July 22, 2017 9:58:19 PM
A talent show set to take place in Columbus at the end of July could be suspicious, according to two involved local business directors.
"I want this to be true because it would be a great thing for our area, but I've just got a gut feeling that it's not going to happen," said Sandra Jones, owner of Columbus based Party Train Karaoke, who was asked to DJ and emcee for the show.
According to Mike Anderson, director of the downtown Trotter Convention Center, Columbus native Justin Lee of Nashville-based Gemini Records contacted Anderson in early June about renting the convention center for a talent show July 29-30. Anderson said Lee canceled the show around 2:45 Friday afternoon after Lee failed to pay the $2,500 agreed upon rental fee for the venue.
As of Friday evening, the Facebook page's listed location for the talent show had changed to the Columbus Fairgrounds, with the group still promising contestants the chance to win one of two recording contracts with Gemini Records out of Nashville.
Lee spoke with The Dispatch Saturday morning and said he has worked for Gemini Records for six years, though the oldest post from the company's Facebook page dates to June 2017.
Gemini Records is not a registered corporation in Tennessee, according to that state's Secretary of State's office. A Knoxville, Tenn. based Gemini Records, Inc. was the only record company by that name on file but was dissolved in 1987 because the company failed to file annual reports to keep the business active.
Canceling the Trotter, moving the event
Anderson said he has the written contract Lee signed when he put down a $750 deposit for the space, what the Trotter director said was a typical 30 percent deposit required of any organization booking the convention center.
The remaining $1,750 balance was due July 15, Anderson said, 14 days before the event was scheduled to begin.
"When I talked to him earlier [last] week, he said he'd have to get in touch with his business manager to wrap up the final bit of the deposit," Anderson said.
When Anderson called Lee again to settle the payments, Lee allegedly told Anderson the record company could not afford the gig.
"He told me they were running low on funds and said he would pay the day of the event," Anderson said. "I said, 'you can't do that.' He said he'd have to cancel."
Anderson and Lee offered conflicting accounts on the price of renting Trotter.
Lee claims he was asked to pay an additional $1,500 on top of the original $2,500 quote. Lee said after talking with his boss about the price change, his boss said he would not pay the additional amount. When The Dispatch asked Lee the name of his boss, Lee hung up the phone.
In a subsequent phone call, Lee identified his boss as Jonathan Ingram of Nashville. Ingram was not available to speak to The Dispatch by phone until Monday, according to Lee.
Anderson says he never asked for any price other than $2,500.
Jane Jordan, general manager of the Columbus Fairgrounds, confirmed Lee called her Friday to officially rent space at the fairgrounds for July 29-30. She said Lee originally contacted her earlier in the summer looking for venues, but she was not aware Lee had also coordinated with the Trotter Convention Center.
Jordan plans to charge Lee $400 per day to use a building at the fairgrounds, but she said Lee will not have to pay until the day before the talent show is set to take place.
"Normally they would put a deposit down, but with it being last minute -- and I didn't have anything scheduled for that weekend -- they'll put down the deposit the day before," Jordan said.
According to Jones, a Columbus resident, Gemini Records had agreed to pay her $600 to DJ between acts and announce contestants. While Lee has informed her of the show's location change, Jones said it will be much more difficult for her to set up DJ equipment at the fairgrounds, and she is considering increasing her asking price.
Jones said she had even advertised the talent show for the record company and helped Lee recruit participants because she thought the event could draw positive attention to Columbus.
"I did it for free because I thought this would be really good for our area," Jones said of her marketing efforts.
However, she noted the group seemed "extremely unprofessional" when coordinating with her.
Though Jones knows Lee personally because he taught her daughter voice lessons, Jones fears the company is not legitimate.
"My fear is this comes out to be a scam, and our names are in the bucket with him because we've been helping him," she said.
On Gemini Record's Facebook page, the phone number listed for the company is Lee's phone, and the company address, 131 Music Square East in Nashville, does not seem to exist, according to Google Maps.
Previous Gemini events
According to the Facebook page, Lee has hosted three separate talent show sign-up days on behalf of Gemini Records and planned to hold a fourth this weekend in Tupelo.
Gail Cullpepper, manager of Leigh Mall in Columbus, said the group held a sign-up at the mall's center court July 1-2 from 12-4 p.m. each day -- though she added she was out of town that weekend. Store managers at Mossy Oak Outdoor Outlet in West Point and Vowell's Marketplace in Starkville confirmed sign-up sessions also took place at their stores July 8-9 and July 15-16, respectively.
Lou Wyatt, Mossy Oak store manager, said a representative from Gemini Records told her ahead of time the company would have a radio station present and tour bus on-site for the sign-up, which she said took place at a pavilion outside the store. Wyatt could not confirm whether the radio station and tour bus were present.
Cullpepper, Wyatt and a manager at Vowell's Marketplace each said their businesses did not charge Gemini Records to host sign-up events on the stores' properties.
Lee said close to 100 people had registered to participate in the talent show as of Saturday morning and that Gemini Records had charged a $15 cash registration fee per person, as advertised through Facebook.
According to Jones, each potential contestant also had to complete a registration form, and she said children as young as 7 years old signed up for their shot at stardom.
"He did have forms that they filled out with their names and addresses," Jones said. "He even took in information about where they worked. I don't know how that's pertinent to the contest."
If 100 people registered, like Lee said, he collected $1,500 in registration fees.
A former conviction
Lee was arrested January 29, 2013 by the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office and charged with false pretense, a charge to which he pleaded guilty in December 2013. He was sentenced to three years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Jones told The Dispatch she thought Lee had a criminal record for a minor offense but that he was a "talented" individual from a "good family."
"He can play the mess out of a piano," Jones said of Lee. "He is talented, so why would a person like this be pulling a scam?"
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