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Backstory of disputed ‘Hotel California’ lyrics pages ‘just felt thin,’ ex-auction exec tells court

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The explanation given for the source of 13 pages of drafts of lyrics to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” raised red flags to a prominent auction house, a former executive testified Friday at a criminal trial surrounding the handwritten pages.

Former Christie’s manuscripts chief Tom Lecky was initially excited by the 2015 opportunity to sell pieces of the development of one of classic rock’s biggest hits. But, he said, he developed qualms after the would-be seller said he got them from a writer who worked with the band decades earlier on a never-published biography.

“It just felt thin, to me,” Lecky said. “It felt like there was potential risk.”

Lecky testified for prosecutors at the trial of Craig Inciardi, Glenn Horowitz and Edward Kosinski, three collectibles professionals who at various points had pages from “Hotel California” and other songs from its eponymous album. The 1976 disc is the third-biggest seller in U.S. history.

Prosecutors and Eagles co-founder Don Henley say the writer had stolen the pages. The defendants are accused of covering it up to fool auction houses and fight Henley’s demands for the documents’ return.

Kosinski, Inciardi and Horowitz have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to criminally possess stolen property. Their lawyers say the men rightfully owned the documents, weren’t out to deceive anyone and were just trying to deal with legal threats from a regretful rock star who’d let the pages go.

Inciardi and Kosinski bought the documents from Horowitz, a prominent rare-book dealer. He had purchased them from the writer, Ed Sanders. Sanders hasn’t been charged with any crime and hasn’t responded to a phone message seeking comment on the case.

Inciardi, then a curator at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, brought the “Hotel California” pages to Lecky in late 2015.

Lecky was jazzed.

Handwritten in felt-tip pen on yellow legal-style pads, “this was a great early version, this working out of ideas right on the page,” he recalled on the witness stand Friday.

“As a fan of culture and literature and history, it’s just an obvious thing to be excited about,” Lecky said, and it seemed “highly marketable.”

He and Inciardi agreed to set a price that would net the sellers at least $700,000 in a potential private transaction, according to a document shown in court.

But Lecky knew a key question would be provenance, an auction-world term for an item’s bona fides and source. “The market is very suspicious,” Lecky explained, since buyers want to avoid competing ownership claims.

He said he started to worry when Inciardi emailed him that the provenance was Sanders.

“Having someone work on a book made me think, ‘OK, they have access to papers’ … that doesn’t necessarily mean the archive is being given,” Lecky testified.

After a discussion including Inciardi and a Christie’s lawyer, he said, the auction house decided not to broker a sale. The pages went back to Inciardi.

“My opinion was that we didn’t have sufficient provenance information to be able to successfully market it to somebody,” Lecky said Friday.

Sotheby’s later listed those lyrics sheets for public auction, prompting objections from Henley and spurring the investigation that led to the ongoing trial. The Manhattan district attorney’s office collected the pages from Sotheby’s, which hasn’t been charged with any crime and has declined to comment on the trial.

Sanders did indeed work with the Eagles on an authorized band biography. (A multifaceted 1960s counterculture figure, he also co-founded the rock band The Fugs.)

He told Horowitz in a 2005 email that Henley provided “total access to his boxes of stuff” at his Southern California home and that the musician’s assistant sent Sanders anything he picked out, according to the indictment.

But Henley objected after Kosinski, a rock memorabilia dealer, put up four sheets of “Hotel California” drafts on his auction website in 2012. The musician’s legal team reported them stolen and asserted Henley’s ownership to at least some of the defendants.

Nevertheless, Henley bought those pages for $8,500, hoping “that this was the only thing out there and that he could buy it and it would be over,” longtime Eagles manager Irving Azoff testified earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Horowitz and Inciardi began discussing a shifting series of alternate stories about how the writer had gotten the documents, consulting at points with Sanders, according to emails recounted in the indictment.

One version, which Sanders apparently rejected, had him stumbling across the documents discarded backstage at an Eagles show, for example. Another, which Horowitz broached after Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey died, named him as the source.

Kosinski forwarded a Sanders email with another explanation — that he couldn’t remember who gave him “Hotel California” lyrics sheets during the book research — to Henley’s lawyer in 2012, according to the indictment.

At later points, Kosinski asked Sotheby’s not to tell potential bidders about Henley’s complaints and said the musician had “no claim” to the cache, the indictment says.

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