Ticket holders still waiting for refunds as promoter speaks out on why concert for veterans was canceled

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SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — A summer country music concert benefitting veterans was canceled at the last minute. Now two months later, the promoter is speaking out for the first time on what he said went wrong, as hundreds of people still wait for ticket refunds.

The “Freedom and Dignity Festival,” an event benefitting local veterans, was supposed to be held Aug. 10 at the Boomers Stadium in Schaumburg.

When Kari Tamillo of Roselle found out one of her favorite country music stars was set to play a concert in her back yard, she jumped on it.

“I was very excited to see Toby Keith,” Tamillo said. “I had seen him before and knew he could put on a great concert.”

But the event was canceled just three days before the show.

“I thought it was a joke,” Tamillo said. “I was more than happy to buy the tickets. We had a big group of people. We were going to spend more money there and now I hear nothing and I'm out over $800.”

Dan Gibbons of the Turkey Trot Foundation spoke to WGN News in August.

“We're heartbroken, especially for the people we were going to help,” Gibbons said at the time.

Gibbons had worked with promoters to put on the concert and hoped to make an estimated $400,000, almost all of which was to be used to benefit veterans causes.

Justin Orick of Imagine Events, LLC said he and his team have successfully pulled off big events like it and that Toby Keith had been selling out venues of similar size around the country.

“I'm a veteran myself. I did two tours in Afghanistan. I served in the marine corps. Most of our staff are veterans, it's why we thought this would be a good fit for us,” Orick said.

Gibbons’ foundation and Imagine Events, LLC opened a joint bank account where ticket revenue was deposited. But as the event drew closer, sales were far less than projected. Only a third of the 12,500 tickets they had hoped to sell had been purchased.

“We even went at the end (to) Groupon (as) a last-minute desperation measure,” Mike Birt of Imagine Events, LLC said. “We offered those tickets at 50% off and they didn't sell.”

By then, Gibbons’ foundation had fronted a quarter of a million dollars and wired it to Nashville to secure Keith and three other acts.

Tens of thousands of dollars more in ticket sale revenue coming in was spent on advertising and contractors who required upfront payment before the show.

Imagine Events, LLC signed a contract to repay Gibbons’ foundation the quarter-million dollars in cash for the talent before the concert. When they didn't pay the money back, the foundation pulled the plug, fearing even greater losses.

“There's a lot of people out there who bought tickets to the show and they would like to know, 'Where's my refund?' I don't know," Gibbons said.

Of the $287,000 dollars in ticket sales, Imagine Events, LLC said it has currently refunded 70% of ticket holders, leaving about $80,000 dollars in outstanding refunds. But after partial refunds and contractor payouts, Imagine Events, LLC said the joint bank account is dry. They said they were never paid for their services and kept none of the money.

Birt said it took him two months to go public and defend himself because he was scared.

“I was terrified,” he said. “And nobody was going to listen.”

Birt said he received death threats after the concert was canceled.

In August, WGN News tried to reach out to Imagine Events, LLC, which shut down its social media pages and failed to return calls.

“It was an event that went south,” he said. “Sometimes events fail and it's sad but there's no way I should have been destroyed for this.”

Birt said he is hopeful fans will get their money back.

“We are working on it,” he said.

Tamillo isn’t so sure.

“It does concern me at this point,” she said. “I don't think I will ever see that money.”

Now, Imagine Events, LLC and Gibbons' foundation are suing each other in a civil case filed in DuPage County last month.

Gibbons attorney released a statement to WGN News that said:

Every aspect of this event --- from the ticket sales to the production  --- was controlled by Imagine Events. That’s why we have asked the court to force them to account for all the money they received and to try to get ticket holders refunded and our Foundation’s loan repaid.  We are just as disappointed as everyone else in how poorly this was handled. Our goal was to help our veterans organization and have a good concert. We put our trust in a company that simply failed.

“At this point, we don't care what's going on between the parties,” Tamillo said. “We just as normal people want our money back.”

When Kari Tamillo of Roselle found out one of her favorite country music stars was set to play a concert in her back yard, she jumped on it.

As this gets hashed out in court, Tamillo, as well as many other ticket holders WGN News spoke with have filed pending disputes with their credit card companies.

Some who used debit cards said after speaking with their bank, there's nothing they can do to get their cash back.

WGN News reached out to Keith's people to see if he was aware of this situation, and haven't heard back.

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