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.
Phyllisia Ross, an up-and-coming pop starlet and Wyclef Jean protege, claims in a lawsuit that SoBe Entertainment record executive Cecile Barker sexually assaulted her.
"I woke up and [Cecile 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?'"
The sketchy court affair began last October, when Ross sued SoBe Entertainment. The gorgeous, mocha-skinned 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 Wyclef Jean's label.
The songbird also claimed that 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.
When she woke up, Barker was licking her foot. But things didn't stop there.
"He sat on the couch next to me on the side," Ross said. "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. 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. (In court, Burton has denied making the threat. He declined to comment to Riptide.)
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."
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