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September was a cruel month for Jim Faherty. During a pick-up basketball game at his Delaney Park home, a buddy kneed him in the head, creating an 8-inch gash across the top of his skull. Four hours later, Faherty walked out of the hospital with 21 stitches in his scalp.

Then, on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Sentinel reported the FBI had indicted Faherty on two counts of mail fraud in connection with an alleged scam to defraud McDonald's Corp. of millions of dollars. According to the FBI's 37-page indictment, Faherty was one of 21 defendants with connections to two marketing executives who had illegal access to the fast-food chain's promotional games.

Faherty, one of the most influential people in the downtown music scene, has pleaded innocent to the charges, claiming he cashed in a $1 million "Monopoly at McDonald's" game piece as a favor to a family friend.

"Nothing is secret," says Mark NeJame, Faherty's attorney, who is digging through boxes of documents, witness accounts and wiretaps to decipher his client's culpability. "Because the case involved McDonald's, they want to make an example out of everybody, even the minnows ... Jim is a minnow who should not be involved with all these other big fish."

September also was the month Faherty officially lost his company, Sapphire Supper Club Inc., effectively ending his seven-year ownership of downtown's premier nightclub. (The Florida Secretary of State's Office dissolved the corporation Sept. 21 because it failed to file an annual report.)

This week Faherty; his landlord, Frank Hamby; and bar owner Ashley McCammon announced a new direction for the club. The plan is for McCammon, who owns three bars next to Sapphire (including the well-traveled Bar-BQ-Bar), to open a new club in the Sapphire location. Sapphire will close the first two weeks of 2002 and reopen under another name. The door between Bar-BQ-Bar and Sapphire will be reconnected and a new sound stage might be added.

Hamby, who owns the building that houses Sapphire, Bar-BQ-Bar and the nightclub Barbarella, will lend money and consulting services to remodel Sapphire.

"The club does a lot of volume but hasn't made any money," says Hamby, who has owned the building since May 1989. "It's kind of worn down. Quite honestly, Jim has had a hard time paying rent. With everything else going on in his life, we agreed it would be better if he turned the day-to-day operations over to somebody who could turn a profit and he could get back to music."

The group stressed that the club will remain the way it is -- same music, same feel, same employees. "I even hate to change the name," McCammon says. "So many people know it as Sapphire. We're going to clean it up a little bit. We're going to make it run a little smoother."

Faherty took over the 400-capacity venue in the mid-1990s and turned the small-yet-stylish space into downtown's most prominent concert venue. Through his drive and industry connections, he secured high-profile national acts and regional favorites while providing local musicians a choice facility to showcase their talents. Sapphire has the widest musical menu on the scene, pumping everything from electronica to jazz to indie rock through its speakers.

Faherty still figures into the club's plans. Through his booking and promotion company, Figurehead Productions, he'll still pursue national acts such as Guided by Voices and Mike Watt. And hopefully he'll continue to pull off an occasional coup, such as when Sonic Youth, performing under a different name, played at Sapphire last year.

The 40-year-old Pittsburgh native, who moved to Orlando in 1983, denies that the changes at Sapphire had anything to do with his indictment.

"Right off the bat, everybody's saying, McDonald's, McDonald's, McDonald's," he says, sipping red wine at a corner table at Baraka Restaurant, where he's part-owner and cooks four days a week. (For a time, he also ran and booked acts at Dante's Italian Restaurant and Music Room on South Orange Avenue.)

"I've never done anything wrong," he continues. "I'm not a pedophile. I'm not a drug dealer. I don't know how to put it. I'm a hard-working downtown guy."

Copyright © 2002, Orlando Weekly
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