Organizers of a glitzy inaugural ball for military veterans canceled the event late Wednesday, citing “security reasons and events beyond our control,” according to its website. But what led to the unraveling of the Veterans Making America Great Again gala, which was slated for Friday night, is a bit murkier.
The soiree was being put together by Florida businessman Luis Quinonez, a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s Hispanic Advisory Council. Quinonez’s name had been mentioned as a top candidate for the post of veterans affairs secretary, though he ultimately withdrew his name, citing health problems. (According to the Military Times, Quinonez had also been in a legal dispute over child-support payments that could have clouded his confirmation process.)
A source with knowledge of how the ball fell apart says financial issues were its downfall.
Via email, Quinonez admitted that paying for the ball became a last-minute issue, but he maintained that a problem with an unspecified “security requirement” was the real reason the event was canceled.
Quinonez said that his group, the Hispanic Veterans of America, had given a deposit to the Marriott Marquis, where the event was to take place. The hotel, he wrote, then “demanded cashier check in half an hour.” He wrote that the group put the transaction on hold but had “arranged for a wire transfer when we were told security requirements weren’t met.”
It’s unclear who told the group that and what “security requirements” they meant. Pressed for details, Quinonez declined to elaborate.
A Marriott spokesman said the hotel does not discuss the details of business dealings with groups or individuals.
“I will not get into a tit for tat,” said Quinonez, whose firm, MAQ Diversified, runs hospitals and offers health-care plans to military dependents. He expressed regret at the cancellation and said attendees — 450 tickets were sold, and sponsors had bought several tables — would be reimbursed via PayPal. Tickets were being offered at $300 each, and sponsored tables were going for $10,000. “There were several issues that forced us to cancel the event which we hated to do,” he said.
Another curious detail about the now-axed ball: in a news release touting it, Quinonez claimed that Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, along with their families, would attend. But the Veterans Making America Great Again ball wasn’t official — that is, not thrown by the Presidential Inaugural Committee — so the POTUS stop-by wasn’t a guarantee. The PIC is sponsoring its own ball for veterans, service members and first responders at the National Building Museum.
The person with knowledge of the scrapped ball said organizers had secured the Marriott — which has a tunnel connecting it to the convention center, where other PIC-sponsored balls were taking place — in the hopes that the VIPs would be able to make a detour.
Lisa Rein contributed to this report.