News4 Investigates: Company criticized for not providing refunds gets awarded COVID relief funds
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Frustrated customers are coming to News4 Investigates wondering how a company that’s owed them a refund for years was awarded millions in COVID relief funds.
This is far from the first time we’ve told you about issues with the “Walker Stalker Con” and “Fan Fest” events.
“It was pretty much a bust!” Nashville resident Tim Rucker said.
Tim Rucker was one of several people who looked forward to Fan Fest back in 2019.
“Originally, it was going to be someplace nice like the Opryland Hotel, and I had been to some Walker Stalker events before, and it had a lot of people,” Rucker said.
Then it got postponed to 2020.
“When we went to the one in January, it was at an agricultural center. 1:26 “It was a fraction of the size you expected it to be, especially when you paid $100 for the weekend and what came out was maybe $20 worth of entertainment,” Rucker said.
It’s a story we’ve heard several times. People who signed up to attend Walker Stalker Con or Fan Fest were told the actors they were promised were not there. Several people who signed up struggled to get refunds or never received them.
Now, News4 Investigates has uncovered Walker Stalker LLC, owned by James Frazier, received around $2.9 million as part of the federal grant program aimed at helping live venue operators who lost business due to the pandemic. But remember, we found out that customers started having problems in 2019 before the pandemic began.
At one point, Walker Stalkers LLC was supposed to be sold to 3 Fams Productions, but the company owners told News4 over the phone that they changed their minds on the purchase after learning about the issues facing Walker Stalker LLC.
Nashville- Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III announced a settlement today with Walker Stalkers, LLC and its CEO, James Frazier. The agreement prevents Mr. Frazier from engaging in the conduct that led to the failure to provide promised ticket refunds for canceled events and obliged him to pay restitution owed to eligible consumers.
“It makes me go… this happened before COVID! This event was in 2019 and was postponed until early 2020, and we know covid didn’t happen until after that…so how is that even possible,” Rucker said.
News4 asked the SBA how could this happen? SBA says they cannot comment on individual loans or grants but issued the following statement pertaining to fraud allegations:
It has also been our priority to work alongside the Office of the Inspector General to identify and address any areas of concern, and any potential fraud we identify through these checks is referred to the Inspector General. So far, the SBA has directed $1.7 billion to our Inspector General for further investigation. In addition, over 5,000 partner lenders also continue to refer potential fraudulent loans to the Inspector General.
The SBA will continue to work closely and productively with the Inspector General and others in the oversight community to make improvements to meet our duties of accountability and transparency and to ensure the utmost program integrity. Anyone with evidence that a borrower/recipient has committed fraud is encouraged to report the issue to the SBA Inspector General.”
In February 2020, the Tennessee AG’s office sued Walker Stalkers LLC and James Frazier, alleging that the failure to provide the promised refunds constituted a “deceptive business practice.” The AG’s office settled with Frazier in December 2020.
“The judgment against Mr. Frazier and his businesses--had both a financial component and a conduct component. And so, he has upheld his part on the financial side of things. And now, we’ve got a little over $300,000 that we will be in a position to return to consumers and vendors. “He’s held up his end of the bargain at this point,” David McDowell, Deputy of Consumer Protection Division with the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, said.
As for if the SBA Award money will impact their settlement, McDowell says it likely will not.
“The SBA, we’ve talked with them about those issues, and um, they’re aware of Mr. Frazier and questions about the propriety of getting those funds, but those questions don’t really concern us. We were cleared to use the funds he did pay in settlement, and so we are determined to get those funds to consumers just as soon as we can.”I’m optimistic that they’ll see their refunds before the end of the year,” McDowell said.
Rucker hopes those who didn’t get the experience they deserve at least get their money back.
“I never pursued a refund, but for those that did…it kind of frustrates me,” Rucker said.
News4 reached out to James Frazier by phone, email, and Twitter, but he never responded.
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