President of Sebastopol nonprofits accused of misappropriating city, sponsor funds
A well-known music promoter and the president of two Sebastopol nonprofits is accused of fraud and misappropriating more than $70,000 over the span of two years from the Barlow and the City of Sebastopol, according to the organization’s former executive director, two former board members and an attorney from the Rowan Firm.
Jim Corbett, locally known as Mr. Music, allegedly misappropriated funds from the Peacetown nonprofit, of which he is the board president, by directing grant awards and contract monies meant for Peacetown into the Mr. Music Foundation, from which he directly benefits.
The allegation was reported to the Sebastopol Police Department on Monday, June 26 by former Peacetown executive director Elizabeth Smith. The police department forwarded the investigation to the Petaluma Police Department due to a potential conflict of interest, according to Sebastopol Police Chief Ron Nelson.
In an email to the Sonoma County Gazette, Lt. Jeremy Walsh of the Petaluma Police Department said his department is not “in a position to make any comments about the investigation at this point as it is an active and open investigation.”
Interviews with Peacetown board members indicate that for two years, Corbett took $2,000 a week for 14 weeks from contracts with the Barlow, funds that were meant for the Peacetown organization.
“We thought that money was going to Peacetown,” said Barney Aldridge, owner of the Barlow. Aldridge said the funds were meant to pay for the musical festival.
During an interview with the Sonoma County Gazette, Corbett agreed that he entered into a contract with the Barlow “to produce Peacetown,” for which he received $28,000 in 2021 and again in 2022. The contracts indicate Jim Corbett as the primary contact and client.
“The contract was for entertainment and infrastructure and I took a little bit out for myself, too,” Corbett said, adding that he would have to look at his tax returns to verify the exact amount he says he paid himself.
Corbett says the Barlow hired him to be the promoter and producer of the concert series and that “a good portion of the funds” from the Barlow were used to pay for musicians, artists, soundmen, advertising and signage. However, former Peacetown board member David Bush says the organization, not Corbett paid for the entire festival, including the cost of musicians, from the Peacetown bank account. Bush believes Corbett pocketed the $2,000 a week Barlow payments.
“From the very first week checks were coming from the Peacetown account,” Bush said. “We were adamant against the commingling of accounts and funds from the beginning,” he said.
In this case, “commingling of funds” refers to the mixing of funds between the Mr. Music Foundation and Peacetown. The two have been synonymous to the public since the inception of the free music concert series in 2013. The summer series brings together thousands of people into Sebastopol each Wednesday night for at least 10 weeks during the summer and early fall.
For six years, the Mr. Music Foundation, of which Corbett is the founder and board president, was responsible for planning and organizing the popular Peacetown concert series. From 2013 to 2019, the concerts were held at Ives Park. In 2019 Peacetown incorporated and became its own nonprofit, where Corbett also serves as board president. The goal of incorporation was for Peacetown to be independent of the Mr. Music Foundation, according to Smith.
“It made sense to create its own identity separate of the Mr. Music Foundation,” Smith said.
Rather than canceling the concerts during the COVID-19 pandemic, Peacetown was held virtually in 2020. In 2021, the series moved from Ives Park to the Barlow to comply with the city’s COVID-19 restrictions.
A timeline of questionable activity
When the concert series moved to the Barlow in 2021, Corbett reportedly told the Peacetown board that no contract was needed between the nonprofit and the Barlow property management company.
“We thought it was odd that the Barlow wasn’t paying us,” Bush said. “After all, we’re bringing 2,000 to 4,500 folks into their place every week. But Jim insisted it was OK. Of course, he’s been getting $2,000 a week from the Barlow from the start.”
Bush, who is an attorney, said he tried to help Corbett negotiate a deal with the Barlow in 2022.
“But then Jim came to a board meeting one night and said it was already done,” Bush said. “It felt very sneaky.”
In Feb. 2023, Bush and Smith wanted to work with Corbett to negotiate a deal with the Barlow on behalf of Peacetown. On the morning of the scheduled meeting, Bush said Corbett told him the representative from the Barlow “was stuck in traffic and couldn’t make the meeting. That seemed weird to me because she lived and worked in Sebastopol.”