The recently defrauded T.J. Martell Foundation names John Esposito chairman

The recently defrauded T.J. Martell Foundation names John Esposito chairman

The T.J. Martell Foundation for Cancer Research has named prominent music industry executive John Esposito as its Board of Trustees chairman, an appointment the organization hopes will help it move on from a recent multimillion-dollar embezzlement scandal.

Esposito, Warner Music Group chairman emeritus, was appointed at the end of 2022 and will serve a two-year term, said Lynn-Anne Huck, the foundation’s chief operating officer. He succeeds Universal Music Group general counsel and executive vice president Jeffrey Harleston.

The move was first reported in Billboard.

“He’s one of the most respected giants in the industry. Does anyone not know his name in Nashville?” Huck said. “And he’s been involved with the foundation in all aspects — volunteer, outreach, everything. Everything just aligned.”

In a statement issued late Wednesday, Esposito said he was proud to be involved with the foundation after almost 14 years of running the Warner Nashville record label.

The organization “has meant the world to me and to so many Nashvillians,” his statement read. “The TJ Martell Foundation has been doing amazing work for 48 years. It has raised over $280 million for cancer research that has had a measurable impact in fighting this disease, which has affected every family.

Here’s a quick breakdown of why this is important and how scandal rocked this high-profile organization:

The foundation, a Music Row favorite

The T.J. Martell Foundation has raised about $300 million for cancer research since its founding in 1975. The charity, which is named after the son of a music industry executive, has attracted the help of some of the biggest names in the music industry.

More:Amy Grant, more honored at Nashville fundraiser for cancer research

The organization raises money by seeking celebrity donations, such as concert tickets and memorabilia, and then auctioning them off.

A February 2020 event attracted Amy Grant, Reba McEntire, CeCe Winans, Michael Ray and Carly Pearce, Rascal Flatts and Vince Gill.

The embezzlement scandal

Melissa Goodwin, the former executive vice president and general manager of the foundation, stole more than $3.7 million from the organization.

Related coverage:Former T.J. Martel Foundation VP Melissa Goodwin faces prison time in embezzlement scheme

More:New lawsuit argues business partner liable in T.J. Martell Foundation embezzlement scheme

Federal investigators said Goodwin used the money to buy expensive and rare alcohol, plane tickets and hotel stays as part of a multimillion-dollar ticketing scheme. She also bought tickets for non-foundation purposes, including those for Lady Gaga and Celine Dion concerts, and Super Bowl LIV, the Department of Justice discovered.

Goodwin was sentenced to four years in prison and was ordered to pay $3.9 million in restitution.

Looking to the future

Huck said the organization now has safeguards in place to make sure that future embezzlement won’t take place. She also said she believes the charity continues to have a good reputation. The charity assessment group, Charity Navigator gives The T.J. Martell Foundation 3 out of 4 stars for overall quality.

She said the organization is still struggling from the aftereffects of the scandal, the pandemic and the overall economy.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Huck said. “We’ve turned a corner. This woman (Goodwin) is in prison. She was charged. She pled guilty. She was sentenced. Last year we had a few events, and each event was more successful than we expected.”

In his statement, Esposito was also looking to the future. He said the foundation’s 21st annual Best Of Cellars dinner has been scheduled for April 10 at the Loews Vanderbilt.

“We have an amazing evening planned and are already on our way to selling out the event,” he said.

Frank Gluck is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @FrankGluck.

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