‘Carolina’s Got Talent’ creator charged with embezzlement, breach of trust

Wardell Brantley
Wardell Brantley

The creator of “Carolina’s Got Talent” was charged Friday morning in connection with embezzlement and breach of trust, according to records.

Wardell Brantley, 44, of Conway is facing a charge of embezzlement of public funds, value less than $5,000, breach of trust with fraudulent intent, value $5,000 or more, and breach of trust with fraudulent intent, value over $1,000, up to $5,000, according to the Georgetown County Detention Center website.

A Georgetown Police Department report says an 18-year-old male went the police department to make a fraud complaint on April 21. He said he was a contestant in an event called “Carolina’s Got Talent,” which was held at the Winyah Auditorium in Georgetown and administered by the South Carolina Media Arts Academy, headed by Brantley.

Events were held from September to March with plans for season two in the works, according to the report. It originally was promoted as a “winner-take-all competition” with the grand prize set at $10,000. As the contest progressed, it was stated the top four contestants would get scholarships, the report says.

The victim stated he was announced as the winner the final night and was to receive $10,000 and the scholarship, but no money was given that night, police said. It was later said that Brantley would personally provide some of the money, the report states.

On March 31, the victim cashed a check for $2,500, but hadn’t received the promised scholarship dollars, the report says.

On May 10, an accountant of the Winyah Auditorium was interviewed by police. The accountant said he worked with Brantley on the Winyah Auditorium Board and that “Carolina’s Got Talent” was not officially sanctioned by the auditorium. South Carolina Media Arts Academy was simply renting space there, according to the report.

A search warrant yielded financial records for October to April 1 from First Citizens Bank in Georgetown where the SCMAA has its account, and Brantley is head of the account, the report says.

Records showed the account was active during that time, had a total of $39,391.17, and in March 31 had a balance of $1,231.99, police said. Victims reported to police there were no drinks, food or catering for the contestants, according to the report.

The report also states:

“During the time of the operations of the contest there were numbers of personal charges on the South Carolina Media Arts Academy account to include payments to probation on parole because Brantley is on probation. It also included things like food, groceries, car payments, insurance payments, Netflix and Hulu accounts, college tuition payments, and other personal charges. The S.C. Dept. of Revenue and IRS were notified of the possible fraud. The Dept. of Revenue had opened a case on it.”

Brantley went to the police department on April 24 for an interview, police said. He allegedly said the money to pay the contestants was never there and stated that sponsors he was counting on didn’t come through and pulled their funding because of lack of attendance, according to the report.

He allegedly told police he went ahead with the show, knowing he didn’t have the funds, but said he had a new concept for season two that would help pay the contestants. As of May 10, no one had been paid, and more victims needed to be interviewed, the report states.

“Carolina’s Got Talent” was designed to find, prepare and promote local talents and showcase them through television, radio, online, print and a live show, according to the organization’s website.

The show is produced by South Carolina Media Arts Academy students and staff, the website states. Brantley is listed as the president of the South Carolina Media Arts Academy and creator of “Carolina’s Got Talent” on the website.

The site says he created the show as a way to help with funding and scholarships for the South Carolina Media Arts Academy.

Michelle Lusardi, chairperson of the Winyah Auditorium Board of Directors, at Winyah Auditorium, at 1200 Highmarket St. in Georgetown, released a statement regarding Brantley.

“The Carolina’s Got Talent program had multiple performances in the Auditorium under rental contract between the Auditorium and the South Carolina Media Arts Academy. While the activities in the auditorium during the program were appropriate, the Board of Directors of Winyah Auditorium is distressed to learn that some of the South Carolina Media Arts Academy’s financial matters are questionable and under investigation. We share everyone’s hope for a speedy resolution,” the release says.

Brantley served as the managing director of the auditorium for about a year, which is a part-time, contractual role that is a consultant position to the Board of Directors, the release states.

The Board of the Auditorium has accepted his resignation, according to the release.

Edison Chichester said his 12-year-old daughter, who has sung at local sporting events and local venues, once was involved in the program. He said the program was patterned after “America’s Got Talent,” and that top contestants were to each receive a minimum of $5,500, which was reduced to $4,500.

“With a scholarship, it is put into a trust fund,” he said. “The trust fund is set up to be used by the contestants for sports equipment or voice lessons or going to auditions. It’s to be used for education or to promote education.”

Chichester’s daughter was a runner up in the competition, and was expecting to use the money to go to a camp that teaches kids the “magic of the performance arts.”

“He really has trampled on people’s dreams,” Chichester said. “If you take money from an adult, okay it’s bad. But when you do it to a kid … you’re ruining kids’ futures.”

Brantley remained jailed at the Georgetown County Detention Center Friday afternoon on a $65,000 bond, jail records show.