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Former NSSA chairman Robin Vela sues American singer Joe Thomas for US$1,5m

Former National Social Security Authority (NSSA) chairman Robin Vela paid US$75,000 for American R&B singer Joseph Lewis Thomas, commonly known as Joe to perform at his 50th birthday gala dinner in July at the Sun City Resort in South Africa but the singer did not turn up and now Vela is suing him for US$1.5 million in the United States.

Vela also opened a case of fraud against Joe in South Africa after the singer received his money in full but failed to turn up at the extravaganza gig where the who is who in the business world were attending.

According to documents seen by Nehanda Radio, the 2003 Grammy award winner with his hit album “Better Days”, failed to show up to perform at Vela’s 50th birthday gala dinner extravaganza in the Superbowl at the world famous Sun City Resort.

He is said to have executed a performance agreement on or about 3 February 2022 and soon after been paid US$75,000 as appearance fee, in addition to payment for having his detailed security, technical & hospitality rider requirements met and having all travel and 5-Star accommodation expenses for the full band and tour group of 13 paid upfront.

According to a letter of demand dated 4 August 2022 (the “Demand Letter”) sent to Gerald Isaac (from Gerald Isaac Management Group acting as Joe’s manager) by Eric Fishman a Litigation Partner from New York based firm, Pryor Cashman LLP the attorney representing Vela, the “My Name is Joe” hit maker 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 amongst others.

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

Besides pursuing the civil suit route in the US, 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 a persona-non-grata.

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 South 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 artist was one of the headline entertainers of the event,” wrote Fishman to Joe’s manager.

“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 ,” read part of the letter.

But the Joe Thomas camp says it did not wilfully fail to pitch up as the artist was down due to COVID-19.

In the letter, Vela states that 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 as Isaac wanted his wife (Vania Rasha Isaac) included on the Joe band group’s list – a development which 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 approved by Isaac to issue the group’s flight tickets.

Vela forfeited his original payment to Delta Airline and was forced to make a second payment to Maria Mendez incurring costs of more than US$72,000 (for what were largely the same tickets he had to cancel with Delta Airline), over and about the US$92,000 paid for Joe’s group accommodation at the Lost City Hotel at Sun City, only for the superstar to allegedly ‘fake illness” literally less than 48 hours before the band was scheduled to be picked up by prepaid VVIP security detail from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport.

The lawyers say Vela was not even afforded the courtesy of time to engage a replacement artist given the timing of the notification given.

“Rob Vela worked diligently to ensure that 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.

“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 Artist’ positive covid-19 test but Mr Isaac refused,” read the letter of demand.

When reached for a 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 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 has refuted claims that any amount has been paid back to him 15 days after the supposed transfer and insists that the singer should pay back for all the expenses incurred together with damages – not just US$75,000.

At the time of this article, Robin Vela, only has the word of Isaac to support the claim of illness. No independent medical authority has verified the same.

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

In June this year Vela approached the Constitutional Court in Zimbabwe asking them to quash a report by BDO Chartered Accountants that fingered him in alleged underhand dealings at NSSA.

The backdrop to this was that in 2020 Vela won his case in the High Court against the report but the Supreme Court allowed BDO to appeal much to his annoyance.

“It seems clear to me that the Supreme Court was determined, for whatever reason, to rule in favour of BDO and Auditor-General,” he said.

“They just had to! No surprises for outsiders like me but this is not just about me, and so I will persevere on to the apex court.” he vowed.

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