Charges dismissed in 'Hotel California' theft conspiracy case
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Charges dismissed in 'Hotel California' theft conspiracy case
Don Henley of Eagles performing at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on May 28, 2008. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

by Colin Moynihan

NEW YORK, NY.- The criminal trial of a prominent rare books dealer accused of conspiring to possess dozens of pages of handwritten lyrics stolen from Eagles co-founder Don Henley collapsed abruptly Wednesday as a judge in Manhattan dismissed the charges in the case.

Citing the “jarringly late” disclosure of 6,000 pages of material by Henley’s legal team, Justice Curtis Farber of state Supreme Court granted a dismissal request by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

He added that a review of the material showed that Henley, his agent and two of his lawyers had acted “to obfuscate and hide information that they believed would be damaging to their position that the lyric sheets were stolen.”

The judge also criticized the district attorney’s office, saying that prosecutors had been manipulated by Henley’s legal team and had not attained a complete understanding of the case. But, he added, they had ultimately acted in the interest of justice.

“While eating a slice of humble pie,” Farber said, the prosecutors were also “displaying the highest level of integrity in moving to dismiss the charges.”

Still, the dismissal, two weeks into a trial that had already included days of testimony by Henley, was a severe blow to the district attorney’s office, which began investigating the case several years ago.

It also provided a measure of vindication, if not a formal exoneration, to the book dealer, Glenn Horowitz, and two other men standing trial along with him.

The case centered on some 100 pages of draft lyrics for hit songs by the Eagles including “Hotel California,” “New Kid in Town” and “Life in the Fast Lane.”

Prosecutors say the notes were stolen decades ago by an author who had signed a contract in the late 1970s to write a book about the Eagles that was never published. The author, Ed Sanders, has not been charged. He sold the documents in 2005 to Horowitz, who in turn sold them to the two other defendants, according to the district attorney’s office, which began investigating after complaints by Henley.

The trial took a sudden turn after Henley’s lawyers sent a trove of evidence to defense lawyers and prosecutors last weekend, including email messages between Henley, his agent, several lawyers working for him and a private investigator.

Henley had invoked attorney-client privilege while he, his agent and two of his lawyers testified, but waived it when a third lawyer took the stand. That led to the handover of the emails, which included messages by Henley and others who had finished testifying in the case.

Defense lawyers were outraged that the material had not been provided earlier, telling Farber on Monday that they should have been able to refer to the email messages while cross-examining Henley and other witnesses. They added that some statements in the emails were at odds with testimony delivered in court.

“There is a manifest injustice here that taints the entire trial,” Jonathan Bach, a lawyer for Horowitz, told the judge.

A prosecutor, Aaron Ginandes, disagreed Monday, but by Wednesday morning he had taken a different view, telling Farber that the delayed disclosure had “revealed relevant information that the defense should have had the opportunity to explore.”

After the dismissal, Bach said: “We’re glad the district attorney’s office finally made the right decision and dropped this case. It should never have been brought.”

He added that Horowitz was “looking forward to continuing with his important work.”

The trial had drawn widespread attention because it involved documents related to one of the most beloved bands of the 1970s, whose breezy country-rock style sold millions of records.

It also drew interest because of Horowitz. He began his career in the rare book room at the Greenwich Village bookstore the Strand, then built a thriving business with offices in Manhattan and East Hampton, New York, bringing art gallery-style glitz to the musty world of archives and antiquarian volumes.

Along the way, Horowitz placed the papers of Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe in university libraries and worked to sell Bob Dylan’s archive for a sum estimated at up to $20 million. His sale of Vladimir Nabokov’s literary estate to the New York Public Library in 1992 was considered to be the first archive deal to top $1 million. Rick Gekoski, a book dealer who did business with Horowitz, described him in 2007 as “a terrific combination of a scholar and a grifter.”

Prosecutors said Horowitz bought Henley’s draft lyrics from Sanders, a founder of a countercultural Lower East Side band called the Fugs and the author of a book about Charles Manson and his cult. Much of the case had centered on questions of when and how Sanders obtained the lyrics.

In 2005, Sanders wrote in an email that an assistant for Henley had mailed him some of the archival material he had examined “at Henley’s place in Malibu.”

Henley testified that he had given Sanders access to documents stored in the barn of his organic farm in Malibu, California, but had never surrendered ownership of that material.

Defense lawyers said their clients could not be found guilty because no theft had taken place. They introduced evidence, including old mailing labels, that they said suggested that Henley had sent material to Sanders’ home in Woodstock, New York.

Prosecutors had written in a pretrial filing that a contract between Sanders and the Eagles “made clear that Sanders had had no ownership interest in the lyrics and no right to take or possess the lyrics outside of his work on the book the Eagles had hired him to write.” They added that the Eagles material “became ‘stolen’” when Sanders failed to return it to Henley within a reasonable period of time.

Horowitz sold the handwritten lyrics in 2012 to Craig Inciardi, a curator with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Edward Kosinski, the owner of an online auction site, prosecutors said. The two men sought to resell some of the lyrics through Kosinski’s site and the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses.

The first pages of lyrics to be put up for auction were from the song “Hotel California”; Henley paid $8,500 to get them back. His lawyers informed Kosinski that the material had been stolen but did not pursue a lawsuit. After other portions of the lyrics were subsequently offered for sale, Henley went to the district attorney’s office, which seized 16 pages that had been left with Sotheby’s as well as 85 pages stored at Kosinski’s home in New Jersey.

Prosecutors said that while they were investigating, Horowitz tried to come up with a phony provenance for the lyrics to suggest that Sanders had received them from someone other than Henley.

In a 2017 email to Sanders that was cited in an indictment, Horowitz appeared to suggest that the lyrics may have come from Glenn Frey, another co-founder of the Eagles who had died the year before.

“He, alas, is dead,” Horowitz wrote in reference to Frey, adding that identifying him as the source “would make this go away once and for all.”

The ultimate fate of the lyrics is unresolved, even with the dismissal. While leaving the courthouse Wednesday, Kosinski’s lawyer, Scott Edelman, was asked what would become of that material.

“We’re going to evaluate next steps,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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