Festival fraud

Promoter books exhibitors for show that doesn’t exist

From Sunshine Artist Magazine, June, 2005

Earlier this year, Main Street Festivals of Orlando, Florida, invited artists to participate in the company’s “annual signature event,” with an alleged paid attendance of more than 51,000. The company asked that artists send a $275 check for a 10×10 space. However, the show, supposedly scheduled for May 20-22 at the Chateau Elan Resort in Braselton, Georgia, never existed.

Although Chateau Elan does hold its annual Vineyard Fest in August, Main Street Festivals has never been involved with any type of event at the resort. In addition, no show ever held at Chateau Elan has drawn more than 5,000 show-goers, according to the resort’s public relations director, Larry Mayran.

Mayran said that although he was approached by Main Street Festivals’ Ken Roth about the possibility of doing a wine and art show at Chateau Elan, Mayran ultimately rejected the idea because Roth never supplied him with proper documentation concerning his company and the previous events that Roth claimed his company had organized.

“Ken told me that [Main Street Festivals] had checked out a number of places along the eastern seaboard for a food and wine festival, … [and] he did an unannounced inspection of Chateau Elan and found it a perfect location,” Mayran told SA. “[He] told me he had done the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, … [so] we arranged another visit.” However, Roth was never involved with the Aspen show, according to event personnel. “We’ve never heard of the guy,” said Caitie Sullivan of the Heedum Agency, which handles publicity for the Aspen Festival.

Mayran said that, starting with his first meeting with Roth, the promoter never supplied Chateau Elan with the necessary documentation to prove that Main Street Festivals was legitimate. “He said he had a PowerPoint presentation, but Delta had lost his luggage,” Mayran said. “He had no business card, [and] originally he said he had three people coming with him, but he came by himself.”

Regarding the plans Roth had for the show, Mayran said the promoter “maintained [that he was] bringing in chefs … and artists. … He said he had contacted Wolfgang Puck, but Wolfgang couldn’t do it” because of a prior commitment to the Academy Awards. “Whenever I asked him for documents, he never had them.”

Mayran has been contacted by artists curious about the show, but “I never told anyone we had a contract, [only that] we were talking about it. … I injected a note of caution” into the conversations with artists, Mayran said.

According to Mayran and several exhibitors, Roth claimed that a $100,000 car had been given away at Chateau Elan last year. “He said we’d given away a Jaguar — that was absolute rubbish,” Mayran said. When Mayran asked Roth about the Jaguar, Roth told him the car had been given away at a different event and that he “must have confused the shows.”

After weeks of communication, Roth sent Mayran the contract. In addition to the contract, Mayran also wanted Roth to supply him with photos of his previous shows and more documents. “[I] asked him for copies of newspaper clippings from the places you have been,” Mayran said, but “he sent me a dozen pictures … of food shows.” Mayran then told Roth, “If we don’t get documents from you, we can’t proceed any further.” Nine days passed, according to Mayran, he never received the documents, and Chateau Elan rejected the contract.

A lack of an agreement with Mayran did not stop Roth from distributing written information to potential exhibitors with Chateau Elan’s logo on it. “I am pleased to extend [an] invitation to you to exhibit at our annual signature event,” the announcement read. “The festival has only 300 spaces total for this event. As of today, 280 spaces have been confirmed and paid for by returning artists which had the first option to rebook this festival until the returning artist deadline for space ended. … At this time, we only have 20 spaces left for new artists, crafters and vendors and we anticipate selling out before our set deadline of 02/20/05. Since the festival space is 93 percent committed at this time, we anticipate starting a waiting list very soon.”

In a phone interview with SA, Roth said he booked only 40 exhibitors for the Chateau Elan show. Regarding the 280 number in the announcement, he said, “That actually was not correct information — 280 spaces were allocated. … It should have been stated that way.”

Of the 40 artists Roth said were booked, he said, “We’ve had about 20 who asked for refunds; they came [to us], and we issued [the refunds].”

Regarding his claim that the show had drawn 51,000 people in the past or was expected to draw that many in 2005, Roth said, “The figure actually came from other events. That’s based on previous events in the area.” Roth said the number was only an estimate and should have been 15,000. He added, “The figure was a typo. I didn’t catch it.” However, Roth later said, “I think [the attendance figure] was the [Chateau Elan] marketing person’s mistake.”

When asked why he claimed Chateau Elan had given a way a Jaguar in the past, Roth said, “It was a rumor that got started. … There was a Jaguar at Chateau Elan. I don’t know where it came from. … Maybe that was incorrect information.”

Although Roth said he still had a high regard for Chateau Elan and did not want to say anything derogatory about the property, he blamed the demise of his proposed art show on “miscommunication” between himself, Mayran and other members of Chateau Elan’s marketing staff. “I felt the marketing department was not as supportive. … I felt that information was so unknown and unfiltered up there [at Chateau Elan].”

When SA asked Roth why his literature claimed that the Chateau Elan show was his “annual signature event,” Roth said, “It was going to be our signature event for the entire year.”

According to information faxed to artists who were booked for the Chateau Elan show, the event has been rescheduled for the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia. Roth is offering free parking, discounts on lodging and free booths at future Main Street Festivals shows to artists who agree to do the Conyers event. So far, he said about 20 artists who were originally scheduled for the Chateau Elan show had agreed to do the Conyers show.

Darlene Partain, sales manager for the Horse Park, and Lisa McNair of McNair Amusements, which is working with Main Street Festivals to host the event, confirmed that there would be an art show in Conyers on May 20-22 as part of a larger 10-day fair. However, McNair said the art show would feature only 60-75 exhibitors, compared to the 280 that Roth originally claimed had been booked for Chateau Elan.

Partain and McNair said the admission to the fair, titled “Stars Under the Southern Skies — A Tribute to the Red, White and Blue,” would be $6, with $1 going to Give Kids the World, a charity that supports terminally ill children. The fee would include entry to Roth’s part of the fair — the Conyers Charity Classic Festival of the Arts. While McNair said she had heard there had been “management issues” between Roth and Chateau Elan, she said she “didn’t go into it” with Roth. McNair added that she expected Roth to “come through with a good show.”

Debra Emerick, a Florida artist who sent her money to Main Street Festivals to reserve a space at the proposed Chateau Elan show, said on April 2, “I have not gotten my refund yet, though it has been promised. … Main Street sent out [a] fax claiming to be relocating the Chateau Elan show to Conyers International Horse Park. … This fax was sent to me from another crafter who is owed over $400 by Main Street.”

On April 12, Emerick e-mailed SA and said that her refund finally came. “I wanted to let you know I have received a refund from my fees,” she wrote. “It took quite a bit to get them, including an excuse that a temporary worker had dropped the outgoing mail in a mail shoot instead of taking it to a mailbox. I still am dismayed at this promoter’s behavior.”

This issue has been the subject of 70 posts on Sunshine Artist’s Internet forum. Although all posts are anonymous and, therefore, cannot necessarily be taken as fact, exhibitors are obviously very upset about devoting money and time to a show they thought had an established history. It should be noted that, on April 1, SA asked forum users to call or e-mail us if they had requested but not received a refund. As of press time, we had received only one such complaint.

Many forum posters were particularly upset with Roth’s assertion that the show had drawn over 50,000 patrons in the past, especially because of Mayran’s claim that “the biggest single crowd we have had at Chateau Elan was a one-day event of 5,000.”

In response to the messages on the forum, a person claiming to be Robert Ross, director of communications for Main Street Festivals, said the following on March 2: “This is a legitimate show at Chateau Elan. A few artists that were not accepted to the show became mad and started spreading bad rumors about the show.” In a later post, Ross said, “The Wine Festival is an annual event; the art festival is new and was being added to the event.”

However, on March 12, the final forum posting by Ross said, “Please be advised that this event is being rescheduled at this time due to circumstances beyond our control. Per Larry Mayran, he did not advise that this was a scam — he advised that an agreement could not be reached with the resort and the promoter as to event space and planned events in a timely manner in order to meet deadlines for advertising and promotion. This is the reason why the event needs to be rescheduled.”

When SA asked about Ross’s involvement with Main Street Festivals, Roth said, “He was just a contractor that was helping us. He’s no longer with us.”

Chateau Elan responded with a message on its own Web site on March 16: “A food, wine and artists festival proposed by a company or group called Main Street Festivals, Inc., has not and will not be hosted at Chateau Elan Winery & Resort on May 20-22, 2005, or at any other time. There is no signed contract, and there has never been a signed contract between Main Street Festivals and Chateau Elan. After due diligence, Chateau Elan was unable to establish that Main Street Festivals, listing Ken Roth as director of events, … has produced or executed any previous business or festival events despite verbal and e-mail assurances from Mr. Roth that they have been in the festival business more than 10 years.”

A flier with Main Street Festivals’ name, address and phone number was distributed earlier this year to potential exhibitors, talking about not just the Chateau Elan event, but 10 other shows Main Street Festivals was planning for 2005. One of those was Celebrate the Arts, at the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa in Asheville, North Carolina. However, Mayran said, “I called Grove Park, and they had never heard of [Roth].”

Although Roth said the event was originally planned but had been canceled, Randy Shores, executive environmental health and safety management of Grove Park Inn, told SA, “It was never set up. … We don’t deal with [Roth]. We just can’t find this man to be legitimate.”

Another site at which Roth claimed to be hosting an event was Winter Park Village in Winter Park, Florida. However, the Village has never held an art show and will never have any involvement with Roth in the future, according to Leslie Wright, general manager of Casto Lifestyle, which manages the Village. “I was extremely upset to find out he was using our name,” Wright said.

Roth said, “We didn’t do anything [with Wright]. We only talked to her. … We were not using their name.” He said that Main Street Festivals decided not to do the show because the site was too small.

Of the 11 shows listed on the flier, Roth said two were going ahead as scheduled: the Lake Lure Festival of the Arts at Memorial Point Park in Lake Lure, North Carolina, and Cypress Gardens Autumn Festival at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. Chuck Place, the town manager of Lake Lure, did confirm that Roth had booked space in the park, saying, “[Roth] has made a commitment.” But he added, “We’re just providing the space, [and] he’s not asked me to sign any papers.”

“I don’t pretend to know if [Main Street Festivals] is valid or not valid — I’m not taking a position on it,” Place said. “He may very well be misrepresenting himself to the artists.” When asked why Roth would claim an attendance figure of 105,000 for the September show, Place said, “I don’t think Memorial Park would hold a tenth of that.”

To get the initial 105,000 figure, Roth said, “We were looking at demographics of shows in the area … such as the Georgia Apple Festival in Hendersonville.” Roth said he now expects about 10,000-15,000 patrons at the Lake Lure event.

Jimmy Holmes of Cypress Gardens also confirmed that Roth was hosting a show at his venue, scheduled for October 20-23. “Supposedly, he is putting that together for us. … We’re providing the location, and he’s going out to get the vendors,” Holmes said. When asked why Roth would claim a paid-attendance figure of 180,024, Holmes said he didn’t know, adding, “We have never done anything with Ken Roth before.” Holmes said that in his conversations with Roth, the promoter said Main Street Festivals’ shows usually drew 30-40,000.

Holmes supplied SA with literature that he said Roth had given him. The literature, which features photos of art shows, contains the following information: “For the past 20 years, we have been working with cities, downtown associations and various civic organizations across the United States to produce award-winning outdoor art festivals. With more than 40 shows to our name, we are America’s largest independent promoter of juried fine art festivals. These popular shows are consistently ranked among the top art festivals in the country. From Florida to California, from Aspen to Colonial Williamsburg, our shows are located along some of the most charming streets in the nation. Our goal is to provide artists with classy and elegant venues to showcase and market their original one-of-a-kind creations.”

Roth said the literature he gave Holmes was compiled about 10 years ago by California Event Productions, in Irvine, California, a company Roth said he used to work for before it went back bankrupt. “It was just marketing information that the company put together,” he said.

When SA asked Roth how many total events Main Street Festivals had organized, Roth said, “We’ve held one event,” a show in Tampa, Florida, in March. “It had 35 local crafters. … Most of them were from Chile and other countries. … I have been in the event business for 10 years. I worked for [California Event Productions] in California, … but we haven’t been promoting events for that long.”

Roth denied personally distributing the flier that listed the 11 proposed shows and offered a further explanation: “That is an internal, not an external, document. … That is a working, tentative schedule. … This internal schedule got out. I guess we learned our lesson not to use e-mail as liberally as we did.”

© 2005 Sunshine Artist / MeierMovies, LLC

Note: See my follow-up article here.