JEFFERSON — The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is looking into an allegation of issuance of a worthless check by the lead organizer of the Warriors and Wizards Festival in Jefferson.
Jefferson Area Business Center owner Steve Lewis approached law enforcement authorities after a $3,500 check for use of his facility from festival organizer and HP Fest Inc. representative Scott Cramer failed to clear due to insufficient funds.
During the festival Oct. 19-21, the business center overlooking the Rock River was one of the featured locations for attendees, hosting two of the movie and television vehicles on display, as well as a number of vendors.
“I just want to be paid for use of my facility; that’s a big investment,” Lewis said. “I just feel cheated.”
The Daily Union has been in contact with several other service providers and festival staff members who have detailed allegations of Cramer having outstanding unpaid invoices, bounced checks or multiple credit cards in his name declined for payment of services in excess of $50,000.
“We are working with our creditors,” Cramer told the Daily Union when reached for comment Wednesday.
“Due to a series of events, simply stated, the situation went south following the use of bank cards overseas for cab fare,” he added.
The festival organizer offered no elaboration on that statement when asked.
“I have been assured that everything will be ironed out,” he said. “That being said, it doesn’t make the knot in my stomach any smaller and I am looking forward to a quick resolution.”
The Jefferson Area Business Center is located in the City of Jefferson and the investigation into the alleged issuance of a worthless check normally would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson Police Department.
“The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has received a request by the City of Jefferson Police Department to look into the issuance of a worthless check by Scott Cramer,” Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff Parker said.
He noted that Jefferson Police Chief Ken Pileggi stated that due to the working relationship that exists between the city and Cramer, he felt it was more appropriate to have an outside third-party agency look into the matter.
Issuance of a worthless check over $2,500 is a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of one year and six months in prison.
In addition to Lewis, another contractor associated with providing an attraction informed the Daily Union that he is in possession of a $13,000 check written by Cramer that did not clear the bank. The allegation in connection with that check reportedly has been turned over to authorities in Illinois.
Also, multiple contractors and festival “staff” have reported unpaid invoices and declined credit card payments for a variety of services associated with the festival. Totals for the bills range from $4,000 to more than $20,000.
At least one contractor decided to wait a bit before taking legal action.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t want Jefferson and the surrounding area to be mired in any negative light just because of him (Cramer),” the contractor stated.
For his own involvement, Lewis noted that he has reached out to Cramer in good faith, as one businessperson to another and received no response. Per several conversations, he is not alone.
“I’m sure he is not going to contact me and the event has been over for a while,” he said. “For this amount of money, it’s a felony; it has to be investigated.”
In business for 41 years, Lewis never has had to address a bad check issued by another business.
“It is a real disappointment,” he said.
During the festival, Lewis was present to see how things went at his facility, which was designated as Hero’s Landing. Featured items included the landspeeder from “Star Wars” and the Chevrolet Impala from the television show “Supernatural” were on display for portions of the weekend and there were multiple vendors housed there as well.
Overall, Lewis said, it was a wonderful setup and there were no problems.
“It went great,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘I’ll do this again next year.’ The buses came on time, they were really nice people; the vendors were nice to us, they loved our facility and were very complimentary.”
He said his facility was able to help vendors get electricity for their booths and had space to let some who were outside come in due to the high winds Saturday.
“It was perfect on our end,” Lewis said, noting that he feels he supplied what was promised.
Per the agreement with Cramer, Lewis said, the intent was to settle those additional costs regarding extra tables and providing electricity with a separate invoice at the end of the festival.
He said that, for the initial payment, he had asked to be paid up front on Wednesday, Oct. 17, or he likely would have withdrawn.
“It seemed shaky,” Lewis said of his overall impression prior to the event.
A festival employee brought over the check that day.
Lewis said he took the check to the bank on Thursday and then didn’t hear until Tuesday, Oct. 23, that the check had not cleared.
To a certain extent, Lewis said, he feels used.
“It was like they were spending our local currency to make us feel comfortable doing business with him,” Lewis said, adding that Cramer pointed out how the City of Jefferson had a contract for another four years and highlighted other local connections.
Lewis insisted that the festival itself could be great for the city and the surrounding area.
“I want a win-win. I’m businessman; I would love this to be a success,” he said. “I appreciate the city trying to do it, but they shouldn’t lend their credibility to something that could fail like this. It’s not just failing, it’s taking other citizens of their community with them.”
In relation to the festival itself, Lewis said he was thrilled with how well-organized it ultimately appeared to be this year.
“Obviously being taken advantage of sure takes the shine off that,” he said.
Lewis pointed out that based on the allegations, it is something that could cause harm to other business people.
“It worries me that there are so many and he appears to be ignoring them,” he said.
Also, among the outstanding invoices is one for the festival’s use of multiple buildings at Jefferson County Fair Park.
“We always get a downpayment for half of it,” Fair Park supervisor Roger Kylmanen said. “We will be submitting the balance of the payment. They made some adjustments because of the weather, so I’m adjusting the bill accordingly in relation to things he didn’t use.”
As of Tuesday, the final bill had not been submitted to Cramer.
Last year, Kylmanen said, Cramer rented only the Activity Center, but then wanted to use all the parking lot space.
“It is very rare that we rent a parking lot out,” he said. “There is value to it, so we put a value on it and we rented it.”
As it turned out for the 2017, Cramer needed it.
Based on estimates compiled by Chief Pileggi and Jefferson Fire Chief Ron Wegner, the attendance in 2017 was approximately 50,000 over the festival that included Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday.
Cramer has stated publicly that he believes the total fest attendance in 2017 was closer to 75,000, but he has offered no corroborating evidence. Pileggi said he believes the number to have been more within the realm of the original 50,000 estimate.
Meanwhile, Kylmanen noted that for the 2018 festival, Cramer was seeking to rent the two big barns, the indoor horse arena, the Activity Center and the West Exhibit Building, which is adjacent and connected to the Activity Center.
For each building, the rent is charged on a per-day use.
“For events that rent our buildings out, I generally don’t charge for parking because in order to have an event, you’ve got to be able to park,” the Fair Park supervisor said.
Kylmanen said he adjusted the rates accordingly because he rented so many buildings, and he didn’t charge for parking. Other adjustments were made as some of the facilities were not used for the entire weekend.
For example, due to cooler temperatures and attendees not finding the site, a stage that originally was in the horse arena was moved into the Activity Center.
Kylmanen noted that the total cost would reflect the horse arena no longer being utilized Sunday.
The West Exhibit Building was not used for attractions. Kylmanen said it was rented as a place for the college Quidditch team players to camp out overnight. The building has minimal heat provided by two heaters and there are shower stalls in the Activity Center restrooms.
“It is not great heat,” he said. “We don’t rent it out during January or February because it is too cold, but spring and fall, it is usable.”
Low temperatures in Jefferson Friday were approximately 36 degrees and Saturday night was around 23 degrees, according to the National Weather Service Office in Sullivan.
Kylmanen declined to specify what the final bill for the rental would be.
Meanwhile, additional contracted attraction providers and suppliers reportedly were aware of the apparent negative feelings surrounding the 2017 event. Main concerns related to too-few shuttle buses and lack of security personnel checking for wristbands to enter venues.
“We understood what we were getting into,” one provider stated. “We wanted to give it an opportunity.”
Formerly referred to as Harry Potter Festival USA, the event organized by Cramer was rebranded as the broader Warriors & Wizards Festival this year to avoid any infringement of Warner Bros.’ copyright.
The fest was one of several around the country that were forced to, at minimum, alter their names and dispense with using the names of certain attractions or characters directly associated with the Harry Potter franchise.
Following last year’s festival, a total of 17 complaints were filed against Cramer’s business, HP Fest Inc., with the Better Business Bureau. In addition, numerous comments were left on the event’s Facebook page and many refunds were issued via PayPal due to fans disappointed in the delivered product.
Grievances filed with the BBB included the attractions not being worth the cost of the wristbands; attractions not being as advertised; wristbands not being checked at venues or when boarding buses — even though they were supposed to be required — and people without wristbands getting into venues and on buses; poor organization; an unclear map; and not having received responses from organizers regarding concerns and requests for refunds and receipts.
According to the BBB website, based on the overall pattern of complaints, a certified letter was sent to HP Fans Inc. on Oct. 26, 2017. Upon not receiving a response, a follow-up notice was sent on Nov. 22, 2017. As of December 2017, the BBB had received no response from HP Fans Inc.
Due to the failure to respond and reported failure to resolve the complaints, the BBB has given HP Fans Inc. an “F” grade.
Wisconsin BBB director of investigations and media relations Lisa Schiller noted that just within the past 30 days, there have been 159 inquires about HP Fans Inc., compared to a total 471 for the last 355 days.
She said it is likely, at least in part, explained by the most recent event (Warriors & Wizards Festival) and people inquiring about it.
In addition, links to the BBB site had been posted on social media sites as this year’s event grew closer.
“We are watching to see what happens with this because if there are any charges or government actions, then we can add that to our reporting,” Schiller said, referring, in part, to the allegations against Cramer.
The number of refunds sought through PayPal was not available due to specific customer information not being available per company policy.
However, several attendees reported either directly to the Daily Union or via Facebook that they had received refunds in 2017. PayPal offers a purchase protection program that covers all eligible purchases where PayPal is used, as well as payments made through its website. If an item does not match its description, buyers are eligible for a reimbursement.
Attendance did decline for the 2018 event.
Pileggi has indicated that his preliminary attendance estimates included approximately 2,200 people on Friday and about 7,500 to 8,000 people total for the three days, or about 16 percent of last year’s total (using the 50,000 total). Cramer himself has stated similar totals, but referred to it as being 10 percent of the 2017’s total based on his estimated 75,000 figure for the 2017 event.
Vendors and those in attendance at the festival this year have suggested that the overall total likely was more in the range of about 3,000 to 3,500 people for the entire weekend.
Organizers have noted that poor weather, the removal of the specific Harry Potter elements and leftover bad feelings about the 2017 event likely were factors in the drop in attendance at this year’s event.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, temperatures dipped far below normal with periods of snow, hail and high winds keeping people at home and blowing over vendor tents.
Although attendance was reduced due to various factors, those who participated did highlight improved attractions and the overall quality of the event. In addition, many have complimented organizers directly or via social media for addressing last year’s issues relating to the bus routes and security. A consultant was hired to specifically address those issues on the operational end of the event.
Despite those general successes, several contractors who requested anonymity discussed details of ongoing issues Cramer had with funding portions of the event both prior and during the 2018 festival.
At least two providers reported instances during which Cramer allegedly turned over large sums of money in cash-stuffed envelopes, after reportedly being unable to pay for some contracts with a check or debit card.
“As far as I’m concerned, I just want my money and I’ll be happy if I never hear about Scott Cramer or Jefferson again,” one contractor stated. “There is a clear indication that all they care about is the money and the tourism, and if that’s the way it’s going to go, then I want no part of it and neither does anyone else.”
Continuing, the provider said he or she would not be quiet if someone asked them about going to Jefferson.
“People need to be warned,” the contractor concluded.
(Watch for a story on the City of Jefferson’s response in Friday’s Daily Union.)
Anyone with any information about the alleged issuance of any check or others complaints against Cramer are asked to contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Detective Bureau at (920) 674-7311.