Miami New Times — March 1, 2012
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Riptide
Michael E. Miller

STUDIO SCANDAL

SEX, LIES, AND POP

A SORDID LAWSUIT INCLUDES DWYANE WADE AND FOOT-LICKING.

BY MICHAEL E. MILLER

What do an aspiring pop star, a South Beach music mogul, Florida’s most powerful lobbyist, and Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade have in common? They’re all involved in one of the most bizarre, sordid recording-industry lawsuits ever filed in Miami-Dade County, complete with allegations of backstabbing, unsolicited foot-licking, and sexual assault.

The sketchy court affair began last October, when up-and-coming pop singer Phyllisia Ross sued SoBe Entertainment International LLC. The gorgeous, mochaskinned Haitian-American with a soaring voice claimed the record company had blown its promises and broken the terms of her contract. She also said SoBe Entertainment blocked her from signing with Haitian hip-hop star Wyclef Jean’s label.

But Ross didn’t stop there. The songbird also claimed SoBe’s CEO, Cecile Barker, had sexually assaulted her in 2008, shortly after she penned her deal. In a deposition this January, Ross described falling asleep on the couch at SoBe’s Lincoln Road recording studio. This is what she said happened next:

“I woke up and [Barker] had my foot in his hand and he was trying to lick on my foot,” Ross said. “I shook him off and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he sat on the couch next to me on the side, and he started grabbing my crotch area and my chest.”

Ross declined to comment for this story, but attorney Richard Wolfe says his client “has been through hell.”

Barker, though, was never charged with a crime over the incident. And his lawyers call the pop star’s claims “specious” and say the sexual assault charge is “recently concocted.”

“Our clients fully intend to defend their names and reputations by pursuing all legal remedies available to them,” attorney Daniel Foodman says.

The strange legal fight between the two has grown only fiercer since Ross’s explosive lawsuit was filed. Lawyers on both sides have accused one another in court of unethical behavior, including attempts to smear the reputations of Ross, Barker, and a host of Miami celebrities.

On October 21, Wolfe and defense council Richard Burton ducked into an office during a deposition to discuss a possible settlement. According to an affidavit filed by Wolfe, that’s when Burton said he would “make [Ross] pay” for the lawsuit by grilling her stepfather, Miami Heat announcer Eric Reid, as well as family friend and mega-lobbyist Ron Book.

“I will subpoena the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade, Ron Book, and [Mr. Reid’s] charity, and I will fuck up his relationships with the Miami Heat, its players, and his charity,” Burton supposedly said.

Then the case got even nastier. When SoBe lawyers pried Ross for details about her sex life, including what porn she watched, Wolfe accused them of “getting off on... asking her questions that have nothing to do with the case” and “satisfying [their] own prurient interests.”

SoBe’s lawyers shot back. They claimed Wolfe had lied in his affidavit and coaxed his legal assistant to do the same. “Richard Wolfe has placed his own ethics and credibility in question by misrepresenting material facts,” SoBe’s lawyers said in a court filing.

For all the threats and drama, however, the sensational lawsuit might already be moot. Ross filed for bankruptcy December 13. Barker says she still owes him money for breaking her contract.

“The whole purpose of the bankruptcy system is to allow people to wipe the slate clean of problems,” Wolfe says. “Just like Lincoln freed the slaves, every entertainment contract has an ending point.”

SKETCHY SCHOOL

STEALING FROM KIDS MIAMI-DADE SCHOOLS

HAVE AN IDENTITY-THEFT PROBLEM.

BY FRANCISCO ALVARADO

Miami-Dade County Public Schools have a security problem — and we’re not talking bad locks on the local elementary school’s front door.

Student information has fallen repeatedly into thieving hands, and the latest lapse comes from an especially embarrassing accused perp: Tizrah Ingram-Johnson, daughter of the late black leader and former school board member Robert Ingram.

Ingram-Johnson stands accused of stealing student info to pay her utility bills while working for the school board — just the latest data breach for the system, which has seen others forge credit cards and bilk thousands using student info.

School board spokesman John Schuster declined to comment on Ingram-Johnson’s case but in general defends the school system’s data security. “The district repeatedly issues warnings about the consequences of misusing this information,” he says. “Computer screens issue these reminders when employees sign on to access student information. The district also limits access to paper records.”

Ingram-Johnson declined to comment. But the charges spelled out in the 50-year-old’s case by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Police Department and the county inspector general stand in stark contrast to the legendary status her father holds in black Miami.

Robert Ingram went from being Miami’s first African-American motorcycle cop in the ’60s to mayor of Opa-locka in the ’80s and ’90s. He was elected to the school board in 1998 and held the seat until his death in 2007.

That was the same year, coincidentally, his daughter was transferred to the North Miami Adult Education Center. As a secretary for the registrar’s office, Ingram-Johnson had access to students’ personal information, including photocopies of driver’s licenses.

In August 2010, investigators allege, Ingram-Johnson opened an account with Florida Power & Light under the name of a student. From her office at the center, she faxed copies of the student’s driver’s license to the utility company. Ingram-Johnson ignored months’ worth of bills totalling $1,046.

The probe began last November, two months after Ingram-Johnson was laid off. She was charged February 2 with identity theft and grand theft.

Her alleged crime echoes other recent data thefts in the system. In 2009, Roshell Demps — a former clerk for the school board — and her boyfriend pleaded guilty to credit card and identity fraud after she was caught stealing social security numbers to obtain credit cards. And this past November, CBS 4 reported that Erika Robinson, a business owner, was under investigation for using the names of students at three inner-city schools to falsely claim she’d been tutoring them in order to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars from the district.

No court date has been set on Ingram-Johnson’s charges.
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