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Lawyer: Suriname promoter admits Braxton scam

The Associated Press, Thursday, May 7, 2009, 3:25pm (PDT)

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) -- A concert promoter accused of trying to pass off a Las Vegas-based entertainer as six-time Grammy winner Toni Braxton has confessed to arranging the scheme in Suriname, his attorney said Thursday.

The promoter, 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.

Prosecutor Duncan Nanhoe, who also heard the confession, stressed that Ventura's admission during questioning by Judge Ingrid Lakicharanhe did not necessarily clear Trina Johnson-Finn, 40, of attempting to pass herself off as the real Braxton, best known for the hit song "Un-break My Heart" and appearances on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars."

"Yes, Ventura confessed. But I don't think that his admission of guilt dismisses Johnson as a suspect," Nanhoe said.

The case heads to court May 26, when Johnson-Finn is scheduled to go on trial, charged with defrauding the nearly 3,000 people who bought tickets.

It was not immediately clear if Johnson-Finn, dubbed "Phony Toni" by local media, and Ventura would be tried together.

The Las Vegas woman's disastrous Feb. 28 performance prompted the disappointed crowd to jeer and pelt the stage with trash. She was rushed off the stage to a loud chorus of boos after she hit a sour note at the beginning of the second song.

Her husband, Raymond Finn, says she has augmented her 20-year singing career by impersonating various stars as a "tribute artist." He said Ventura, without his wife's knowledge, aggressively promoted her as being the real Braxton for weeks. The show was the first time she had performed as a Braxton look-a-like, he said.

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.

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.

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.

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Associated Press writer David McFadden in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

Free Trina Johnson-Finn site: http://freetrina.com

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