PHOENIX — Former Orange County concert promoter Gary Tovar, who was a major force in fostering the Southern California punk and alternative-music scene, was sentenced Monday to seven years in federal prison for marijuana trafficking.
Tovar, 40, founder of the Goldenvoice production company, pleaded guilty last November to four charges of participating in a ring that tried to buy marijuana in Arizona for distribution in California and elsewhere.
Prosecutors had been pushing for a sentence of 12 1/2 years. "I was hoping to get less, but it could have been worse," said Tovar, speaking Tuesday by telephone from the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix. "I thought everything went as well as could be expected."
Tovar said he plans to appeal for a reduced sentence.
Before he imposed the seven-year sentence and a fine of $3,000, U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt said he'd taken into account Tovar's cooperation with the government and the "great many" letters written on behalf of Tovar by friends and relatives.
Addressing Rosenblatt at the beginning of the hearing, Tovar said he was sorry for his crimes and for how he'd hurt his family. "I'm ready to do my time and get it over with and rejoin society," he said.
Defense attorney Rick Jones said the 19 months Tovar has spent in jail since his arrest will be applied to his sentence. Also, he is eligible for up to 54 days "good time credit" for every year he serves.
After the sentencing, defense attorney Rick Jones said his client took it well. "He was expecting a term of imprisonment obviously," Jones said.
Nine people were arrested in the case following federal and local investigations in Tucson and Mesa. All have either been convicted or pleaded guilty, and Tovar was the last to be sentenced, attorneys said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Peter Jarosz asked Rosenblatt to sentence Tovar to 12 1/2 years in prison, while defense attorneys suggested he impose a sentence of six years or less.
"To give a man from 57 to 72 months is not a slap on the wrist," defense attorney Walter B. Nash told Rosenblatt.
Attorneys on both sides said Tovar had cooperated with investigators, but Jarosz said Tovar withheld some information until he learned that co-defendants had agreed to testify against him. Although Tovar cooperated, the government chose not to call him as a trial witness, Jarosz said.
If Tovar hadn't agreed to cooperate with the government, federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison sentence of between 17 1/2 and 21 years, 8 months, Rosenblatt said.
Once arrested, a federal drug-case defendant's only hope is to contact prosecutors to cooperate with their investigation, the judge said. "Otherwise he is looking at more than substantial terms of imprisonment."
Still, Rosenblatt said, Tovar paid a price for not cooperating with authorities earlier, as others in the case did.
In arguing for a lenient sentence, defense attorneys said some of Tovar's co-defendants received sentences ranging from probation to four years in prison although they had larger roles in the ring than Tovar.
Jarosz said Tovar made $3 million to $4 million in marijuana trafficking and continued his involvement by helping organize the ring in Arizona even after authorities seized shipments elsewhere.
"This is a person motivated by greed," the prosecutor said.
Tovar has been in jail since he was arrested in March, 1991. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute, one count of attempted possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and one count of operating a continuing criminal enterprise.
After his arrest, Tovar gave up his ownership of Goldenvoice, which he had started in 1981.
Tovar grew up in Los Angeles and Huntington Beach, where his family moved when he was 12. After attending college in Orange County, he launched Goldenvoice with shows in Santa Barbara social halls and community centers because "at that time, (punk) was pretty taboo in Los Angeles," Tovar told The Times in June.
Tovar later moved to Los Angeles, where he helped organize an often chaotic punk concert scene. As alternative rock gained momentum, Goldenvoice became a well-established player in the Los Angeles concert market. The company has exclusive promoting rights at the Hollywood Palladium and also does many shows at the Palace. It has also promoted a few concerts in Orange County at UC Irvine's Crawford Hall and at Anaheim's Celebrity Theatre. Goldenvoice promoted 110 concerts in 1991 and projects a total of 180 shows this year.
In June, some musicians whose careers Tovar helped build performed at a benefit concert at the Palladium to help pay his legal bills. On the bill were Social Distortion, Porno for Pyros (fronted by former Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell), Thelonious Monster, the Meat Puppets, Tender Fury and Firehose.
Jim Guerinot, manager of Social Distortion, a Fullerton band that Tovar championed in its early days, said he was "extremely disappointed" with the sentence. "Gary Tovar is a good guy. He obviously stepped up and admitted his mistakes," Guerinot said.
"I know of countless people that he's helped. . . . This guy is capable of much more than sitting in a jail cell in Tempe, Ariz., as a way of making up for whatever wrongs that he has done."
"I'm glad it's over with," Tovar said Tuesday. "I want to come back and join the music world again I hope, and just go on with my life."
Correspondent Rick VanderKnyff in Orange County contributed to this report.