Trump’s paid speech organizer is in financial trouble

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A company that staged a lucrative series of paid speeches after the White House for former President Donald Trump is now struggling to pay suppliers, investors and employees, angering Trump allies who backed the effort .

The American Freedom Tour, which struck a multimillion-dollar deal with Trump after he left office, lost two top executives and canceled events at a number of locations because it failed to pay its bills , according to people familiar with the activities and the documents. obtained by the Washington Post. Its founder and owner, who has a history of filing for bankruptcy, recently filed for bankruptcy protection again.

The group promised events in a number of locations but canceled them before they started and appear to be banking on a big event in Mar-a-Lago in December to straighten out their financial situation.

With speakers, affiliates and investors all clamoring for their money, one of those involved who got paid was Trump, according to people close to the former president. Some Trump advisers have warned of future events, though Trump has expressed interest.

It’s unclear what that means for the upcoming black-tie gala announced for the tour at Mar-a-Lago, with tickets starting at $10,000 per couple to hang out with Trump. The event includes a poolside reception and formal dinner in the ballroom. A dinner and photo with Trump is $40,000, and a meeting at a private library with Trump is so expensive it’s only listed as: “INQUIRE BELOW.” The company declined to say how much Trump is being paid for the event.

Company CEO Brian J. Forte declined to be interviewed for this story. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

“The tour had some unexpected scheduling issues over the summer that slowed things down, but we’re working on it,” company spokesman Larry Ward said. “We are positioning the tour for greater strength and success going forward.”

The American Freedom Tour kicked off last October, staging glitzy events across the country that resemble Trump rallies but sell tickets ranging from $55 to over $4,000. In addition to Trump, the shows featured right-wing celebrities such as Candace Owens and Kimberly Guilfoyle, as well as motivational speakers offering personal finance lessons.

Essentially, it was a place where Trump supporters could buy a chance to see him and other conservative luminaries — or pay more for special access — the money going not to a political campaign, but to a for-profit company and to Trump himself. It was founded by Forte, a motivational speaker promoter with a long list of bankruptcy filings and business disputes across the country.

The tour has had a series of problems, including angry investors, speakers and sellers who have not been paid, according to people familiar with the situation, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity. to reveal internal details.

Trump joined the group with little oversight, advisers say, and some members of his team were unaware of Forte’s trading history when briefed by The Post.

Some unpaid investors are preparing a possible lawsuit, demanding full payment plus interest, according to a letter of formal notice obtained by The Post. If the company doesn’t pay, the group wants Forte to step aside and give them control of the company, according to the letter. Otherwise, they said they would file a complaint.

“Vendors, speakers and other unpaid attendees are lining up to collect,” an attorney working for the investors said in an email to the group. “The intention is still to set up a governance board.”

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Forte’s spokesman said he had not received a formal notice. “The tour has a strong relationship with its investors,” Ward said.

Ward said the tour was trying to pay both investors and speakers. “Unforeseen scheduling issues for the programs caused a delay and we asked a limited number of investors if their payment could be delayed until November,” Ward said.

Several speakers other than Trump have not been paid, including prominent Trump allies, a person with direct knowledge of the tour’s finances said.

“We’re working very hard to make them whole, and we’re confident they will be very soon,” Ward said.

In July, the company missed payroll, according to a memo to Forte staff. “We are having some growing pains and everything will be fine,” he said in the internal message reviewed by The Post. The spokesperson said the company is currently paying its employees.

Forte recently filed for personal bankruptcy protection for the fifth time this summer, court documents show, claiming he owned 100% of the American Freedom Tour, earned $19,900 a month, but owed more than $3 million. dollars. In a response seeking to dismiss the case, the Justice Department accused Forte of abusing the bankruptcy system to try to thwart foreclosure proceedings and criticized him for traveling to Puerto Rico rather than “Make this fifth bankruptcy case a priority”. The government subsequently withdrew its motion at a hearing.

“The bankruptcy filings involved a dispute with a mortgage company,” Ward said, adding, “Mr. Forte travels frequently to Puerto Rico but is a legal resident of Florida.

Financial pressures from the American Freedom Tour led to business practices that some employees found objectionable. In July, the company canceled a planned event in Milwaukee but continued to sell tickets online, according to two people familiar with the matter. At times, the company continued to sell tickets online for events that organizers knew were unlikely to happen, according to two people familiar with the matter.

When another show was canceled in North Carolina, the company first said it would honor tickets to a future event before agreeing to issue refunds. “We are giving the option of refunds or rain checks for postponed or canceled events,” Ward said.

The tour website does not currently list any upcoming events. A planned show in Birmingham, Alabama was also canceled earlier this year.

To promote the events, the company offered a 25% commission for ads and social media posts that drive sales, according to its website. But a county chapter of the Republican Party in Texas that helped register attendees for an event there has not been paid for at least two months, messages show.

“We are awaiting payment and now four months overdue,” Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant who leads the local Republican Party in Austin, wrote in a Sept. 7 email. “I will be loud and contentious if he doesn’t get paid by the end of the week.”

“As you know after requesting your payment a few weeks ago, I resigned from the American Freedom Tour on August 3,” replied Chris Widener, the company’s former president and emcee who resigned. in August. “You definitely owe the money and you should get paid quickly.”

Widener confirmed his resignation in an email but declined to comment on the exchange with Mackowiak, who said he was paid last Friday afternoon “once the Washington Post asked for comment.”

Mackowiak said he looked at the company before making a deal with it and heard from others that while it was often slow to make payments, it eventually made it. He said he demanded a written contract, “which took over a month even though it was a simple document,” according to Mackowiak.

“I hope anyone who is owed money uses every legal channel available,” Mackowiak said. A company spokesperson said he was sorry Mackowiak’s payment was late.

The company also recently lost its chief financial officer, Dale Ainge. In an interview, Ainge said he left the company in June due to a health issue and wished the company well. He said the company defaulted on two of his loans before he left and some vendors were complaining they hadn’t been paid.

“They had to cancel a few events, which caused financial problems,” he said. “They were behind on things. They were behind on payments. So for me to say, what kind of financial situation are they in? They were a little behind on a few notes. There were a few accounts payable that were past 60 days.

Ainge said he was paid by the company and believed it would put things right when he leaves in June. Ainge said he was approached by Forte to plan events around Trump and conservative speakers, similar to events he organized for a company called Get Motivated.

He said some of the events made money, but others didn’t and some were canceled even after expensive marketing. “It’s a start-up,” he said. “There are always challenges.”

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At the start of the round, the investors were promised to earn 20% on their money in six months, according to loan documents obtained by The Post. But internal emails show that when the money fell due, the company didn’t pay.

“We needed a little more time,” Forte assured investors in March. “The investment is intact. Please wait a few weeks.

By August, Forte had still not provided the money, the emails show. In an email, Forte explained that he was trying to raise more money domestically and abroad and to confirm dates for future events with Trump. He offered to pay $5,000 in a week while the company worked out other deals to be able to pay in full by November.

A person familiar with Forte’s stock said he was constantly trying to hold off speakers, investors and others looking for money – “putting out the biggest fire and holding on”.

“You have been an INCREDIBLE supporter of President Trump and the events we host,” Forte told an investor in an email. “We would love for you to attend the Gala” at Mar-a-Lago in December. “We would like to honor you there if you are able to do so,” he wrote.

Ainge said Trump was the highest-paid speaker, but declined to say how much, citing a confidentiality agreement. “That’s in line with past presidents’ speaking fees,” he said.

He said Trump was the group’s biggest seller and many supporters wanted to meet him backstage and were willing to pay “thousands and thousands of dollars to do so.” Trump, he said, was free and friendly with the guests.

Ward, the tour’s spokesperson, said Trump had expressed no reservations about attending in the future.

“President Trump has been fantastic to work with,” Ward said. “He opened Mar-a-Lago at the American Freedom Tour for a gala on December 1st. I’m sure he wouldn’t do that if he had reservations about the tour. President Trump loves to speak on the American Freedom Tour. He wants to do more programs.

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