Zim businessman sues US singer Joe Thomas for US$1.5 million

Prominent businessman Robin Vela

Prominent businessman Robin Vela is suing award-winning R&B singer, Joseph Lewis Thomas, popularly known as Joe for US$1.5 million for failing to show up at the South Africa-based business mogul’s birthday gala despite being paid for a performance.

The 2003 Grammy award winner with his hit album “Better Days", failed to show up in South Africa where he was billed to perform at Vela’s 50th birthday gala at the Sun City Resort despite receiving US$75 000 as an appearance fee.

Vela had also paid for Joe’s detailed technical and hospitality rider requirements and five-star accommodation expenses for the full band and tour group of 13 paid up front.

The businessman has now instructed his lawyers, Eric Fishman of Pryor Cashman LLP to file a legal suit against Joe, his manager Gerald Isaac of Gerald Isaac Management Group, his travel agent Maria Mendez of Maria Mendez Travel and proceed to trial for civil claims in the US.

According to a letter of demand dated 4 August 2022 sent to Fishman, a Litigation Partner from New York-based firm, Pryor Cashman LLP, the attorney representing Vela, the “My Name is Joe” hitmaker was supposed to perform at the birthday gala on Saturday 16 July 2022 along with 2019 “America’s got talent” finalist group, Ndlovu Youth Choir.

 Zimbabwean award-winning gospel diva, Janet Manyowa; South African gospel singer, Dr Tumi; South African R&B singer, Loyiso;  South African award-winning hit-makers, Micasa; and US R&B group SWV were among the list of those who performed at the birthday bash.

The extravaganza was hosted by South African A-list personalities, comedian David Kau and Minnie Dhlamini, the latter having to break the news of Joe’s non-appearance to the disappointed of  guests.

Vela has also filed a criminal case against the singer and his manager with the South African Police Service for “theft by false pretence” in South Africa, a development which will likely result in the musician and his manager being placed on the wanted list and declared persona-non-grata in South Africa.

The matter is being investigated by Sergeant MW Masetloa of Sandton Police Station under case number 425/8/2022 who has not ruled out potentially seeking the assistance of Interpol and engaging his law enforcement counterparts in the US.

There has been recent precedent of arrests for non-performance by international artists in the southern African region.

“As you are aware, Rob Vela hired an artist to perform at an event celebrating the 50th birthday of Robin Vela.

“The event was a celebration scheduled to take place at the Sun City Resort in South Africa on July 16 and you understood that hundreds of the guests, most of which were global corporate leaders and ultra-high net worth individuals travelling from international locations, would attend the event.

“You also knew that the artist was one of the headline entertainers of the one-off event,” Fishman wrote.

He added: “As set forth below the management and Joe Thomas have wilfully breached the express terms of the performance agreement, as a result, this letter constitutes our client’s demand for immediate repayment of all expenses that it had incurred as a result of your wrongful actions.”

Vela said he was made to pay for the group’s air tickets twice by Joe’s manager as the booking made with Delta Airlines, which was acceptable to SWV managed by ICM, was not acceptable to Isaac.

Presumably, Isaac wanted his wife, Vania Rasha Isaac included on the Joe band group’s list.

This was noted when Isaac provided the new travel group names and for which his specified travel agent, Maria Mendez Travel, was the only person/entity he approved to issue the group’s flight tickets.

Vela forfeited his original payment to Delta Airlines and was forced to make a second payment to Maria Mendez incurring costs of more than US$72,000 for largely the same tickets he had to cancel with the airline.

Vela had also paid about US$92,000 for Joe’s group accommodation at the Lost City Hotel at Sun City, only for the superstar to ‘fake illness” less than 48 hours before the band was scheduled to be picked up by pre-paid VVIP security detail from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

Vela was not even afforded time to engage a replacement artist due to the short notice.

“Rob Vela worked diligently to ensure that the artist and manager were provided everything they required under the performance agreement and the performance rider.

“You, on the other hand, failed to perform any of your obligations,” read the letter of demand

The letter added: “On July 12, 2022, after business hours in South Africa, Mr Isaac called Robin Vela and informed him that the artist could not travel to the event because he contracted COVID-19.”

“Mr Vela asked Mr Isaac to provide proof of the artist’s positive COVID-19 test but Mr Isaac refused,” read the letter of demand.

When reached for comment, Isaac claimed that he had repaid the performance fee and was not obliged to settle the other monies incurred by Vela such as travel and accommodation as his client was taken ill and did not wilfully breach the agreement.

“We have paid him the money we owed him. As of now, we don’t owe him anything. We paid on August 15.

“We signed a ‘force majeure’ agreement with Mr Vela and we offered an opportunity to reschedule the performance.

“In addition, as a courtesy not out of obligation, because flight tickets were non-refundable and only credits for the exact flight would be issued, I offered that in the event Joe is scheduled or contracted in the future to play/perform in South Africa, I would be willing to work diligently in having future promoter direct the travel budget to Mr Vela.

“Again, this was out of complete courtesy, contractually we are not obliged for expenses,” said Isaac.

But Vela denied being paid anything and insists that the singer should pay back for all the expenses incurred together with damages, not just the  US$75,000.

He said no independent medical authority has verified Isaac’s claim that Joe was sick.

In filing his lawsuit, Vela is adamant that he will test Isaac’s allegation vigorously in a US Court utilising subpoena and the sanction of perjury against witnesses to be called.

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