By day, George Zoley is the CEO of the second-largest private prison company in America. But when he’s not running the GEO Group, a company that operates 104 correctional facilities around the world, Zoley is the frontman of a band named Akron, video footage and public records suggest.
“So I said to her, you still make this prison home,” a singer who appears to be Zoley croons on one song by the band, which released its first and only album in 2012. Titled Akron, it’s available on iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify. Here’s a video of the band performing in 2012:
Zoley, 66, founded the GEO Group in 1984 and made $6.61 million last year as its CEO. Over the years, the company has been hounded by lawsuits and accusations that it violates inmates’ rights. The federal Department of Justice announced last week that it would eventually close or scale down the five prisons it has contracted GEO to run following an Inspector General's report documenting violence and poor living conditions in the facilities. That decision led the company’s stock price to fall almost 40% in one day.
A GEO Group spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment about whether or not Zoley is indeed the frontman of Akron. But the evidence is…convincing. Let's take a look.
An uncanny resemblance
Here's another photo comparison:
Look at the cheeks:
The paper trail
Zoley also owns the company that holds the band’s trademark. He registered a company called Icarus Productions of FL, LLC in 2012, Florida business records show. It shares the exact same business address as the GEO Group.
A few months after it was incorporated, Icarus registered a trademark for a band named Akron. According to the U.S. trademark database, Icarus holds the rights to musical records and live performances by the band, as well as “Baseball caps; Caps; Hats; Shirts; T-shirts” with the Akron logo—although there's no evidence this kind of merchandise was ever sold. Icarus cited the iTunes album and the performance video in its trademark application.
The name of the band also makes sense: Zoley grew up in Akron, Ohio. He was born in Florina, Greece in 1950 and moved with his family to Akron when he was three, according to his father’s obituary. The family moved to Florida when Zoley was 19; he still lives there.
We could only find one video of the band performing, at the 2012 LA Music Awards, where it took home fourth place in rock single of the year and fifth place in rock album of the year. (The video of the set had a total of two views on YouTube as of last Wednesday.)
'How could you write songs like these?'
Freddie Salem, a guitarist and singer hired to play on Akron's album and at the performance, told me the frontman had introduced himself as "George Christopher" and never said anything about being a CEO. Christopher is Zoley's middle name; the album cover for Akron that Zoley trademarked notes that the songs were “written and composed by G. Christopher.” (I've been unable to find any websites or performances for another Florida musician named George Christopher.)
The album was recorded at East West Studios in Hollywood, famous for hosting stars like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Madonna. At the awards show, “we tore The Whiskey apart,” Salem told me, referring to the West Hollywood concert venue. “The crowd was ballistic. It was a really good album—it’s like Dylan, it’s like Tom Petty, there are parts that are like U2. It’s very well put together.”
The album's songs are mostly about heartbreak and failed relationships (though Zoley is married). Some of the tracks are pretty catchy, although the lyrics… leave a bit to be desired. Here’s a verse on “You Get Who You Deserve”:
She says she wants you but you’re not quite right
She wants someone else, it’s not your night
You find another babe but she’s not quite right
It’s all bad luck, your god-given right
Here’s a section of “Pick Me Up”:
I may have had a little much to drink
It’s pretty easy when you stop to think
Of what could happen when you don’t even care
About your life going anywhere
In addition to Salem, who's known for his role in the southern rock-and-roll band The Outlaws in the late ‘70s, Akron also featured sound mixer Ron Nevison, who engineered albums for The Who.
Salem hasn't played with Akron for four years, and he couldn't say for sure whether the singer he knew as "George Christopher" was in fact Zoley. But he said he could hardly believe that a private prison CEO would be able to compose and perform a rock album: “How can a corporate guy like what you're talking about… if he owns the number two whatever it is—how could you write songs like these?”
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Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.