Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Great Björk Scam of 2003

Some (or a lot) of you may have already heard this story, but it’s brand new to me. It involves an event that seemed almost too good to be real – “An Intimate Evening with Björk” – and in the end, was too good to be real, but not for the reasons one might think. Björk has been known to appear in small venues, but this one was different. This one had a poster produced for it by R.Black, an established illustrator of rock posters. This one was going to happen at a popular gay club in San Diego called the Flame. There was even an opening act on the bill – “the infamous” Debbie Deb. Problem was, Björk didn’t know about it. If this is news to you as it was to me, I’ve gathered various media reports to flesh out the details. And even if it’s not news to you, you’re likely to learn something you didn’t know before.


We start with this report from the San Diego Union-Tribune:

By Gregory Alan Gross
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

January 24, 2003

And the moral of this story is: Don't mess with Björk fans.

A man suspected of defrauding as many as 400 people of as much as $16,000 [other reports state between $9,000.00 and $14,000.00 – Björk Zine] by selling tickets to a bogus Björk concert at a North Park night spot has been arrested in Hawaii, authorities said yesterday.

But it wasn't police investigators who tracked Alejo "Alex" Conate [aka DJ Liquid Groove] to the island of Oahu.

It was the outraged fans of Björk, an internationally known singer with a fiercely devoted following in the underground dance music scene, who found him and tipped off the cops.

"We're in the process of extraditing him back," said San Diego vice Detective James Borg.

Conate is suspected of setting up a phony Web site with bogus e-mails from Björk to dupe a legitimate San Diego promoter, Bryan Pollard, and the management at The Flame into believing he could bring the iconoclastic Icelandic idol to an intimate club venue in San Diego.

He then sold realistic-looking tickets to ecstatic Björk fans at $40 apiece.

Said Borg: "I'm very anxious to have a chat with this young man."

So are prosecutors in San Luis Obispo, who have two pending warrants of their own with Conate's name on them.

So, too, is Kevin Azero who, along with several of his friends, shelled out $80 for a pair of tickets to a concert that never was.

"He's been caught . . . really? Oh my God, that's really cool!" Azero said, adding. "I hope he still has my money."

Once it was known that the Björk appearance in San Diego was a scam, both police and angry Björk fans immediately got on Conate's trail.

But it was a network of Björk fans – as well as the holders of those worthless tickets – who found him first, Borg said.

"People kind of went into an outrage over this," said Greg Horton, manager of the Off the Record music shop, who also bought a pair of the phony tickets.

They had help from Pollard's Web site, www.klubs.com, which posted a photograph of Conate on the Internet and urged anyone who had seen him to contact the site or The Flame.

"They have a communication system that rivals the CIA," Borg said.

Apparently, Conate was over in Hawaii, Borg said, boasting of his dealings as a concert promoter here.

Word got back to Pollard, who called San Diego police.

"We did find out where he was and I worked with the Honolulu Police Department Crime Stoppers," Borg said. "They did a good job."

Conate was arrested Wednesday and waived extradition, Borg said. His return to California will be coordinated through the San Luis Obispo District Attorney's Office.

*
ChartAttack.com, on June 25, 2003, reported this:

Conate will be sentenced for the crime on July 22, but San Diego authorities won’t be able to punish the trouble-maker until he answers other charges in San Luis Obispo. Authorities there have issued a warrant for a probation violation stemming from a previous elder abuse conviction.

*

Following sentencing, The San Diego Union-Tribune ran this update:

5:40 p.m., July 29, 2003

SAN DIEGO – A man who sold more than $9,000 worth of tickets to a non-existent concert that he claimed would feature Icelandic pop star Björk was sentenced today to five years probation and ordered to make restitution.

Alejo Miguel Conate, 25, pleaded guilty on June 23 to grand theft.

Conate will be transferred to San Luis Obispo, where he faces a probation violation in an unrelated elder abuse case, Deputy District Attorney Tricia Pummill said.

Conate convinced promoter Bryan Pollard that he was a disc jockey and could deliver Björk to the Flame bar on Park Boulevard for a Jan. 15 concert.

Tickets to the "show" were sold, and the defendant skipped town with $9,160, Pummill said.

Conate was arrested in late January in Honolulu, after authorities learned he spent about $1,900 tipping female dancers in an adult club.

Owners of the Flame have already paid back the vast majority of the ticket buyers, Pummill said.

Conate was ordered to pay $5,760 to the club and $1,960 to Pollard. The rest of the money will be held for customers who have not been reimbursed, the prosecutor said.

San Diego police Detective James Borg testified at an earlier hearing that Pollard told him that he first met Conate last November, as the defendant pulled a suitcase down a Hillcrest street.

Conate told Pollard that he worked as a DJ and knew the singer Björk, according to the detective, who said the promoter offered Conate a place to live because he was homeless.

Pollard and a bar manager got e-mails that they thought were from Björk officials and another performer confirming their scheduled appearance in San Diego, Borg said.

Conate disappeared in December with the money from the ticket sales from an unlocked metal box kept under Pollard's bed, the detective said.

Pummill said people interested in buying tickets to concerts should check a performer's Web site to see if a show is actually scheduled.

*
In early January 2003, the club Flame issued this statement:

"On behalf of myself, Mary Young, manager of The Flame in San Diego, it is with great disappointment to inform those of you who actually bought tickets that the Bjork show has been cancelled. DJ Liquid Groove, (his real name is Alex Conate from Oceanside, CA but also goes by 'Keanu Jimenez') the promoter with this event, has taken off with all of the money made from ticket sales. Yes, DJ Bryan Pollard and The Flame's names are on the flyers and the tickets, but all Bryan Pollard did was supply "Liquid Groove" with a website for promoting and the use of his clubs to sell tickets. All that The Flame did was say 'yes' to a once in a lifetime opportunity to house the most magical and inspirational woman in music (who wouldn't???). DJ Bryan Pollard had been working with "Liquid Groove" for the past couple of months and entrusted in him not only his business but his reputation. "Liquid Groove" proclaimed to have been a producer for Bjork on her Icelandic version of 'Homogenic'. He also listed off a list of other amazing artists he had collaborated with and unfortunately we believed him. He then played for us many of Bjork's songs he had mixed himself making it even more believable, as well as being a 'special guest DJ' at our club last Saturday night. Bryan Pollard, The Flame and its staff, and everyone who purchased a ticket got duped.

"The Flame and Bryan Pollard are deeply sorry for any inconvenience this has caused but please remember that we too are very disappointed.”

*

According to a news item about the scam on MTV.com dated 4/14/03, Conate initially claimed that “he was guilty of no such thing in court Wednesday” and “denied charges of grand theft for allegedly selling $14,000 worth of tickets to a January 15 concert that was never booked.” What’s important, however, is that he was guilty, and when faced with the facts, had to plead guilty in court. In the final analysis, Conate was just a grifter, and not a very good one, because he was caught.

An interesting comment upon the denouement of the case was made by Tommy Salami (gotta love that name!), writer for San Diego’s Gay and Lesbian Times. In the issue dated 8/21/03, Salami extended “a great big bastard of a thank you to Judge William Mudd. I had the privilege of watching him convict DJ Liquid Groove (aka Keanu Jimenez, aka Alejo Conate, aka Inmate # 957-261…) of the locally famous ticket scandal involving a certain Icelandic singer with not nearly enough vowels in her name. My reason for loving Judge Mudd? This quote from the bench over the DJ with the dirty hands: “You are guilty as sin. You’ve tried to fool me, you’ve tried to fool the DA’s office and the probation office by saying you’d been duped. You’re not a dupe. You’re a dope.” I think he deserves his own show. In your face, Judge Judy!”

This is quite a story, and as I said, one that I had never heard before. Aside from the bizarre nature of this story, however, what’s with the reporter’s description of Björk as having “a fiercely devoted following in the underground dance music scene”? Underground dance music scene? Underground, in 2003? I guess he never read the piece in Entertainment Weekly that called Björk a “legend in her own time” and a “citizen of the world.

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