A Suriname promoter acknowledged trying to pass off a Las Vegas-based entertainer as six-time Grammy winner Toni Braxton at a disastrous show dubbed the “Phony Toni” concert by local media, his lawyer said Thursday.
Angel Ventura told a judge he scammed people into paying up to $53 thinking they would hear the famous singer at a much-hyped show in this poor South American country more than two months ago, defense lawyer Lamure Latour told The Associated Press.
“He confessed in front of the investigating judge to the charges and said that he was aware of what he was doing,” Latour said.
The Feb. 28 show ended abruptly after Braxton impersonator Trina Johnson-Finn hit a sour note at the beginning of the second song. She was rushed off the stage to a loud chorus of boos and a volley of trash.
Prosecutors have accused Johnson-Finn, 40, of trying to pass herself off as Braxton, best known for the hit song “Un-break My Heart” and appearances on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
She has been in jail for the last two months awaiting a scheduled trial May 26 for allegedly defrauding the nearly 3,000 people who bought tickets — though she says she was an unwitting participant in the scam.
Prosecutor Duncan Nanhoe said the promoter’s confession does not necessarily clear Johnson-Finn.
“Yes, Ventura confessed. But I don’t think that his admission of guilt dismisses Johnson as a suspect,” Nanhoe said. It was not immediately clear if Johnson-Finn and Ventura would be tried together.
Johnson-Finn’s husband, Raymond Finn, said she has augmented her 20-year singing career by impersonating various stars as a “tribute artist” and was also the victim of Ventura, who aggressively promoted her as the real Braxton without her knowledge.
The show was the first time she had performed as a Braxton look-a-like, he said. Finn also alleged that Ventura, who was arrested Monday in a bar in Paramaribo, the capital of this small former Dutch colony, pilfered the box office proceeds.
Finn, during a Thursday telephone interview from Washington, where he is getting U.S. politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada involved in her case, said he was “ecstatic” that Ventura confessed but that Nanhoe’s comments made clear his wife’s ordeal in Suriname was far from over.
Meanwhile, police have detained Ventura’s girlfriend, Signet Sampson. Investigators said she had gone into hiding immediately after the Paramaribo concert turned into a melee.
Supporters in Las Vegas have come to Johnson-Finn’s defense, waging an Internet campaign on her behalf.