Widow of the Roots Bassist Sues Questlove, Black Thought for Fraud

Leonard Hubbard in Paris, France on November 30, 2006.  - Credit: Rose Christian/DAPR/ZUMA Press
Leonard Hubbard in Paris, France on November 30, 2006. - Credit: Rose Christian/DAPR/ZUMA Press

The widow of founding Roots bassist Leonard Hubbard and his estate have filed a lawsuit against band co-founders Questlove and Black Thought, among others, alleging they violated RICO laws and claiming they defrauded Hubbard out of millions.

The complaint, obtained by Rolling Stone, alleges that Questlove (whose real name is Ahmir Thompson), Black Thought (real name Tariq Trotter), the Roots manager Shawn Gee and band employee Munir Nuriddin “are advancing a continuing scheme to defraud” the estate and Hubbard’s widow Stephanie of money. The suit also names Live Nation Entertainment, Universal Music Publishing Group, and other companies that are associated with the band’s businesses.

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In 1993, the Roots members formed Grand Negaz, Inc., a corporate entity it used for the group’s business dealings, with Thompson and Trotter each becoming 37 percent stakeholders and member Malik Smart and Hubbard 17 percent each, according to the suit. Hubbard was also granted 25 percent in an entity that handles the group’s recording and publishing, and a 33 percent stake in the band’s touring performance company.

Hubbard left the Roots in 2007 following a diagnosis of blood cancer. He died in December 2021. According to the suit, Gee, Thompson, and Trotter allegedly entered into contracts with several business entities and opened up bank accounts, and “through acts of forgery, wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, and criminal copyright infringement… received millions of dollars of ‘commissions’” from Grand Negaz and the band’s other entities, to which Hubbard was entitled a percentage as a stakeholder.

From 2014 through the present, the suit alleges that the parties named in the suit “through a pattern of racketeered behavior, fraudulently converted, divested and absconded with monies lawfully belonging to the Plaintiff Decedent.” That included, according to Hubbard’s estate, proceeds from the band’s brand and trademark usage merchandise, income from performances and copyrighted music revenue. The suit also claims from 2013 onward that the plaintiffs “conspired” to defraud Hubbard and in return the Estate.

According to the complaint, from 2013 onward Gee, Thompson, and Black Thought “intentionally and fraudulently took control” of the finances and the band’s businesses, including all of Hubbard’s shares. The band, per the suit, formed Legendelphia, a separate business in 2013, to allegedly transfer funds from Grand Negaz without Hubbard’s consent and where he would hold no stake, and shut down the businesses related to Grand Negaz without notifying stakeholders. It also accuses Gee or deactivating Hubbard’s personal royalty account and Gee, Questlove and Trotter of directing a letter be written from Legendelphia to Universal Music Publishing Group to divert Hubbard’s royalties to Legendelphia, where Hubbard had no stake.

A rep for the Roots, Thompson, and Black Trotter declined Rolling Stone’s request for comment. Reps for Live Nation, Gee and Universal Music Group did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

The lawsuit seeks restitution for property, money and benefits is claims are owed to Hubbard and his estate, in addition to attorneys’ fees and additional damages. It also asks the court to “freeze” the Roots’ trademark until a value can be determined for the brand.

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