Bamboozled: Another sketchy Sandy ‘summit’ planned

BB brandingBill Loiry is living up to his globe-trotting reputation.

Yes, he’s at it again.

The self-proclaimed “philanthropist/entrepreneur” hosts for-profit reconstruction conferences in disaster areas. He did it after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and after the BP oil spill.

And he tried but failed to do it in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

Loiry and his group, the United States Leadership Forum, had planned the “Superstorm Sandy Reconstruction Summit” for Dec. 17 in Trenton, but the state’s attorney general — and Bamboozled — had lots of questions.

The event was billed as an opportunity for attendees to learn the latest about Sandy reconstruction from “local, state, and national government, business, and nonprofit decision-makers.”

But Bamboozled learned that no “decision-makers” from the state were attending, and some specific people or groups Loiry named as presenters said they were not going, either. We also learned that some attendees of past conferences said the events didn’t deliver what was promised, and some vendors who helped with the events were never paid.

So New Jersey took Loiry to court, alleging several Consumer Fraud Act violations, including conducting business in the state under assumed names that are not registered, falsely implying that the sponsors are affiliated with or endorsed by federal, state or local government agencies and misleading advertisements. (More on the status of that suit in a moment.)

After the suit was filed, Loiry cancelled the event, but he pledged to hold a similar one in January at another location.

It’s set: Jan. 23 in Washington, D.C., under the name “American Reconstruction & Restoration Summit.”

We were alerted to the event last week when Loiry contacted a vendor about working for the summit. The vendor, who decided not to take the job, then contacted Bamboozled.

We asked Loiry to confirm that the event was on.

“Yes, the NJ AG will not deter me from my mission to help the people of New Jersey and the Northeast recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy,” Loiry said in an e-mail.

So we looked for a website, similar to those Loiry created for past events, but we couldn’t find one. We did find an online invitation service that offered some information.

It said: “The Congressionally hosted Summit is comprised of…” several programs, including “The Capitol Hill Superstorm Sandy Reconstruction Financing Briefing,” and “The Capitol Hill Gulf Coast Restoration Financing Briefing.”

The cost for the entire summit is $400 for “corporate/nonprofit” attendees, or $175 for one briefing. It’s free for government officials, the military and the media. There is no price listed specifically for affected homeowners, but for $100, you can buy a live or on-demand webcast of the event.

That evening, for $125, you can attend a VIP reception “featuring top government and private sector leaders.”

We asked Loiry who these top leaders are and who will be speaking during the day, but he refused to say.

“Because of the irresponsibility of the New Jersey Attorney General in sabotaging last month’s Sandy forum in Trenton, we will not be releasing the names of speakers in advance of January 23,” he said in an e-mail.

When pressed for names, he promised there would be quality guests.

“I give you my word that we’ve confirmed a full program, including multiple public and private sector speakers from New Jersey,” he said.

Given the lack of specificity — including the precise location of the summit — and remembering that the speakers Loiry told us were attending the New Jersey summit denied involvement in the event back in December, we did some sniffing around.

We wondered: If we were hosting a summit on Sandy, what “leaders” would we invite?

We haven’t learned the names of any speakers, but we can report who is not going to be there: Not Gov. Chris Christie or any member of his administration, not Sens. Robert Menendez or Frank Lautenberg, or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Sens. Charles Schumer or Kristen Gillibrand, the Red Cross or the Small Business Administration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also said it’s not going.

Next, we turned to the attorney general in Washington and the district’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. They wouldn’t comment on this event in particular, but they did comment on the law in general when it comes to events like these.

“It is a violation of District of Columbia’s consumer protection law to make material misrepresentations when selling tickets to conferences in D.C.,” said spokesman Ted Gest.

Back in New Jersey, Eric Kanefsky, acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, had some stronger words.

“While we cannot prevent him from holding a new event outside our state, we warn all consumers to be wary anytime someone advertises an event but refuses to identify the supposedly impressive list of speakers, or even refuses to identify the location one week in advance,” he said.

Loiry is due in court on Jan. 30 to answer the state’s consumer fraud allegations.

While Kanefsky called the cancelation of Loiry’s Dec. 17 event “an important victory in our fight to protect those affected by Sandy against further victimization,” he said the state’s action against Loiry isn’t over yet.

The state wants to see Loiry give a full refund to everyone who paid in advance to attend the canceled event, and is asking the judge to make the current temporary restraints permanent, enjoining Loiry from “attempting to profit from the misfortune of New Jersey residents by conducting any future disaster recovery events in our state,” Kanefsky said.

Kanefsky said Loiry’s track record speaks for itself.

“His 2011 bankruptcy filing has been opposed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee due to alleged fraud. He is the subject of many outstanding court judgments, due to unpaid debts from post-disaster events he held in other states, such as Louisiana,” he said. “We’ve succeeded in blocking him from taking advantage of disaster victims here in New Jersey.”

We’ll keep you posted on the case, and also let you know which speakers show at the D.C. summit.


American Legion Post 136 in Lodi is almost back in business.

Last summer, we reported trouble the group had rebuilding its building, which was destroyed in a fire in 2005.

When repairs began, there were problems with the contractors — Tarheel Management and K&E Fire Protection in Manalapan — who designed and worked on the building’s sprinkler system, said Vince Martorano, the Lodi group’s finance officer.

The town’s fire inspector said the sprinkler job was incomplete, and needed much more work before it would be pass inspection, Martorano said.

The contractors refused to help further or to return any of the $24,000 paid for the job, and the American Legion post was out of cash.

But after our story ran, some guardian angels came to the rescue.

“As a direct result of your Star-Ledger Bamboozled article on American Legion Post 136’s fire sprinkler installation problems, David Kuracz, executive director of New Jersey Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board (NJFSAB) has spearheaded and coordinated a movement to revise and install the fire sprinkler system in our Post home according to approved fire codes and regulations,” Martorano said in an e-mail.

He said the installation would be performed free of charge, and labor and materials would also be donated through NJFSAB.

“After learning of this injustice in The Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled article in August 2012, the NJFSAB unanimously voted to help out in any way possible,” Kuracz said in a news release. “A lot of our members are veterans, and we could not stand by and watch as one irresponsible contractor’s actions left these veterans without a home and put a black eye on our entire industry.”

Work began on Jan. 7, and the job is almost complete. American Legion is hoping to get a temporary certificate of occupancy so it can rent out its hall to earn some money to complete a 21,000-square-foot parking lot. The group just took a new loan to pay for the paving job, and it hopes to open the building by June.

Thanks to the NJFSAB and to all those who volunteered their time and materials to make things right for this American Legion post.