Dallas Austin held in Dubai on drug charges
By SONIA MURRAY
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/27/2006 Grammy-winner Dallas Austin has produced pop music hits for more than a decade, two movies and the "ATL" theme song for the city of Atlanta.
But never a mystery. Not until now.
Dallas Austin, 34, was detained at Dubai International Airport for allegedly possessing a banned drug.
Since mid-May, Austin has been jailed in the United Arab Emirates for allegedly possessing drugs, one of his lawyers and police in the emirate of Dubai confirmed Monday.
No news of the Atlanta-based producer's May 19 arrest had circulated publicly before Friday, when a gossip column in New York took note of it. And details of the unfolding drama are murky — even to the nature of a possible court appearance today and another Sunday.
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who asked Austin to produce the "ATL" song as part of the city's marketing campaign, said Monday, "I don't know anything about it." The offices of several members of the Georgia congressional delegation, including those of the state's two U.S. senators, also said they knew nothing of Austin's detainment abroad. And friends, colleagues and employees in Atlanta have either expressed surprise or denied the reports of Austin's arrest since rumors about it began circulating Friday.
The 35-year-old Austin was reportedly arrested at Dubai International Airport on May 19 for allegedly possessing a banned drug, Bahraini lawyer Qays Hatem Al Zu'bi told the Associated Press and the Gulf News, a Dubai-based English-language newspaper. Dubai Public Prosecution sources also told Gulf News that Austin is charged with possessing drugs for personal use.
Austin's Atlanta attorney, Joel A. Katz, declined to comment Monday. His New York publicist, Michelle Benson, would not comment when reached Friday, and has not responded to inquiries made since then.
News of Austin's arrest began circulating Friday, when an item based on anonymous sources ran in the New York Daily News' Daily Dish column. The item said Austin had gone to the tiny Persian Gulf country last month to attend supermodel Naomi Campbell's three-day birthday party.
Attorney Al Zu'bi, who, along with another UAE lawyer, Mohammad Al Reda, is defending Austin, said Austin "was visiting Dubai for tourism and to attend some music concerts."
The lawyers confirmed that Austin is being detained but did not disclose other details, including what type of drugs authorities alleged were in their client's possession. They also would not give details on his legal status. According to the lawyers, he has been questioned at the Dubai Court of First Instance. He is reportedly scheduled to appear in court Sunday, and may have another appearance as early as today.
Dubai, a Rhode Island-sized city-state that is part of the United Arab Emirates, has become a top destination for wealthy tourists and celebrities. Although an Islamic country, it has developed numerous luxury hotels and resorts that offer Western tourists every amenity, including alcohol, which is banned for followers of Islam.
Still, the U.S. State Department warns travelers to the U.A.E. to be mindful of its conservative Islamic customs — and about its tough drug laws.
"Persons violating UAE laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned," the State Department says on its Web site. "Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in the UAE are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines."
People in Atlanta close to Austin contacted Friday and Saturday either declined to comment or said they did not know that Austin had been arrested. Calls to his Atlanta studio Friday were returned by longtime friend and co-worker Dave Gates, who said he had "no comment about the situation. ... It's business as usual at Rowdy and DARP [Dallas Austin Recording Projects]. And I talk to Dallas every day."
Also Friday, two Austin employees outside the Trabert Avenue recording studio and office space denied the news reports and defended their boss. Neho Worthy, who helps develop new artists for Austin, said, "He's like a brother to me. I've got no comment."
One public hint of his predicament was his absence from a star-studded benefit roast for actress Jane Fonda held June 1 at the Georgia Aquarium. Austin was scheduled to be one of the speakers but didn't make the event. Fonda told the crowd that Austin was "stuck in Dubai."
Austin, who now lives in Sandy Springs, is a longtime force on the Atlanta music scene who has become a major figure in the pop music industry.
His first major success came in 1991, with multiplatinum teen rap group Another Bad Creation. A year later, he helped launch the group he is most frequently associated with — TLC.
Though it was a female R&B trio, Austin often referred to himself as the fourth member because he was so heavily involved in its music. Austin produced such TLC hits as "Ain't 2 proud 2 Beg," "Creep" and "Unpretty." He earned his first and only Grammy in 1999, for best R&B album, TLC's "Fanmail." He has a son with TLC member Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas.
Among his other musical credits are a remix of "They Don't Care About Us," performed by Michael Jackson, "Secret" by Madonna and "Just A Little While" by Janet Jackson. Most recently, he's worked with R&B legend Natalie Cole.
In 2002 Austin began stretching into other media. He served as executive producer of the coming-of-age movie "Drumline." Loosely based on Austin's life, the Nick Cannon film earned critical praise and was considered a box-office success.
Austin's venture into TV was less fortunate. His late-night talk program on FX, "The Orlando Jones Show," was canceled after three months. His most recent effort as movie producer, "ATL," hit the No. 3 position, earning $12.5 million its first week in theaters.
Austin has also been an active community supporter. He donated $25,000 in recording equipment to King Middle School, and started a band scholarship at Clark Atlanta University. He led a "keynote conversation" with Bernice King during a holiday celebration of her father, the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
— Staff writers Nick Marino, Richard Eldredge and Kirsten Tagami, and correspondent Ali Khaled in Dubai contributed to this report.
hmm... what you know about that?