The bad boys of the show circuit

Two Florida promoters violate their exhibitors’ trust

From Sunshine Artist Magazine, February 2006

Eileen Teixeira is a painter and breast-cancer survivor looking to make a living on the show circuit. Having done only seven events before, she applied last year to Andre Daniel Swanepoel’s Miami International Indoor Arts & Crafts Festival, which, according to the promoter, was to be held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, December 16-20. However, Swanepoel knew as early as September that there would likely be no show at that location — he never obtained a written agreement with the Center’s management, and he never paid his deposit. Yet for three months he continued taking exhibitors’ money.

“He cashed the check on December 5,” Teixeira said, “so we had no worries, but we also had no information on the show. On [December] 8 or 9, he said it would be canceled. This man knew before he cashed the check that he didn’t have enough exhibitors. I can’t afford to lose this kind of money. … I’ve been disabled, and [the cancellation] has affected me because I can’t apply to another show. Money is tight. … This is no joke.”

“We never got a signed contract back from this guy,” said Doug Tober, senior general manager of SMG, which manages the Convention Center. “Deposits are required, … and that was never received. It’s not only unscrupulous, but our contract says he is not to sell booths until he has a signed contract.”

All artists have at one time experienced promoters who are less than upfront about their events, but over the last year, Swanepoel and fellow Florida promoter Ken Roth have made names for themselves by repeatedly violating the trust of their exhibitors.

Ken Roth

I first wrote about Roth and his company, Main Street Festivals, in Sunshine Artist’s June 2005 issue. The promoter had made false claims regarding several shows he said he was planning, including an event proposed for the Chateau Elan Resort in Braselton, Georgia. However, as with Swanepoel’s Miami event, no agreement between the promoter and the site had ever been reached. In addition, Roth had made several false claims regarding attendance and promotions related to not just that event but also ones in Lake Lure, North Carolina; Winter Park, Florida; and Winter Haven, Florida.

Late last year, Roth surfaced again, this time in connection with a show to be held at West Park Village in Tampa, Florida, December 9-10. Although the show did go on, the event contained only about 30 exhibitors, virtually no patrons showed up, and (as with Roth’s Conyers, Georgia, show in May) the police had to be called in to prevent one of Roth’s own exhibitors from physically threatening him.

Roth had passed out a flier advertising his show in conjunction with a well-established Kiwanis Club event in Safety Harbor, Florida, to be held the same weekend. However, Roth has no connection with the Kiwanis Club. And according to exhibitor Lois Jenkins, Roth had also claimed that the event was to be promoted on Good Morning America, the Oprah Winfrey Show and The View. Those promotions never occurred.

“There was no one there. … I don’t think we saw 75 people,” said Jenkins. “It was a disaster. … We sold three scarves. And the people who were there were not there for the show. They were out for a walk.”

Silver jeweler Angie Neubner added, “I sold to customers who I told I would be there. … A lot of [exhibitors] just left the first day.” And jeweler Natalie Williamson had a similarly bad experience. “He cashed [my check] in September, but I didn’t hear from him for two months,” she said. “Wednesday night [before the show], I got a phone call [that] I was accepted. I just drove in and parked, but no one was there. …. I don’t just have money to throw away.”

“I thought I was dealing with the Kiwanis Club, and so did everyone else,” said Joe Autuori, the artist whom police escorted from the premises. Regarding the alleged incident with Roth and the police, Autuori said, “Another vendor had [Roth] there, pinned by the face. I pushed the other vendor aside and confronted him face to face. … I wanted my money.” Although Autuori said no violence occurred, he said he was ordered off the site by the West Park Village leasing consultant, Misty Wideman, and police issued him a trespass warning.

“He was causing a scene at my property,” Wideman said. “He had no right to be there.” She added that Autuori confronted both her and Roth, accused them of lying about the show and used curse words in front of patrons.

Wideman is not affiliated with Roth or Main Street Festivals and was simply contacted by the promoter, who told her he was interested in organizing the show, which had previously been produced in-house. Wideman said she almost canceled the show a week before because Roth had not supplied her with the appropriate insurance information. “We decided to go ahead with the show,” she said, “because it’s something we do for our residents, and he did come through with the insurance.” She added that she thought canceling the show would have inconvenienced more people than it would have helped. Regarding Roth’s promotions for the event, Wideman simply said, “I do know there was some advertising.”

At least one exhibitor has taken her complaints to the Florida Office of the Attorney General. In her written complaint, Linda Smith, who had planned to exhibit at Roth’s West Park Village show, said that Roth routinely exaggerated the expected attendance and number of vendors at his shows, canceled his shows at the last minute without notifying artists and misled his exhibitors. She also talked about her personal experience at the West Park Village event: “On November 29, 2005, I received a telephone message on my machine at home from Wideman saying she was canceling the show due to Roth not providing proof of insurance. One day later, a message was posted … that the show had not been canceled. I decided not to set up at this show — too many red flags. My husband and I made the trip over to the show site in Tampa on the second day, December 10, 2005, to see what was going on. We encountered a total of 19 exhibitor tents and counted four show-goers, … compared to the advertised 300 exhibitors and 55,000 show-goers.”

At the Tampa show, Roth advertised an event scheduled for the next weekend: the 2005 Seaside Holiday Celebration in Sanford, Florida. However, Roth canceled the event two days before it was scheduled to occur, through a correspondence with City of Sanford officials. Roth never showed up at the show site, and several exhibitors did not find out about the cancellation until the morning of the show.

The only public cancellation notice, and the only notice of any kind that a few exhibitors saw, was a printed e-mail correspondence between Roth and Eveline Bennette, recreation supervisor for special events, which was taped to the door of the Sanford Chamber of Commerce. “We are in the process of canceling this event due to a new policy modification which went into effect 12/15/05 without our knowledge,” Roth’s message read. “With the new policy changes, it makes the City of Sanford and Main Street [Festivals] at risk in the event of a claim. The new policy requires that all vendors participating in the event now purchase a separate policy to cover claims. The insurance company is now stating that their agent should have advised us of the new policy change and is advising that they have to enforce the new insurance regulations. It is impossible for all our artists to complete forms and provide certified payment to the insurance company [in time]. We have no other option but to cancel this event.”

When asked about the message, Bennette said that the City does require insurance, and Roth was aware of that. And she said she was unaware of any policy modification that would have affected the show, adding that she thought Roth meant there had been a change with his own personal policy. “He said he had problems with his insurance,” she said. “There wasn’t anything to cause us to be suspicious of Roth,” Bennette said. “He paid all his fees on time.”

Roth’s posted message continued, “To make things even worse, a group of artists upset … that we did not accept [them] in our event … are spreading verbal rumors in the artist community, advising that this event was a scam and not for real. After checking with advertising for newspaper and television today to cancel contracts, we were informed that an individual called last week posing to be from our office to cancel advertising on the event. We currently have our legal council filing a lawsuit for defamation of character and fraud against this group of individuals. Because of these actions, we are unable to recover from such adverse actions and continue with this event. Please be advised that we will be providing a refund to all vendors and artists that have been confirmed for this event by 1/15/06 due to the fact that the holiday season will slow the process for refunds to be received by canceled advertising. Please refer all concerns to our festival offices — 407-992-6994. Currently, I am traveling to Florida today [December 15] if my flight does not become canceled due to a large snowstorm hitting the Northeast today.”

The number that Roth provided is no longer in service, and there was no snowstorm that would have prevented Roth from being at the show site on Saturday morning if he had left the Northeast on Thursday. And as of January 15, several exhibitors had not received their refunds.

“I paid him $275 for Sanford, and we’ve never gotten a refund,” said entertainment vendor Pete Hall, who also was scheduled for the West Park Village show the previous weekend. Although he did exhibit at that show as planned, he said, “[Roth] still owes me money on that.”

Hall said Roth never contacted him to alert him of the Sanford shows’ cancellation – he had to call Bennette two days prior to the event. Even though he knew the show had been canceled, he went to the show site on Friday to see what was going on. “We went Friday night for check-in, … and, indeed, there were a few crafters,” Hall said, “probably eight to 10, but there are many more I’m sure. … Not only did he take everybody for their money, but he got them for the trip … and other expenses.” Hall, who was interviewed by WFTV, Channel 9, in Orlando, Florida, about the show’s cancellation, has been unable to reach Roth, who he said used several different names, including “Charles” and “Robert.”

“He ripped us off for $275 on the Sanford show,” said food vendor Art Wisecup, who learned about the Sanford show’s cancellation from Hall. “I sent [Roth] an e-mail but didn’t get a reply.” As did Hall, Wisecup also exhibited at the Tampa show the previous weekend, at which he earned only $4 on the first day. “He clearly lied to us about the West Park Village show,” Wisecup said.

Roth did not return SA’s phone calls.

Andre Swanepoel

Over the last year and a half, Fort Lauderdale-based Swanepoel has advertised three Miami Convention Center shows, but not one has been held, according to SMG General Manager Doug Tober. Regarding December 2004 and July 2005 events that Swanepoel advertised, Tober said, “We sent him a rental application, and it was never returned.” The latest show to fall through was the aforementioned Miami Indoors Arts & Crafts Festival. However, the promoter’s explanation for the cancellation is different from Tober’s.

“[I canceled] because the people didn’t pay the rent,” Swanepoel said, adding that only 176 of the planned 380 exhibitors signed up, leaving him unable to pay the Convention Center. While he did confirm that he never paid his deposit, he still said he planned to have a show. “There was going to be a show … if enough people signed up. … I’m trying to get something off the ground.”

Swanepoel advertised the December 2005 event and another show scheduled for the Convention Center (in July 2006) in Sunshine Artist. However, after we received calls from exhibitors claming that the Convention Center had denied that a show was going to take place, we pulled the ad that the promoter wanted to run in our January issue, which would have, once again, asked exhibitors to send Swanepoel money for the July show, despite a lack of a contract with the show site. No July event will take place at the Convention Center, according to Tober.

However, Swanepoel still insists he is trying to organize a July show at the Convention Center. “I’m not stopping with this. I’m carrying on,” he said, adding that, “everybody is getting their money back” for the December show. “This time,” he added, “we will pay the deposit beforehand.”

Regarding his non-payment of the deposit for the December show, he said the Convention Center “told me [about the deposit requirement] at the last minute” and his exhibitors “paid too slow,” leaving him without enough money to pay the Center. “When you get on a bicycle and fall off, you get back on and ride. So I’m carrying on with the July show,” he said. “This is my first [show in the United States]. That is why I am learning. … I have no bad intentions. I’m a regular guy.” The promoter, who said he had organized shows in England and South Africa, added that, “Most of the art shows here are too snobby. I want to give the artists a platform. … I’m not in it for the money.”

Although Swanepoel has promised refunds to all his exhibitors, Eileen Teixera said, “We were supposed to get $400 plus $20 by the week before Christmas.” She had received nothing as of press time. And Eric Sauvageau, an aluminum artist who had booked space at the show, has also not received his refund. “We spoke to him twice and asked when we’d get our refund. He said by the end of the week [December 23], but we’ve got nothing yet.” On the other hand, Sauvageau said he had received a refund from Swanepoel when the promoter’s December 2004 show was canceled.

Note: This story, along with the efforts by my fellow art-show lovers and the FBI, resulted in Roth being found guilty of mail fraud and serving a prison sentence. Although I received no definitive word on the fate of Swanepoel, he stopped promoting shows and reportedly left the country.