Two years after a concert scam landed Jefferson County native Luke Loy handcuffed in Berkeley County Circuit Court, the 47-year-old hairstylist says his life is no longer rocky.
Inside his elegant new salon in a sprawling historic home on North Mildred Street in Charles Town, Loy says these days he feels tranquil about both his work and life.
“Charles Town has really welcomed me, and that feels great,” said Loy, who grew up in Leetown. “I have a home, a supportive partner, and now a business where I can help people feel good about themselves.
“It’s been a complete turnaround from where my life was two years ago. A lot of people would have given up, but I knew there were better days ahead.”
Loy, who has two older sisters and an older brother, left high school before graduation to work full time and help his mother pay bills.
Married at 17, he soon had a family of his own to care for. The father of four (including twin daughters) initially made a living with factory work at Dixie-Narco in Ranson.
When the factory closed its doors here in 1989, Loy switched gears to train as a hairstylist, the career he’d dreamed of since childhood.
He also went through a divorce and became open about his homosexuality.
After graduating from the International Beauty School in Martinsburg, Loy spent the next two decades working in Martinsburg. “I’ve always had my own salon. I’ve been very lucky,” he said.
He loved the work. “My main goal in life has always been to help other people feel good about themselves,” he said. “Seeing people leave feeling better about how they look, feeling better about themselves – that makes me feel good about what I chose as my career.”
But in early 2010, Loy’s world was upended by a drama he said began when a then-friend announced that he’d signed Grammy-winning rock star Lady Gaga along with Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame to come to Sam Michaels Park near Shepherdstown for a concert that would help launch Loy’s new line of hair products.
Soon The Journal in Martinsburg ran a front-page article about the April show, complete with photos of Gaga and Lambert.
Though many in the Panhandle were skeptical from the instant that the tale hit newsstands, others bought in and began paying $100 or more per ticket.
To some, a Gaga show in West Virginia didn’t sound completely far-fetched. The “Born This Way” singer, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta in New York City in 1986, does have family and relatives in the Mountain State.
Her mother Cynthia Bissett graduated from West Virginia University and her maternal grandmother still lives in the Northern Panhandle.
But within days of The Journal story’s publication, it was clear Gaga and Lambert never were headed to a performance in a Panhandle park. Law enforcement officers opened an investigation into fraud claims against both Loy and his friend, a client who worked as an event promoter.
By that May, the two were facing felony charges for obtaining money under false pretenses. Both were arraigned and released on $5,000 bond.
Loy’s attorney Michael Santa Barbara released a statement defending Loy, pointing out that he’d never been in trouble with so much as a speeding ticket.
Loy said that his friend — named in court records as Dean DeSana — had come up with the idea for the concert as a way to bring attention to Loy’s hair products. Loy said he became involved not in setting up plans for the concert, but only to sell tickets.
He opened a designated bank account and began to deposit checks written by ticket purchasers. He said that money went to DeSana, then living in Martinsburg, who also stopped by his hair salon daily to pick up cash from ticket sales.
He says that he was scammed by DeSana in the same way that ticket buyers were. The friend “used my trust and my reputation to take from people,” Luke said. “People bought tickets because they trusted me.”
When questions about the concert’s validity arose and then authorities became involved, Loy said that although he hadn’t kept any of the proceeds from ticket sales, he wanted to make things right for those who’d spent money on a concert that never came to be.
He asked his mother to lend him money from her retirement account. “She knew I was innocent, and because of the people we are, we knew we had to do the right thing,” he said.
Through his lawyer, refund checks were issued to all ticket purchasers. Once the checks cleared, officials dropped all charges against both Loy and DeSana.
The Gaga saga – and Loy’s legal woes – generated worldwide news, with coverage in The Washington Post, The Sun in Baltimore, The Associated Press and other mainstream press outlets as well as on “Access Hollywood” and other TV programs and news shows and on TMZ.com and in other celebrity magazines and websites.
The spotlight wasn’t a positive for Loy, though. “So many people heard the gossip and still don’t know the truth of what happened,” he said. “I ended up losing everything, including my house and my business. I could have lost the reputation I’ve spent the last 20-plus years building but enough people knew me, knew the kind of work I do and the way I care for people.
“I was fortunate and had so many people stick by me and defend me – people who did know the truth and who want to see me do well. I was down for a while, but I would not give up.”
The path to Loy’s current happiness started over the summer after he and his partner, Chuck Larochelle, found a “for sale” sign on a house at 332 N. Mildred St. in Charles Town.
“I’d been wanting to move back to Jefferson County,” said Loy, whose parents, children and three grandchildren all live in the area.
Larochelle liked the downtown location, which makes for an easy commute to his job in Northern Virginia, Loy said, and the home offers plenty of space to operate Hair By Luke downstairs and for more living quarters above.
Another plus: the way area residents have made them feel at home.
“It’s been so wonderful,” Loy said. “From the time we started moving in, people would stop and welcome us to the neighborhood. A lot of people wanted to know if I planned to open a shop. I just can’t say enough about the warm welcome we’ve received. It’s just been an incredible experience.”
Before giving the go-ahead for the salon, city licensing officials had questions about what Loy calls “the whole Gaga mess,” but he found the process fair and officials eager to help more businesses take root in the area. “It’s very community-oriented here,” he said. “I told everyone right from the start, I believe in giving back. Businesses have to make money, but you can’t just take – you have to make that effort to give first.”
As he waited for the city’s all-clear, Loy set about creating the right look for his new salon. He said he knew he wanted a space that had a classic, upscale look but that everyone would find inviting and comfortable.
“I take care of doctors and lawyers and high-end folks, but lots of everyday people, too,” he said. “I’m not the typical hairdresser, ‘Get ’em in, get ’em out.’ If someone wants to come here and spend the whole day, that’s fine by me. I wanted a place with a very calm, welcoming feel to it.”
As a business owner, one mantra he follows is to treat every customer as if he or she has come in as a first-timer.
“It’s very natural, I think, for any business owner to get accustomed to clients over time and to think, ‘Oh, they won’t mind if I’m running a little late,’ and to begin to act as if the customers who have been with you for a while will continue to come to you even if you’re not treating them like a priority. I don’t do that. Ask anybody.
“I care about the people who come here and treat them like family. I don’t even like using the word ‘client.’ That’s not how I think about the people who come to me.”
As news filters out about his new salon, Loy said he’s taking appointments and seeing clients come from Jefferson as well as Berkeley counties and beyond.
To further get out the word about Hair By Luke, he plans to hold an open house, probably sometime in October.
Despite all the uproar over the Gaga-Lambert concert that wasn’t, Loy clearly is not bitter.
“I could have been hardhearted toward the people who tried to ruin my reputation, but that’s just not me,” he said. “I’ve always said, with business or anything in life, you can’t look at your losses – you have to look at what you have now. I’m very grateful for everything I have.”