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Aspiring singers accuse former pop star Danny Fernandes of duping them out of thousands

The recording studio was in the garage of a townhouse in Milton, Ont. It appeared makeshift, with a couple of tables, computers and black and blue foam on the walls.

Aspiring singer Glen Pretty found the setup rather odd for a platinum recording artist, but he wasn’t about to start asking questions. His time was finally coming. Or so he thought.

Pretty, then a 25-year-old from small-town Ontario with a big dream of one day selling out Madison Square Garden in New York City, thought he was going to be mentored by — and make music with — Canadian pop and R&B star Danny Fernandes. Pretty said Fernandes had promised he’d make him famous. 

“Obviously I’m freaking out because I used to listen to him. So I was like: ‘This is a big deal,'” Pretty said.

But Pretty says much of what Fernandes was offering didn’t exist. 

A months-long investigation by CBC Toronto has revealed Fernandes took tens of thousands of dollars from musicians who thought they were paying him to help with their music careers.

In an email to CBC News, Fernandes apologized to those he “hurt or misled” and attributed his behaviour to drug use.

A man sits on a chair on a stage with seats behind him.
Aspiring musician Glen Pretty gave Fernandes around $55,000 for music-related projects and personal reasons. Last year, a judge ordered Fernandes to pay it back, but Pretty hasn’t received a cent. (Doug Husby/CBC )

Pretty first met Fernandes in June 2020 after he responded to a Facebook ad that offered aspiring artists the chance to record a song with Fernandes for $75 an hour. It mentioned other services, including radio promotion and access to a publicist. 

Not long after, Pretty, who was living in Ingersoll, Ont., received a video call from Fernandes inviting him to his studio.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is all happening super quick,'” Pretty said. “He said, ‘I want you to be here tomorrow,’ so I cancelled all my [work] jobs.”

Pretty first paid Fernandes $2,500 to record a song, which quickly turned into him giving Fernandes around $55,000 over a six-month period —  a portion for music and the rest Fernandes borrowed for personal use, but didn’t pay back, according to a statement of claim. It ended with Pretty filing a lawsuit against Fernandes in 2021 and winning.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ordered Fernandes pay it all back, but Pretty has yet to receive a cent.

WATCH | Glen Pretty talks about why he kept believing in Fernandes’s promises:

Artists who paid Fernandes say his promises went unfulfilled: scheduled meetings with music executives were mysteriously cancelled, working with other artists didn’t pan out and most recorded songs and videos weren’t completed or released. 

Text messages, bank documents and lawsuits reveal Fernandes took more than $200,000 from about a dozen people CBC spoke with or reviewed their legal documents.

Aspiring artists and fans accuse him of preying on them — either on their pursuit to become a star or for a chance to meet and get a tattoo done by him after he started offering tattoos.

Some artists describe being in awe of Fernandes and honoured when he befriended them, but now say they believe the friendships were a ploy to borrow money that hasn’t been repaid.

In an email to CBC, Fernandes apologized and said he wasn’t in his right mind due to drug use. 

But it appears some of his behaviour continued earlier this year, some of it during a time when Fernandes told CBC he was in a treatment facility and sober. CBC has confirmed he was in a facility.

‘He made it all seem so real’

Pretty said Fernandes opened up about his past addiction. Pretty also shared his previous struggles with bullying and depression.

“It didn’t take long until [he] almost felt like an older brother,” Pretty said. 

Things moved quickly, Pretty said: attending photo shoots, recording radio promotions and giving Fernandes $8,000 to hire a manager to get the one original song they recorded played on the radio. 

Fernandes invited Pretty to perform with him at a popular Toronto music venue, but after the performance, Pretty said he had to pay for the backup dancers.

Pretty said Fernandes promised a meeting with Canada’s top music executives, but it kept getting cancelled. 

Parts of a text conversation between Pretty and Fernandes:

Meanwhile, Pretty said, Fernandes told him he was having financial trouble and asked for help to pay the bills.

Text messages reviewed by CBC show Fernandes promising to pay Pretty back with a large sum of money he was expecting. 

Pretty said he wanted to help Fernandes, but also felt lending him money was connected to any help Fernandes might give him for his music career.

“I’m like, ‘If I stop giving him money, he’s just going to let me go and I’m not going to get to where I want to be,'” Pretty said. 

Eventually Pretty discovered the manager he paid didn’t exist and the radio stations Fernandes said were playing their song had never heard of Pretty. 

Pretty said he was ashamed when he discovered he’d been duped and had to pick up extra work to pay his bills.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone…. It really affected me,” he said. “It was tough. I was getting really worried.”

Pretty described it as “such a quick, unreal experience.”

“I feel like I just got so lost in this dream,” Pretty said.

“He made it all seem so real.”

Fernandes apologizes, says addiction took control

Fernandes, whose legal first name is Daniel, rose to fame in 2008. At the Much Music Video Awards the following year, he won the best Canadian pop video of the year award for Private Dancer.

In 2010, he was nominated for a Juno for breakthrough artist of the year alongside Drake and Justin Bieber, and his 2011 song Hit Me Up went platinum. His last single was released in 2021. 

In an emailed response to a list of questions from CBC about the allegations, Fernandes apologized and said “all those happened when I was not in my right mind.” 

“I was using drugs and no one will understand what that’s like unless they’ve been through it,” he wrote. “I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. My addiction took full control of me, and like any other addict they will do whatever it takes to get what they need.

“Yes, I’m sorry for a lot of the things I’ve done. Do I wish I could go back and change it? Definitely, but unfortunately I can’t.”

Fernandes has previously opened up about his addiction and time in rehabilitation on podcasts and in online videos.

Concerns will be examined, lawyer says

He told CBC he’s been sober since mid-January after spending time in a rehabilitation facility. 

CBC has confirmed Fernandes was in a facility in January, but has learned during part of that time, he convinced a Vancouver artist who previously paid him for unfulfilled music projects to send him more than $18,000. 

Earlier this week, Fernandes’s lawyer Amedeo DiCarlo reached out to CBC, urging anyone who has experienced similar behaviour from Fernandes to contact DiCarlo. He said concerns will be examined, investigated and hopefully resolved as soon as possible. 

“We will endeavour to assist in recovery of any losses incurred,” Dicarlo said.

“Danny has had many drawbacks in his career over the last 11 to 15 years and currently has multiple family and social support networks allowing him to understand and assist the public to whom he was and is indebted to.”

Vancouver singer says he is out $100K

The month after Pretty responded to Fernandes’s Facebook ad, Harman Maddhar did, too.

At the time, Maddar said, he thought: “I have nothing to lose.” 

Maddhar, who was 22 when he met Fernandes, said he told him he couldn’t fly to meet him in Toronto because he uses a wheelchair after being in an accident, so the two agreed Fernandes would travel to Vancouver, they’d record a song, shoot a music video and it would cost $15,000.

Maddhar said the price was worth it, especially since he describes music as freedom.

“I feel like life has been taken away from me,” he said. “But this is something I could say ‘This is mine and you can’t take it from me.'”

A man in a wheelchair holds a microphone on stage.
Harman Maddhar says he idolized Fernandes and gave him approximately $100,000, the majority for personal reasons. He believed Fernandes would pay him back. (Submitted by Alvin Sheng)

Over the course of two months, Maddhar said he gave Fernandes approximately $20,000 for music-related projects that never materialized or weren’t completed. 

During that time, Maddhar said the two became close, so he was comfortable lending Fernandes money when he asked. Plus, he promised he’d pay him back. 

“It seemed so deep and so real,” Maddhar said of their friendship. “He called me a little brother.… I was like: ‘This is so cool.'”

Maddhar said he lent Fernandes approximately $60,000 on top of the $20,000 he spent on music — money he received in a settlement after being in an accident when he was a child that left him paralyzed him from the waist down. 

Maddhar said Fernandes knew where the money was coming from. 

Two men are seen looking at the camera in front of a white concrete wall.
A screengrab from a music video shoot shows Fernandes and Maddhar. Maddhar paid for the video, but it hasn’t been released. (Submitted by Harman Maddhar)

After not hearing from Fernandes for two years, Maddhar received a message from him earlier this year. In it, Fernandes apologized and promised to pay him back with money from a multimillion-dollar police brutality settlement he said he recently won. There’s no evidence of such a settlement. 

He asked Maddhar to lend him money and also mentioned they would finally release their song and video, according to text messages between Maddhar and Fernandes.

“I’m asking you for help this one last time. I won’t ask you again until I pay you back.… That’s a brother promise,” Fernandes wrote to him in January. 

Over the next month, Fernandes convinced Maddhar to send him more than 60 e-transfers totalling approximately $18,000, according to text messages reviewed by CBC. 

Fernandes said he needed money urgently for various things from medication and groceries to helping family members and buying an Xbox. He always promised Maddhar he’d pay him back soon.

Some messages were sent while Fernandes was in a treatment facility and during a period he told CBC he was sober. 

A gold and blue Rolex submariner watch sits in a box.
A photo Fernandes sent to Maddhar of a Rolex Submariner watch. Fernandes sent Maddhar a Rolex Submariner as collateral for lending him money, but Maddhar says it turned out to be a replica. (Submitted by Harman Maddhar)

At one point, Maddhar asked for collateral and Fernandes mailed him a Rolex watch, which ended up being fake, according to Maddhar. 

He said he lent Fernandes money for the second time because he didn’t want to believe someone he “idolized” would lie to him again and believes in second chances. 

Preying on success and friendship, artists say 

CBC spoke with a handful of other artists in Toronto and the surrounding area who say they paid Fernandes to record and produce songs that never came to fruition. 

Toronto singer-songwriter Ian Swenson said he gave Fernandes more than $4,000 to record vocals on a song he had  already written and recorded called Bubble Tea.

Text messages reviewed by CBC show Fernandes making plans to pick Swenson up for a video shoot meeting that never happened, and that Fernandes was trying to get the song featured on a billboard in Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square.

A black and white photo shows a person with blue hair in braids staring into the camera.
Ian Swenson, who goes by the stage name Spyke Swenson, is pictured in this photo taken by Brendan Albert. Swenson says he believes Fernandes preyed on his dream of making it big in the music industry. (Submitted by Ian Swenson)

Swenson said Fernandes told him well-known rapper Big Sean heard Bubble Tea and wanted to be featured on it. 

“I’ve never had that kind of validation before,” Swenson said. 

Swenson said after hardly hearing from Fernandes for nearly a year, he received a message from him saying the song was finished and asked for another $1,000. Swenson never heard the final cut and it wasn’t released.

Parts of a text conversation between Swenson and Fernandes: 

“He packages his words very convincingly. He tells you a million nice things and then he asks for money.”

“I wanted the success,” he said. “He really preyed on that.” 

‘It seemed like I had a friend’

Collin Feliz said he believes Fernandes preyed on what they had in common: being Portuguese. 

He said they met at a wedding in 2019 and afterward a mutual friend mentioned to Fernandes that Feliz could sing.

Feliz paid him $5,000 to help produce five songs, according to bank documents.

“It seemed like I had a friend who’s guiding me through this process,” Feliz said.

They met each other’s families and he helped Fernandes out around the house. 

“It was more family than friend,” Feliz said. 

A man stands in front of a lake looking at the camera.
Collin Feliz says he quickly became friends with Fernandes after connecting with him to produce music. Feliz describes their relationship as ‘more family than friend.’ (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC)

When Fernandes asked Feliz for money to help cover bills, Feliz’s mother stepped in and loaned him more than $4,000. 

Feliz said he and Fernandes only recorded one song, but it didn’t get released. Fernandes agreed to pay him and his mother back, but never did.

Feliz said he now believes Fernandes orchestrated the whole friendship for money.

“He’s been doing exactly this blueprint, it seems, for years,” Feliz said.

In 2013, an artist management company filed a statement of claim in Ontario Superior Court against Fernandes that said he was paid more than $60,000 to manage an up-and-coming artist and pay third parties, including a radio promoter and music video director. The claim states Fernandes didn’t provide any services to the artist and didn’t fully pay the third parties. 

Fernandes didn’t file a statement of defence and a judge ordered he pay more than $40,000. The court ordered his wages from performances and royalties be garnished.

Fans out hundreds after Fernandes promised tattoos

When Denise Arjoon-Singerman saw Fernandes offering tattoos on social media last summer, she felt like the stars had aligned. She was a fan and wanted to get a tattoo to honour her late uncle, the father figure in her life, on the morning of her wedding. 

She said she told Fernandes about the tattoo’s significance and the timing of it: it would mean her uncle would be there with her and walk her down the aisle.

“He was my everything. [Fernandes] took a special moment away from me,” she said. 

A woman holds a cane out front of the Ritz Carlton hotel in downtown Toronto.
Denise Arjoon-Singerman says Fernandes ‘ghosted’ her on the morning of her wedding when he was supposed to do a tattoo on her to honour her late uncle. (Angelina King/CBC)

She sent him a $100 deposit, according to bank documents, but says on the morning of the wedding he didn’t show up.

CBC spoke with two other fans who also lost tattoo deposits to Fernandes.

The artists and fans CBC spoke with said they shared their experiences in hopes of preventing it from happening to others. 

Fernandes told CBC he’s not saying “I didn’t do those things, but if I was in my right [mind], none of that stuff would have happened.”

“I don’t have any comments to the people I have hurt or misled other than I am sorry.”

He said drug use took a toll on him for a decade and that he’s not a bad person, he’s just made some mistakes.

“I can’t go back and change what happened. All I can do is move forward and try to be a better person.”

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