Among police, detectives have always been the best-dressed. Spared the anonymity of the uniform, they can rock pinstripes and pink shirts or sports coats with loafers. But even in the halls of D.C. police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW, Detective Antonio Bruton’s bespoke suits stood out.
The 43-year-old Bruton made no secret of how he paid for his handmade duds—or his custom Mercedes or his brick manse in Accokeek. Like many D.C. cops, he had a side job. His company, Poetry in Motion Entertainment, booked concerts at major venues across the metro region.
But the extracurricular gig may have cost Bruton his day job. On May 10, he turned himself in to face charges of theft after being served with a warrant by Prince George’s County police. Court documents accuse Bruton of attempting to pay for $49,000 in catering services for a concert with two checks that bounced. D.C. police spokesperson Traci Hughes says Bruton has been suspended and had his police powers revoked for reasons she couldn’t disclose due to privacy concerns. Hughes says he could face disciplinary action based on his criminal case in Prince George’s County.
As a concert promotions entrepreneur, Bruton went for an aesthetic that was dated by design. He booked oldie acts like Patti LaBelle, the Stylistics, and even a showcase of vintage hip-hop artists including MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh, usually at venues with big stages and plenty of seating, like the D.C. Armory and the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. His Web site still boasts that Poetry in Motion “supplies the DC Metro area with seventy-five percent of its live entertainment needs.”
Despite his grand vision, Bruton hasn’t always delivered. Reviewers have complained of lackluster production values and, more often, too many empty seats in big, echoey concert halls. Bruton’s most memorable flop came in October 2005, with a benefit show at the MCI Center for Hurricane Katrina refugees. The 21,000-capacity arena looked nearly vacant with just 3,000 paying attendees. A writer for the Washington Post described it as “a big, disappointing bust.”
Now Bruton has bigger problems than low ticket sales. In addition to the criminal charges, Bruton has been the subject of at least a half-dozen breach-of-contract suits filed by investors and other service providers.
One, Jerrold Anderson, met Bruton after a concert at the Show Place. Bruton had told the audience he was looking for talent, and Anderson approached him to make a pitch for his son, an aspiring singer. Bruton made his own proposition: an investment in the rising star of Poetry in Motion. Anderson, a 57-year-old retired fire captain from Chicago, was charmed and had savings to play with. In June 2005, he says, he lent Bruton’s company $100,000, to be paid back in quarterly installments at a 100 percent annual interest rate. Bruton sent his first payments on time. The flashy promoter held Anderson’s trust, even his imagination.
“He was well-dressed, drives a fancy Mercedes. He was always talking about he was gonna have this show, we’re gonna have that show. All his moves,” says Anderson.
Anderson shared his investment connection with four golfing buddies, including Wilfred Madison, who made his own $115,000 contribution to Bruton’s company in 2006.
Early this year, Anderson and his friends all filed and won suits against Bruton. The judgments issued this March order Bruton to pay back nearly $900,000 in investments and interest. Anderson and his friends say they haven’t received a cent.
Bruton still has an office in a Fort Washington strip mall but doesn’t keep regular hours. His next-door neighbor, art gallery owner John Watson, says people show up often looking for the promoter. But he usually appears just once a week, for hand-dance classes on Wednesday nights. (Bruton is something of a fixture in the local subculture of hand dancing—a version of swing native to D.C.)
Messages left on the office phone were not returned, and Bruton’s cell phone has been disconnected.
Inside the Farmington Woods gated community in Accokeek, Bruton’s house was dark inside and out on a recent Tuesday night. Stone lions guard the front door; perfectly sheared shrubs dot the front lawn. No one answered the door. A neighbor said Bruton hadn’t been around in recent weeks.
Poetry in Motion’s last big blowout production, a ’70s soul show scheduled for April 27 at the Show Place, was canceled just days in advance.
Bruton’s trial on the theft charge is scheduled to begin in August.