A charity gala at the Kennedy Center tomorrow night--for an organization that helps young cancer victims--is being organized by Gerald Kapiloff, a little-known public-relations man who previously organized a charity event that produced no net revenues and led to a messy aftermath of unpaid bills, a lawsuit and an FBI investigation.
Tomorrow night's festivities, aimed at raising money for Ronald McDonald House, are expected to be attended by honorary chairman Barbara Bush, wife of Vice President George Bush. Diahann Carroll and Joel Grey are scheduled to perform in the Concert Hall.
Ronald McDonald House president Rick Greenwood said he was not aware of the experience of the other charity--Big Brothers of Washington--with a gala fashion show organized by Kapiloff last Feb. 18.
"Actually, we hired him on the basis of what he said he had done for Big Brothers," said Greenwood. "He came up with the idea for the event; we have never done anything like this before."
Greenwood said he is concerned about the slow sale of tickets, which cost from $20 to $150. He added that Ronald McDonald House already has incurred heavy production expenses.
A young Silver Spring man with little known public relations experience, Kapiloff used a number of established Washington people to launch the Big Brothers event that left debts to a variety of people, including entertainer Bobby Short (who is owed $4,000) and Braun's Caterers ($13,000).
Kapiloff's office address is a secretarial service at 1712 I St. NW, and people involved with the Big Brothers event say his phone numbers have been changed.
Kapiloff, who calls his firm Horizons, refused to comment on a series of allegations made by various people involved in the Big Brothers event. .
"I hope he gets nailed for what he did to Big Brothers and a lot of nice people," said Short's manager, Elizabeth Spahr. "Lee Satterfield president of Big Brothers was shaking when he was telling me what this guy had done. After Bobby performed, he never returned one call. I even called his mother--he lives with her."
At least one person involved has been questioned by the FBI about Kapiloff's activities. An FBI spokesman declined comment, saying, "We don't comment on ongoing investigations." Other sources said an FBI investigation is under way.
After the event, Kapiloff didn't return many calls from Big Brothers. However, he did show McDonald House's Greenwood a letter of recommendation from the organization. Big Brothers does not recall writing such a letter, according to one board member. After learning of its existence, the charity sent a second letter to Kapiloff instructing him not to use Big Brothers as a reference. The original letter, Greenwood says, helped Kapiloff land the contract with Ronald McDonald House, a network of homes-away-from-home for young cancer patients and their families when they must travel to other cities for special treatment.
Here's how the Big Brothers story started:
Big Brothers first was approached by Kapiloff last winter and presented with the idea of an elaborate fashion show by Oscar de la Renta to be held at the Organization of American States building.
Sources close to the event say one of the first people he contacted was Rose Narva, a well-respected executive who manages the Jefferson Hotel. Narva says she knew him only slightly. He booked three rooms for Bobby Short, and Narva recommended he see a well-known public-relations executive, who asked that her name not be used in this story, for advice about the gala. She also sent him to John Goldberg of Dav-El Limo service. Both Goldberg and the PR executive dealt with him on the basis of Narva's recommendation. Narva ultimately donated one room to Short, with the understanding from Kapiloff that the other two rooms were to be paid for by the charity. Short was also under the same impression, his manager said. However, eventually Short paid the bill.
Goldberg says he donated his limousine services to the charity for that night, but has sued Kapiloff for amounts owed for cars provided for Kapiloff's personal use around the time of the event. He says he assumed Kapiloff's credit was good because of his Big Brothers connection. Goldberg was reluctant to talk about the incident. "It's such a terrible thing he did to a fine charity that someone should speak up," said Goldberg. "I was burned."
Bernard Furin, vice president of Braun's Caterers, said he dealt with Kapiloff on the basis of the PR executive's recommendation. Braun's is owed $13,000 by Big Brothers.
Angelo Bonita Custom Florist became involved because it had done work for Big Brothers before. The shop is owed "several thousand dollars" by the charity, Bonita says. Kapiloff arranged that contract between the florist and Big Brothers. Bonita said he will not sue Big Brothers. According to the florist, Kapiloff himself owes him for five Valentine bouquets Kapiloff ordered at the same time, for "Karen, Madeline, Caroline, Barbara" and one addressed "To My Favorite Valentine," which went to Kapiloff's mother.
According to sources at Big Brothers, Kapiloff told the organization that 180 tickets had been sold at $250, which would have covered the event's costs. But in the end Big Brothers received only 70 checks , the sources said; the rest of the tickets, they alleged, were given away by Kapiloff. (Greenwood, president of Ronald McDonald House, said he was one of those who received a free Big Brothers gala ticket.)
After the event, when Satterfield asked Kapiloff for the guest list to determine who had paid, Kapiloff refused to give it to him until Satterfield paid him about $2,000 for his services. Satterfield paid him and received the list.
Satterfield would not comment, and friends describe him as "devastated" by the turn of events. Others involved with Big Brothers say Satterfield for a time contemplated mortgaging his home to keep the charity from collapse because of its bills.
"In summary, the experience was not a good one," said Big Brothers board member Ian Portnoy. "Lee is just trying to work his way out of it."