Just weeks after breaking open the faked documents that were the basis of the Los Angeles Times' since-retracted front-page story on the 1994 ambush of Tupac Shakur at a New York recording studio, The Smoking Gun appears to have another whopper on its hands.
The site claims that Akon has fabricated most of his past as the ringleader of a "notorious" car-theft ring and that he did not spend four and a half years in prison as he's claimed, but rather a few months in an Atlanta jail for stealing one car. The debunking of Akon's stories — which he has repeated frequently in multiple interviews since the release of his 2004 debut, Trouble — cast doubt on the singer's claims that he did a long jail stretch for his lead role in a car-theft operation that specialized in stealing Porsches, Lamborghinis and Mercedes. It also questioned his claims that at one point, he owned four chop shops that catered to "celebrities and drug dealers" and that he often had to flee from police in high-speed chases.
The singer has also claimed that, after being ratted out by jealous underlings who cut deals with the cops, he spent three years in a Georgia prison fighting other inmates on an almost-daily basis for two years, emerging as a "champion" who, despite coming in at a trim 150 pounds, whupped inmates bigger and smaller than him, because he knew "where to hit you to knock you out, so I didn't fear you."
So is it possible that the man who named his company Konvict Music, his second album Konvicted and his upcoming third one Acquitted may have been pulling a con all along? The Smoking Gun reports that the singer's "ad nauseam claims about his criminal career and resulting prison time" have mostly been "exaggerated, embellished or wholly fabricated."
By reportedly sifting through police, court and corrections records, the site claims that Akon's rap sheet does include a half-dozen arrests but only one felony conviction, for gun possession in New Jersey in 1998, which resulted in a guilty plea and three years' probation. In another arrest that same year in suburban Atlanta, contrary to the singer's frequent claims, the site says he was nabbed for possession of a single stolen BMW and held in the DeKalb County jail for five months before prosecutors dropped all charges against him. "So there was no conviction. There was no prison term between 1999 and 2002. And he was never 'facing 75 years,' as the singer claimed in one videotaped interview," The Smoking Gun reports.
In a DVD interview, Akon claimed that when he was arrested on the stolen-car charge in Georgia, he was surrounded by police cars and officers with their weapons drawn, barking at him to get out of the car, though one of the arresting officers told The Smoking Gun that the singer was busted by only two officers "without incident."
And the FBI agent who was called in to help on Akon's stolen-car case, now-retired Agent Peter McFarlane, reportedly laughed out loud when told of Akon's claims about running a "notorious" auto-theft ring, owning chop shops and being brought down by turncoat underlings. "Ah, this is bullsh--. This guy is so phony. He's an arrogant SOB," McFarlane told the site.
Akon's representatives had not granted MTV News' requests for comment at press time.
The site chalks up the prison tales to an elaborate, "cynical" marketing plan that has been wildly successful, since almost no interview of Akon goes by without the questioner bringing up his alleged criminal past. In fact, while alluding to his car-theft ring as being similar to those depicted in movies like "Gone in 60 Seconds," the site says that Akon has used the phrase "notorious" so many times that "it seems like he is reading it from a sheet of talking points."
Last year, he told Vibe magazine that as a suburban New Jersey teen, he sold marijuana and test questions from his high school locker and that a friend got him his first gun, a .22 pistol, which he claimed he rented out for $100 a day.
The site takes music journalists to task for not vetting Akon's claims, citing only one reporter, from the Washington Post, who wrote in March that some of the bullet points in Akon's biography sounded like "the stuff of creation myth." Perhaps due to this lack of scrutiny, Akon has taken to embellishing his colorful backstory even more, claiming in a February VH1 special that he was a carjacker who "used to literally snatch cars from people. And they would be traumatized for months."
(Note: In interviews with MTV News, Akon has alluded to a criminal past but has not elaborated on it.)
The Smoking Gun began investigating Akon's record in December, after he was arraigned on criminal charges from a June incident at one of his shows, during which he lifted a 15-year-old fan over his head and tossed him into the crowd. The singer (born Aliaune Thiam) was charged with harassment and endangering the welfare of a child and then released after a December 3 court appearance without bail after a computer check turned up no outstanding warrants or, according to the site, any prior criminal history. The latter seemed odd, considering his allegedly "notorious" past.
A second check turned up the six prior arrests (during which Akon allegedly used several different aliases and birth dates while being processed), and prosecutors set a nominal bail of $5,000.
One of the central pieces of Akon's "creation myth," the 2004 jailhouse lament "Locked Up" — which features the lines, "They won't let me out/ They won't let me out" — allegedly written during his 1999-2002 stint in prison, was registered by Akon's publishing company as having a date of creation in 2003. So, The Smoking Gun concluded, " 'Locked Up' was not even created during the three-year period in which Akon was not even in prison."
One more thing: A paternity suit over Akon's son, Tyler, filed last year in Georgia, states that he was born on July 26, 2001, which puts his conception date at around October 2000, right in the middle of Akon's alleged prison bid.
A British report recently quoted Akon as boasting that he's recorded a country album under an alias and that he already has a chart hit with the first single, though no evidence exists of any unknown new country artist scoring a mystery hit recently.
So is Akon a phony? When the singer talked to Vibe last year, after dodging a question about how hold he is, he said, "The only thing I hide is my age. ... Before I lie to you, I'd rather say nothing." But later he added, "I always had a way of getting over on people, whether manipulating or conning them."