Riot Fest Christmas charity drive raises questions

Riot Fest Christmas charity drive raises questions

Riot Fest devised a clever playful way to raise money for their Christmas toy drive. They created a hoax.

Riot Fest claimed their 1994 red Camaro was stolen on December 8th. The car supposedly was parked at the Cobra Lounge on the Near West Side.

The next day Riot Fest provided footage from Cobra's security system showing the car being driven away.

Riot Fest then claimed they received a ransom note:

Dearest Riot Fest,

Although I am wishing you nothing more than the most joyous holiday season, it has come time to unveil myself slightly enough to ease the pain of your missing Camaro and explain my story.

I have enjoyed your festival for several years now and while at Douglas Park, I, of course, needed to see the Camaro everyone was talking about. And, being a car guy and collector, I gave it a once over and noticed you were leaking some transmission fluid.  At that time, I didn’t think too much of it. However, while at Cobra Lounge early last week, I saw the Camaro just sitting there in the parking lot.  Thus, out of sheer curiosity, I looked underneath the Camaro and, yes, there was an excessive amount of transmission fluid on the ground… which, I come to find out, was certainly leaked from your Camaro.

And that’s when the plan was hatched.

I was going to steal your Bitchin’ Camaro and repair the transmission. But, in order to get your beloved car back and in proper working condition, you would need to do something special… something that accentuates the holiday spirit. 

Therefore: Upon your fans raising $2,500 for underserved children in the communities surrounding Douglas Park, I will return your now fixed Bitchin’ Camaro to its initial Cobra Lounge location so that you can use the car to deliver the toys. I am very much looking forward in seeing many children smile through your efforts.

Your friend,
The Benevolent Thief 

DNAinfo/Chicago reported the hoax followed by Chicagoist.

From DNAinfo/Chicago:

But on Thursday, Riot Fest promoters admitted they made the whole thing up in an effort to get fans to raise $2,500 for "underserved children in the communities" around Douglas Park.

Responding to an angry fan on Facebook, Riot Fest wrote Thursday: "I'm sorry we 'tricked' you into donating toys to children on Christmas. Donating to charity is actually a great cure for cynicism, maybe you should try it."

DNAinfo/Chicago reported a police report was not filed for the "stolen" vehicle. If this was a hoax or P.R. stunt, filing a police report would leave Riot Fest open to criminal charges.

As of Friday, Riot Fest raised almost $3000.00 .

The Riot Fest Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization, a nonprofit, tax-exempt entity .

Did Riot Fest or their foundation pull an illegal stunt for charity? Were any charitable fundraising laws violated? Are clever, but factually incorrect hoaxes or P.R. stunts exempt from charitable fundraising laws?

Riot Fest may have intentionally included factually incorrect information in their campaign, which is one of the signs of fraud. Or, they carefully skirted around the gray areas of the law to be playful and make their event fun.

Riot Fest is a large operation. More than likely they ran this ploy past their attorneys. Yet, attorneys being human, can make mistakes.

Reputable charitable foundations are very creative in getting people to donate money. Their creative efforts usually are transparent, above board, and fall within the parameters of various laws, ethical considerations, and best practices.

Reputable charities do not try to deceive people with factually incorrect information like "stolen" cars or ransom notes from "benevolent" thieves. Some do things in a fun, funny, or clever manner. It is all above board and transparent.

Riot Fest's intentions are good. There is no doubt the money raised will be used for its intended purposes.

Riot Fest wants to continue putting on events in Chicago. They need the backing of the politicians and the public. Creating hoaxes or as one news report called it, a "lie," might engender some hostility.

An inquiry should be launched to vindicate, chastise, or penalize Riot Fest for their scheme. The inquiry would be short, as all the evidence is on Riot Fest's website. It would help set some kind of precedent on how far charities can go with their creativity.

Raising money to buy toys for disadvantaged children should be encouraged. It should be done in an honest, above board, and transparent manner. Being playful, creative, or clever is a plus. It makes giving enjoyable. There is no doubt Riot Fest is sincere in their efforts.

Using what could be considered a deceptive ruse, hoax, or stunt taints their effort and gives off a whiff of corruption.

The last thing Chicago needs is another whiff of corruption.

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