Hazel Sobti dashes to center stage carrying a microphone pole, barely skirting a collision with another contestant. Two beautiful women follow her. As a guitarist in a Hawaiian shirt hams up "Rollin' on the River" for an audience bathed in blue light, the luminous beauty from India shimmies in a black dress and gold eye shadow. The three women rock their hips, belting out the song in the 2,000-seat theater at Church by the Glades in Coral Springs. Behind her, on a jumbotron, flashes the name of a reality-TV show: Recreating a Legend.
"This show gives me the chance to show my talent to the world," Sobti says in a later segment, flipping her long dark hair for the camera. "What better opportunity do I get than this?"
But the 24-year-old songstress' big opportunity turned out to be a huge disappointment. And two months later, in October 2011, Sobti found herself more prisoner than star. She says she was exploited by Recreating a Legend creator Roy Anthony Sciacca, an eccentric ex-hair-metal singer and pop memorabilia collector who has been sued dozens of times by everyone from dentists to realtors to the Beach Boys. Sobti, who always dreamed of coming to America from Southern India, says that when she finally got here, Sciacca wouldn't let her leave.
"I was stuck in Coral Springs for months, and it was tragic," she says. "The electricity would go out. We had no food. My credit card was from India, so I couldn't even use it."
Billed as a cross between American Idol and the Olympics, Recreating a Legend was the latest entry in Sciacca's series of failed entertainment ventures. But unlike some of his other shows and festivals that never got off the ground, six episodes of RAL were actually filmed. Famed singers Olivia Newton-John and Betty Wright judged the contestants, as is done on The Voice. But Sciacca's twist was that he helped the women craft original songs.
"I wanted to show the world a true artist," says Sciacca, who has stunningly white teeth, Listerine-blue eyes, and thinning blond hair that cascades over his shoulders.
The wanna-be media mogul's interest in showbiz began young. Roy Sciacca (pronounced "Shocka") was born in the Bronx in 1951 and started singing when he was 2. He moved to L.A. with his artist dad and hairdresser mom at age 9 and began tooling around on the keyboard, the guitar, anything he could get his hands on. "I thought I was gonna be another superstar," he says. "And that's been stuck in my head my whole life."
His mom died when he was young, and Sciacca didn't get along with his dad. But he found a role model in his uncle, a singer in the mold of Dean Martin who was signed to Decca Records.
Sciacca became obsessed with hard rockers Van Halen, moved out of the family home at 15, and fronted bands called the End and Sciacca. He wanted to join the Air Force but "chickened out," he says. "Hair bands were my scene," he adds.
In 1986, the singer met a stunning Playboy playmate named Michele Wasa and launched the crown jewel of his life: Late Night Studios in Hollywood, California. Around that time, he also obtained 28 boxes containing original lyric sheets and other memorabilia from the Beach Boys. When a fire tragically destroyed his studio in 1990, Sciacca and Michele got married and moved to the San Fernando Valley. They had a son and daughter in quick succession before moving to Coral Springs.
Legal trouble came about a decade later, when he formed a company called Creative Licensing International. In 2002, he sold a New Jersey couple on the idea for Powerfest, a series of five weekend-long festivals. The event was supposed to combine drag racing and artists like t.A.T.u., Twisted Sister, and Tommy Lee.
He promised Kelly and Cherry Hartnett the fest would make $43 million in revenue, according to court records, and the couple forked over $200,000.
But instead of shows in Barcelona and Berlin, only one event took place — in Tucson, Arizona. The Hartnetts never got their money back, and in 2008, they sued Sciacca. The Hartnetts claimed Sciacca had tried something similar in 1999, roping investors into something called the Velocity Tour. A judge decreed that Sciacca had to pay back the Hartnetts their money — plus $50,000 in interest.
"It's amazing that he keeps getting people to give him money," says Kelly Hartnett, who regularly checks Sciacca's Securities and Exchange Commission filings and court judgments online. "I don't know one thing he's said he'd do that he actually fulfilled."
Luckily, Sciacca had his treasure-trove of Beach Boys memorabilia to fall back on. Valued at $6 million to $8 million by a London auction company, it included everything from the original sheet music for "Help Me, Rhonda" to the copyright claim for "Don't Worry Baby." The band sued, claiming Sciacca had stolen the 28 boxes.
Sciacca claimed he'd bought them at a warehouse sale. Either way, the trial revealed that Sciacca had been using the items as collateral for years and that jilted investors had made claim to them. Ultimately, the memorabilia was sold at auction, and the proceeds were disbursed among the claimants.
Sciacca remembers the suit as a victory. "The Beach Boys was probably the worst lawsuit ever," he says. "It took me three years and a million and a half dollars, but they fell."
Hurting for money, Sciacca took his first stab at reality programming. Batalla de las Americas was supposed to search across two continents to find the fifth member of MDO, the relaunch of Menudo, the Puerto Rican boy band that gave Ricky Martin his first break. Sciacca and two other cocreators enlisted the help of a woman named Patricia Valiente to conduct auditions in Honduras in 2008. Valiente said she was never paid, however. She sued Sciacca but lost when she grew tired of fighting him in court.
But there was more evidence that Batalla de las Americas was poorly planned. Sciacca booked several weeks at the James L. Knight Center in Miami to film the contest, but his $31,000 check bounced — twice.
Just as Sciacca's show was falling apart, so was his home life. Michele was busy touring comic-book conventions as a model and waiting on a class-action settlement from Dow Chemical for a boob job gone wrong, according to court records. In 2009, she filed a restraining order saying Sciacca pushed her down stairs and threatened to kidnap her kids — charges Sciacca strenuously denies. They separated shortly thereafter.
Divorce records show Sciacca's money problems also extended to his personal life. He contends he was making only $1,000 per week but was renting a $600,000 home and driving a Jaguar. Sciacca told the court that his company Creative Licensing International was "in severe debt."
Recreating a Legend was meant to change all that. The show was imagined as a global competition to find a new singer for Gloria Estefan's band, the Sound Machine. Sciacca teamed up with a production company called Forti Layne to bring in Wright, a Miami R&B singer from the 1970s. Sciacca also hired Frank Licari, a South Florida actor, to host — his contract was for $55,000. The actor happened to be friends with South Florida resident and Australian-born singer Newton-John, who agreed to be a judge.
Sciacca flew in women from eight countries, then put them up two to a room. Rounding out the cast was Sobti.
Sobti grew up in Goa, India's smallest and richest state. At 17, she dropped out of high school and began acting. Eventually she was picked up for a reality singing show in Hong Kong. Although she didn't win, Sobti and three other contestants were contacted by Sciacca in 2011.
From their first lunch with Sciacca, the girls were skeptical. "We thought maybe there might be cameras set up in the apartments, that it might not even be a TV show," Sobti says.
By the time filming finally began, the women's three-month visas were expiring. Only Sobti and Jenavee Valenzuela, from the Philippines, had clearance to stay for six months. They were told that the other contestants would be flown home to get paperwork sorted out and that shooting would resume shortly. So Sobti and Valenzuela stayed at their apartment in Players Club on Coral Ridge Drive, living off their $250-a-week stipends and hitting up LA Fitness.
Soon, the stipends began to taper off too. Before long, the two singers were living off of Cup Noodles and donations from the sympathetic production crew. The electricity was shut off because no one paid the bill.
One day, Sobti begged Sciacca for help.
"You guys should be thankful that I brought you here," she recalls Sciacca responding in a text.
Eventually, Sobti's manager wired her money to return home. Although there were supposed to be 12 episodes filmed, only six were produced.
Roseanna Bragg, one of RAL's producers, says Sciacca owes her almost $30,000.
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Bragg was willing to forgive Sciacca until she and other crew members discovered allegations that Sciacca had also ripped off blind Puerto Rican singer José Feliciano. According to two lawsuits filed in Broward County last year, Sciacca enticed the musician to leave his old manager by promising induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a performance at the Billboard Awards, and inclusion on a Rolling Stone list of great guitarists. True to form, none of these was delivered, a pending lawsuit alleges. One suit was filed by Feliciano and another by his manager. (Sciacca says he was completely aboveboard in the deal and calls the "Feliz Navidad" singer a "jerkoff.")
Sciacca blames the show's problems on its employees. He says producers hired their friends and paid them four times the industry standard. And he challenges anyone to come up with paperwork connecting him to a scam.
As for Sobti's claims that she was left stranded? "They were never stuck," Sciacca says. "That's weird. Those girls are in love with me."
His denial doesn't end there. Not even two dozen lawsuits and a cataclysmic fire can kill Sciacca's childhood dreams of superstardom. He claims that several "monster" channels are interested in RAL, although he can't say which ones. And he promises it will air — he just can't say when. "I wake up in the morning, I do what I do, and I'm pretty successful," he says. "Recreating a Legend will go down in history as one of the great television shows."