becoming CEO. Near-daily conversations continued for two months as the men shared their visions for the next era of hip-kid dominance. Spence delivered the same backstory he’d given Holliday—that he was the protege of “Uncle Roy” and that he sold his family media company for $60 million. At one point, according to Stedman, Spence thumbed a phone app to display a bank account showing $150 million, and later provided SEC documents confirming his wealth.
Negotiations with Stedman made headway, and by mid-July, Northside faced a make-or-break moment. News reports had come out detailing Northside’s financial woes. Stedman was put on the defensive, accused of delinquency in freelancer wages dating to Northside’s reacquisition. In a message to a freelancer, Stedman reportedly wrote, “All intentions and hopes (not ready to make a promise) is that this will be paid in full in 45-60 days.”
By the end of the month, Spence’s law firm indicated that final paperwork would arrive within the week. Spence’s offer “was more than enough to reimburse everyone owed by the business and put us on a healthy pathway forward,” Stedman said. With international law firm Perkins Coie representing Northside, a signing party was scheduled, with plans to move the company to a hip new office space already under renovation.
“Dan was going to save the whole company,” one staffer recalled.
Days before the signing, Stedman was scheduled to meet Spence at a Northside outdoor film screening, but the would-be CEO didn’t show. A few days later, a flustered Stedman tracked down Holliday.
“Have you heard from Dan?”
Meanwhile, Northside Media’s run is over, at least in its current format, says Stedman, its death knell sounded with Spence’s arrest. The Northside Festival won’t happen this month. “I know that myself and the many people who worked on Brooklyn Magazine and Northside look forward to celebrating this community in new and exciting ways,” Stedman said, offering gratitude for the people he’s teamed up with over the years.
For former Northsiders, the media company’s final chapter was a sad denouement. “We had great products and passion, but no capital,” said Holliday. “And here comes Dan, promising to make all our dreams come true. I pain to feel how Danny feels.”
You can read the full report, which is fascinating, via Observer