Welcome to the 'Hotel California' case: an unusual criminal investigation is about to begin

NEW YORK (AP) — In the mid-1970s, the Eagles were developing a scary, secretive new song.

On a lined yellow pad, Don Henley, with input from band co-founder Glenn Frey, scribbled down thoughts of “a dark desert highway” and “a beautiful place” with a luxurious surface and ominous tones. And something on ice, maybe caviar or Taittinger – or pink champagne?

The song “Hotel California” became one of rock's most immortal singles. Nearly half a century later, those handwritten lyrics have become the focus of an unusual criminal investigation that opens Wednesday.

Rare books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and memorabilia dealer Edward Kosinski are accused of trying to sell their own manuscripts of “Hotel California” and other Eagles hits.

From left, Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski appear in a criminal court in New York on July 12, 2022 in New York for a conspiracy involving handwritten notes from the popular Eagles album “Hotel California.” (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

All three have pleaded not guilty and their attorneys said they did not commit any crimes in documents obtained by a writer they worked with the Eagles. But the Manhattan district attorney's office says the defendants conspired to hide disputed ownership of the documents, even though they knew Henley said the pages were stolen.

Disputes over valuable collections abound, but such criminal investigations are rare. Many disputes are settled privately, in lawsuits, or through agreements to return goods.

“If you can avoid litigation by handing over something, most people will hand it over,” said Travis McDade, a University of Illinois law professor who studies rare document disputes.

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Of course, the case of the Eagles manuscripts is unique in other ways as well.

The prosecution's star witness is indeed this: Henley is expected to testify between Eagles tour stops. A non-jury trial could provide a glimpse into the band's creative process and life on the fast track to '70s stardom.

At issue are more than 80 pages of draft lyrics from the blockbuster 1976 “Hotel California” album, including the chart-topping, Grammy-winning title cut. It's one of classic rock's most recognizable riffs, one of the most popular singles and the most quoted — arguably overrated — line: “You can look anytime you want, but you can't leave.”

Henley has told The song is about the “dark underbelly of the American dream”.

It's still been streamed more than 220 million times and received 136,000 radio spins in the U.S. alone last year, according to entertainment data company Luminate. “Hotel California” album It has sold 26 million copies nationwide Over the years, it has been bested only by the Eagles' greatest hits disc and Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”

Pages also include lyrics to songs including “Life in the Fast Lane” and “New Kid in Town.” Eagles manager Irving Assoff called the documents “irreplaceable pieces of music history.”

Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinki were charged with conspiracy to possess stolen property and various other crimes.

They were not actually accused of stealing the documents. No one else, but prosecutors still need to establish whether the documents were stolen. The defense says that is not true.

The Eagles are closely associated with writer Ed Saunders, who co-founded the 1960s counterculture rock band The Foxes. He worked on an acclaimed Eagles biography in the late 70s and early 80s that was never published.

Sanders has not been charged in the case. A phone message asking him for feedback.

He sold the pages to Horowitz, who in turn sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski.

Horowitz has handled huge rare book and archival deals, and he's been embroiled in some copyright fights before. One of the documents linked to “Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell. It was resolved.

Inciardi worked Notable exhibitions for the Cleveland-based Rock Hall of Fame. Kosinski has been president of Gotta Have It! Collections known for auctioning personal belongings of celebrities – Madonna's personal A failed case to try to stop selling her latex briefs.

According to court filings by Kosinski's attorneys, Henley told a grand jury that he never provided the biographer with the lyrics. But defense attorneys have signaled they plan to question Henley's memory of the period.

“We believe that Mr. Henley voluntarily provided the lyrics to Mr. Sanders,” attorney Scott Edelman said in court last week.

Sanders told Horowitz in 2005 that while working on the Eagles book, he sent documents he wanted from Henley's home in Malibu, California, according to the indictment.

Kosinski's business later offered some pages at auction in 2012. Henley's attorneys knocked. Horowitz, Inciardi and Sanders, in various combinations, began batting around alternate versions of the manuscripts' evidence, the indictment states.

FILE - Edward Kosinski, left, leaves the criminal courthouse charged in the conspiracy involving handwritten notes for an Eagles album. "Hotel California," July 12, 2022, in New York.  On Wednesday, February 21, 2024, an unusual criminal trial is set to begin over handwritten lyrics.  (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Edward Kosinski, left, leaves a criminal courthouse on July 12, 2022 in New York after being charged with conspiracy involving handwritten notes for the Eagles' album “Hotel California.” (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

In one story, Sanders rejected pages in a backstage dressing room. In others, he acquired them from a stagehand or while collecting “lots of things relating to eagles from various people”. In another, he received them from Frey — an account Horowitz suggested in 2017 that “will go away once and for all.” Frey said. Died the previous year.

Horowitz emailed Inciardi in 2012 about getting Sanders' “description” to bidders, saying “he needs gentle handling and reassurance.”

According to the indictment, Sanders gave or signed some differing explanations, and it is unclear what he may have communicated verbally. But he at least dismissed the dressing-room story.

Kosinki sent Henley's lawyer an explanation approved by Sanders. Kosinski assured Sotheby's auction house that the musician had “no right” to the documents and asked to keep the auctioneers in the dark about Henley's complaints, the indictment says.

Sotheby's listed the lyrics to “Hotel California” in a 2016 auction, but withdrew them after learning the ownership was questionable. Sotheby's has not been charged in the case and declined to comment.

Henley personally purchased some draft lyrics from Gotta Have It! For $8,500 in 2012, he also began filing police reports, according to court filings.

Defense attorneys say Henley found Starstruck Lawyers to take his cause instead of pursuing a civil suit.

The DA's office worked closely with Henley's legal team, and an investigator longed for backstage passes to an Eagles show — until a lawyer said the idea was “completely inappropriate,” Kosinki's attorneys said in court documents.

Prosecutors have dismissed questions about their motivations as “more of a conspiracy theory than a legal defense.”

Last year, they wrote in court papers that “it is the defendants, not the lawyers, who are on trial.”

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