March 27, 2023
The estate of former Roots' bassist Leonard Hubbard and his widow Stephanie Hubbard have filed a lawsuit against the band's co-founders and several other parties relating to the band's business dealings, alleging that they defrauded Hubbard out of millions of dollars over the last decade.
The lawsuit claims that Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, Roots manager Shawn Gee and Roots employee Munir Nuriddin violated federal RICO laws by scheming to deny Hubbard his earnings from the band since 2013. In addition to the band's founders and management, the suit includes Live Nation Entertainment, The Roots on Tour and several companies that have handled the band's business dealings.
Hubbard and fellow Roots' founding member Malik B. were each given a 17% stake in Grand Negaz, Inc., a corporate entity that the band used to purchase its trademark and finance business ventures, when it was founded in 1993, according to the lawsuit. Hubbard was also given a 25% stake in a company that handled the band's recordings and publishing, and a 33% stake in its touring performance company.
Hubbard left the band in 2007 after being diagnosed with blood cancer, and died in 2021.
Gee, Thompson and Trotter entered into several business contracts and opened bank accounts to deposit money from the three companies by "falsely purporting to represent all stakeholders" beginning in 2013, the lawsuit alleges. It further claims that Gee, Thompson and Trotter — through acts of "forgery, wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, and criminal copyright infringement" — received millions of dollars through the band's corporate entities, some of which Hubbard was entitled to as a stakeholder.
His estate claims that, from 2013 onward, Gee, Thompson and Trotter "took control" of the finances and the band's business entities, including all of Hubbard's share value. The band formed Legendelphia, a separate business entity, in 2013, allegedly using funds from Grand Negaz, Inc. without Hubbard's consent, attempting to transfer and convert much of the original company's assets to a new company owned exclusively by the band's co-founders.
The band's leadership later shut down the businesses previously owned by Grand Negaz, Inc. without notice to its other shareholders, the lawsuit claims. The lawsuit further alleges that Gee secretly deactivated Hubbard's personal royalty account with Universal Music Publishing Group in September 2014.
It also claims that Thompson and Trotter directed a "fraudulent" letter to be written from Legendelphia to Universal Music Publishing Group in 2013, requesting that all publishing royalties be moved from Grand Negaz, in which Hubbard had a stake, to Legendelphia, in which he did not.
The lawsuit is seeking restitution for the property, money and benefits it claims are owed to Hubbard and his estate, as well as attorneys' fees and additional damages. The estate has also asked the court to inspect the defendants' records regarding Hubbard and his estate, take an accounting of their business transactions and suspend the use of the Roots' trademark until its value can be determined.
"I would hope that these guys would have enough respect and compassion for their former band member... to make sure that he receives compensation for what may have not been given to him in the past, and so that his widow can live a reasonable life," Luke Lucas, an attorney at Lucas Law Group representing Hubbard's estate, told the Philadelphia Business Journal.
Hubbard, a West Philadelphia native, joined The Roots in 1992 after performing alongside Questlove and Black Thought at a show in Philly. The group was still known as the Square Roots at the time.
Hubbard recorded seven studio albums with the group over a 15-year period, helping write and arrange a number of tracks. A seven-time Grammy nominee, Hubbard won his only Grammy in 2000 for best rap performance by a duo or group for "You Got Me" by The Roots featuring Erykah Badu and Eve, according to Billboard.
Hubbard's last album with The Roots was "Game Theory" in 2006. He left the band in 2007 after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. He performed with the group twice after his departure — at the Roots Picnic in 2008 and when the band played with John Legend in 2010, Rolling Stone reported.
Trotter, Thompson, Gee and Live Nation did not immediately respond to PhillyVoice's requests for comment on the lawsuit. Nuriddin could not be reached.
In 2016, Hubbard himself sued Thompson, Trotter and Gee, alleging that he was paid less than other band members despite an agreement stating that he would be paid as a co-founder. Hubbard also claimed that Gee threatened to cut off his health insurance and a portion of the band's revenue. The lawsuit was discontinued before Stephanie Hubbard filed the new lawsuit.