PARAMARIBO, Suriname – A Las Vegas-based entertainer has been jailed after prosecutors said she tried to pass herself off as Toni Braxton at a concert, prompting the disappointed crowd to jeer and pelt the stage with trash. Her husband says she's the victim of a local con artist.
Prosecutors contend Trina Johnson-Finn attempted to pass herself off as the six-time Grammy winner at a much-hyped show in this poor South American country more than two months ago. Her husband said she wasn't trying to fool anyone and was duped by a promoter who scammed people into paying up to $53 thinking they would hear the famous singer. The promoter was arrested on Monday.
There seems to be no argument, however, that the concert was a bomb. Numerous people in the crowd of 3,000 began to jeer and pelt the stage with trash when the singer hit a sour note at the beginning of the second song. She was rushed off the stage to a loud chorus of boos.
Rosita Leeflang, a newspaper reporter from Paramaribo, was there with a friend. She said grumbling and a few discernible boos from the audience started almost immediately.
"My friend said at one point, 'What happened to Toni? She sounds terrible!'" Leeflang told The Associated Press.
Authorities quickly took Johnson-Finn and her husband into custody. Local media dubbed her "Phony Toni."
The case heads to court May 26, when Johnson-Finn, 40, is scheduled to go on trial, charged with defrauding the people who bought tickets.
"She deliberately presented herself as being Toni Braxton during the concert," prosecutor Duncan Nanhoe alleged Tuesday.
Not so, said her husband, Raymond Finn, who says his wife has augmented her 20-year singing career by impersonating various stars as a "tribute artist." Supporters in Las Vegas also have come to her defense, waging an Internet campaign on her behalf.
In a telephone interview from Las Vegas, Raymond Finn blamed the event's promoter, Angel Ventura of Events for Suriname, who could not be found after the concert. He was arrested Monday in a bar in Paramaribo, the capital of this small former Dutch colony with 480,000 inhabitants.
He said Ventura, without his wife's knowledge, promoted her as being the real Braxton, who is best known for the hit song "Un-break My Heart" and appearances on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." He also charged that Ventura pilfered the box office proceeds.
Raymond Finn, who was released without being charged after two weeks in custody, said Ventura hired his wife to perform a tribute act for a private party. U.S. booking agency RNRH Entertainment hired her to impersonate Braxton, with an understanding that the crowd knew she was a look-a-like.
"Trina's been isolated there for two months. She doesn't understand why she's being used as a scapegoat," Finn said. He said he believes his wife was arrested "to appease public anger."
Police said Ventura, who authorities previously asserted had fled the country, was not cooperating with the fraud investigation.
"I'm relieved he's in custody," Finn said. "I'm outraged that he's apparently been in Suriname the entire time."
Kathleen Brandon, Johnson-Finn's Surinamese lawyer, said the woman has been unjustly jailed. "She has done no wrong, so it is difficult for her to spend so much time in jail to await the start of the trial."
Associated Press writer David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.