Commodore of Errors

Virtuoso musician Michael Dunlap inspired the show-business dreams of many people. Now, they say he's walked away with their money.

Lee says Dunlap paid him the first 10 times or so that he gave him a ride. But Lee says he started to become disturbed by the people Dunlap was hanging out with, whom Lee characterizes as "crack whores."

"He was really into that," Lee says. "He'd say, 'I have some friends I have to look up,' and he'd ask me to take him to Van Buren."

Dunlap told Lee about his exploits with the Commodores, and suggested that Lee become his road manager, an offer that the driver politely brushed off. But Lee says Dunlap soon stopped paying him for the rides. Lee found this particularly unsettling because he saw the extravagant way that Dunlap would blow money in the topless bars.

The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" 
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" heyday.
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" 
The best-remembered lineup of the Commodores, in its "Brick House" heyday.

Lee says Dunlap tried to schmooze him by inviting him into the topless bars. He estimates that Dunlap would sometimes spend about $300 a night at various club stops, and often got more than 10 lap dances at one club.

"He'd be blowing hundreds of dollars on lap dances," Lee says. "One time, he even borrowed $100 from me. He said he'd pay me back the next day. It took him about three weeks to pay me back, and even then I had to sort of con him into doing it.

"From that point on, I knew he was playing some sort of a con game. He said he was going to do commercials for this strip bar or that strip bar, and nothing came to fruition. He said he would introduce me to the owner of a certain bar, and when I took him up on it, he'd always put me off. That's when I knew he was bullshitting me."

Lee, who's married, says Dunlap even tried to set him up with his mother. Similarly, Hites says Dunlap suggested to him that Hites' father and Dunlap's mother get together for lunch.

When Dunlap's debt reached $350, Lee told him he couldn't afford to give him rides anymore. Dunlap stopped calling him.

Dunlap moved on to another driver: Mike Williams, known to his friends as "Big Mike," because of his skyscraping frame.

Dunlap told Williams that he'd dropped Lee because Lee had kept his CD master, an allegation that Lee says is preposterous.

Williams, 42, runs his own sedan service, Williams Executive Transportation. When he met Dunlap, they verbally agreed that Williams would be his exclusive driver, Williams says. He says he drove Dunlap anywhere he wanted to go. He even slept at Dunlap's house when Dunlap needed to get up early and didn't want to wait for Williams to come by.

But it didn't take long before Dunlap stopped paying him. "He promised me that this record thing was about to break and as soon as Warner Bros. or one of these other big labels signs him, everyone will be living good," Williams says. "You know the song and dance."

Dunlap often told his associates that he'd hidden his money in a Swiss bank account for tax reasons. But he did have royalty money coming in that should have allowed him to pay at least some of his recording and chauffeur debts. A quarterly report from BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) in August 1997 shows that, over the previous three months, Dunlap earned $4,683 for the 79 songs that he has registered with BMI. While royalty figures fluctuate over time (depending on record sales, radio airplay, video rentals or TV syndication), this amount is a fairly accurate gauge of Dunlap's royalty income, and it translates to nearly $19,000 a year.

But like Lee, Williams says he saw Dunlap blow his -- and other people's -- money with maximum urgency. "I saw him buy rock cocaine right in front of me," Williams says. "The guy came up to him right on the street and they transacted the deal right there, and then he got back in the car. That's just one of his problems. He also smokes a lot of marijuana."

"He was definitely using drugs," Lee agrees. "I'd call him at times and he'd be completely out of it, where he didn't know what he was doing. I'd drop him off at some of the sleaziest motels on Van Buren. I'd pick him up and there'd be a different girl with him than the one he went in with."

As Dunlap's chauffeur debt reached $1,200, Williams began asking when he was going to get paid.

"He'd say, 'I don't have any money,'" Williams says. "He always put you off. Then he got mad one day and told me, 'I'm trying to concentrate so I can get this thing done and you're constantly bugging me about money. I'm tired of hearing about money.'"

Williams couldn't believe Dunlap's cavalier attitude. "I have three children and I have bills to pay, and I'm jeopardizing my family's well-being on a promise from this guy and, not only that, but he didn't seem to care."

As he had done with Lee, Dunlap stopped calling Williams. Hites asked Dunlap why Williams wasn't driving him anymore. He says Dunlap told him that Williams had caused him to miss a meeting with David Bowie's manager.

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