Friend or Fraud?
On a recent afternoon, a New York musician, Peter Joseph Paul, played songs of peace to an emotional crowd at Union Square Plaza, trying to assuage the fear and sadness of the audience that had been gathering there since the attack on the World Trade Center. In between songs, he announced a benefit concert that was being organized by one Vernon Minow, to take place October 11 to 13 in New Gretna, New Jersey, and for which Minow needed about 75 volunteers. The proceeds were to go to New York City firemen.
Minow, a self-proclaimed songwriter who is suing both Mariah Carey and Sony for plagiarism, had promised, according to Paul, that the hopeful musician would be able to share a stage with Phil Collins, and that the 200,000-to-250,000-person concert would be his ticket to fame.
Playing on the hopes of aspiring New York musicians and optimistic peace-seekers, Minow is heralding the concert as one "to rival Woodstock," and says he is seeking volunteer organizers, security guards, and ticket vendors. Sounds good, except that after the '95 Oklahoma City bombing, Minow promised similar concerts throughout Oklahoma and Texas in '95 and '96 that didn't happen. He also has a long list of arrests on charges of fraud.
Paul told the Voice, "Mr. Vernon Minow is a nice guy. I met him in person twice. He might be a little eccentric, but the ideas he has seem genuine. I announced [the concert] a lot [of times] because this really excited me."
Several interested New Yorkers became suspicious after going to a September 21 meeting in the lobby of the Michaelangelo Hotel, at which Minow bought everyone nonalcoholic drinks and tipped the waiter $100. Aside from promising appearances by Helen Hunt, Phil Collins, and Paul McCartney, Minow also touted an appearance by "the czar of Russia."
Asked about the planned massive concert, a New Gretna local said, "I don't know of any places that would be big enough for a Woodstock," explaining that the largest open area in the heavily wooded region is the local high school football field.
Last week, a disillusioned David Coffey, who had been helping Minow, told the Voice that Minow's plans had changed from October 11 through 13 in New Gretna to October 19 through 21 at Atlantic City's Sandcastle Stadium. Tom Clark, a stadium representative, confirmed that there had been some preliminary discussions, "but it hasn't been finalized. That's not to say that it won't be."
Several days ago, when the Voice asked Coffey whether the concert was still on, he said, "No. I found out this guy's nothing but a fraud. We're all out of a lot of money. One girl, her phone bill is over $2000."
One volunteer, Maryann Adao, found several articles from the Denton-Record Chronicle [Texas] that report Minow's unsuccessful attempts at organizing similar concerts in Oklahoma City, as well as Houston, Fort Worth, and Dallas.
When volunteer Renea Stanchfield questioned Minow's legitimacy, he left her a message saying, "You got your priorities fucked up. Everything I say I am, I am. Now you won't be part of something great, you'll just be the piece of shit you are." To Stanchfield's roommate he said, "Tell me who and where you are and I'm going to come and jam it down your throat, motherfucker."
In a conversation with the Voice, Minow said, "Some germs came to the meeting of volunteers, and we were horrified. . . . Terrorists! They were smut peddlers, garbage. I can't be concerned with that."
Minow's been all over the place. According to The Tennessean and The Tennessee Banner, he got arrested in 1988 for failing to pay for a limousine he rented that Christmas to deliver toys to needy children. The stories recount that Minow "was still wearing his red Santa suit with white wig and beard" as well as "ladies' black patent leather pumps" when he was brought in, and was carrying a sack full of stuffed animals. He maintained that his efforts to be Santa Claus were legitimate.
Minow's history with the legal system goes back to the 1950s, and among numerous arrests, he has at least one conviction and has served some time for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute in 1986. After repeated Voice phone calls to Minow for his comments, he left a message threatening various suits and calling a reporter a "fucking Jew" and "racist pig."
"There are a lot of naive people out there who are vulnerable to this," Adao said in reference to the proposed World Trade Center benefit concert.
"You can't believe everybody who comes down the pike and tells you stuff," said Paul, who is a registered member of Music Under New York and plays in subway stations around the city. "For all I know, it's possible. Anything is possible. It's New York."
And like his arrest record, Minow's benefit-concert spiel is nothing new. Two 1972 clips from The Daily Oklahoman reveal that in his youth, Minow did in fact succeed in organizing the Minow Benefit for Physically Handicapped Children of Oklahoma, a $100-plate dinner attended by 110 people including r&b star H.B. Barnum, and Academy Award-winning musician Sammy Fain.
It seems unlikely, however, that this month's Minow concert will happen. The office of Helen Hunt's representative, Stephen Huvane, had heard nothing of the project. And as far as we know, Nicholas II, the last Russian czar, was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
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