The Remington High School prom is a "go" afterall.
For weeks, FactFinder 12 Investigators have been following the problems with a wedding and special events venue in downtown Wichita known as Gallery One-Nine.
On Sunday we told you Remington students had paid $1200 to book the facility for prom next spring. But after learning of owner Andrew Sandlin's financial problems and the possible closure of the business, the students were struggling to get their hard earned money back.
This afternoon, FactFinder 12 learned Sandlin's landlord stepped in to make sure the students' prom happens as planned. Real Development Corporation tells us it will guarantee the space currently occupied by Gallery One-Nine is open for the Remington prom next April, regardless of Sandlin's future.
Several local DJs have also offered their services to the students as well as a Wichita decorating company. After FactFinder 12 got involved, Sandlin promised to repay the students in full. So far, he has returned $300.
Original Story, September 5
The story below is a follow-up to a FactFinder 12 Investigation of Gallery One-Nine. The original story aired August 19th, 2010.
Prom in Jeopardy
Mandy McNeill’s powerful voice resonates throughout the choir room. The Remington High School student tires to stay focused on choir practice. But in the back of her mind, McNeill is worried about prom, eight months from now. As junior class president, it falls on her shoulders to plan the senior prom and make sure it tops the previous year’s event.
In May, Remington High booked Gallery One-Nine to host the 2011 prom. With its spectacular views from high atop downtown Wichita, the students thought it would be the perfect venue to match their theme and decorating ideas. The students were quoted a price of $1200, signed a contract, and paid all the money up-front. It seemed like a good deal, but they were unaware of Gallery One-Nine’s history and mounting financial problems.
“Everyone is just so disappointed,” said McNeill after learning the details uncovered in a FactFinder 12 investigation of Gallery One-Nine and owner Andrew Sandlin. Over the past year, those two names have become infamous within the Wichita wedding industry.
History of Problems
Gallery One-Nine bills itself as the premiere wedding location in town. Dozens of brides and grooms say Sandlin offers planning packages for what they describe as “too good to be true” prices. In the case of Jennifer and Jared Rizzo, he promised the couple the use of Gallery One-Nine for the ceremony and reception, tables and chairs, wait staff, dinner for 150 guests, flowers, a string quartet and limousine service. The Rizzos told FactFinder 12 Investigators all of those items were to be delivered by Sandlin for $3800. He was supposed to book the vendors and pay them with the Rizzos’ money.
The couple paid in full months before their August 8th wedding. The week of her wedding Jennifer Rizzo said her florist hadn’t been paid and her catered food hadn’t been ordered. Those facts, combined with rumblings about problems with Gallery One-Nine, left her no choice but to move the location and throw a wedding together in five days.
FactiFinder 12 Investigators spoke to at least ten couples with similar stories of anger, frustration and disappointment after they paid Sandlin to coordinate their weddings or receptions. All said they got very little of what was promised. Few, if any, local caterers, florists or equipment renters will work with Sandlin because they say he doesn’t pay.
FactFinder 12 Investigators found a dozen civil or small claims cases involving businesses that have sued Gallery One-Nine for unpaid bills. A temp agency was awarded more than $48,000 in July and still hasn’t been paid. Some business owners say they won’t go through the expense of filing a civil suit because it will only cost them more and they know Sandlin won’t pay.
"I just honestly didn't think somebody would do that to a bunch of kids," said Remington High School Principal Tim Bumgarner, in a voice rising with anger. Bumgarner said he became aware of Gallery One-Nine’s financial troubles a few weeks before the FactFinder 12 story. He called Sandlin personally to express his concerns and see if an agreement could be worked out to release the students from their contract. He was worried Gallery One-Nine wouldn’t still be operating by April, 2011.
According to Bumgarner, Sandlin called on August 19th (same day the original story aired) and agreed to refund half of the $1200, But nearly two weeks later when Bumgarner interviewed with FactFinder 12, there still had not been a payment made.
“He knew when he made the deal with the kids that he was in serious trouble. But he made the deal anyway and he took their money anyway," said Bumgarner. “It's money that the kids raised all on their own. Their work, their efforts. He took it from them."
"He took advantage of us,” added McNeill. “Why would you do that to people when you know that there's no way you're going to be able to make it work? “
FactFinder 12 Investigators called Sandlin September 2, for his reaction to the story. A reporter left a detailed message explaining the accusations being made by students and faculty at Remington High School. He never returned the call. However, a few hours later he called Bumgarner and made arrangements to give the students a full refund of $1200. FactFinder 12 confirmed that through Sandlin’s attorney. A first payment in the form of a $300 cashier’s check was over-nighted and arrived in Bumgarner’s hand Friday afternoon.
Still, the students must find a new venue to host their prom. McNeill says most of the good places have already been booked. And until Sandlin pays all the money back, the students are without a substantial portion of their budget.
House in Foreclosure
Factfinder 12 Investigators continue to learn more about Andrew Sandlin’s financial affairs. On August 2, 2010 a petition for sale document was filed with the Sedgwick County Clerk’s office. The paperwork outlines Sandlin’s efforts to sell his deceased mother’s home in College Hill. Sandlin controls the estate and has asked the court for permission to sell the property to himself as an individual, for $1000. The case is still pending.
The document also reveals that the home had been on the brink of foreclosure until Sandlin recently made a large payment to the bank. “After several extensions of the foreclosure case Petitioner (Sandlin) at the last minute paid $33,263.00 to reinstate the mortgage and obtain dismissal of the foreclosure,” writes Sandlin’s attorney Clifford Bertholf.
When Sandlin was asked by FactFinder12 Investigators where that $33,000 came from, the man with thousands of dollars in garnishments against him answered “savings”. Sandlin has repeatedly told FactFinder 12 Investigators about his plans to sell the home at 151 N. Roosevelt and use the money to pay back the brides and grooms he’s accused of ripping off. According to the petition filed by Bertholf, the home was valued at $175,000 in late 2008. Bertholf notes that because the property is in “poor condition” and has deteriorated further since the appraisal was done, it would fetch even less money in the current struggling real estate market. The home has a mortgage of $148,043.54 in addition to a second mortgage that Sandlin made to protect his $33,263 investment.
At least one business has opposed the petition for sale. Via Christi Hope, Inc. has filed a claim against the estate for $9,791.32 for Margaret Sandlin’s unpaid debt. Via Christi Hope, Inc. urged the court not to allow Sandlin to sell the home to himself for $1000 (subject to the mortgage).
Not Paying Employees
In addition to not paying wedding vendors, FactFinder 12 Investigators has learned Sandlin has a history of not paying the people who work for him. According to the Kansas Department of Labor, seven former employees of Gallery One-Nine have filed claims for unpaid wages. One person was awarded $630 in June and still hasn’t been paid. Six other former employees are still awaiting hearings for unpaid wages totaling more than $3000.
Sandlin also owes money to people who worked for him in a previous business venture in the Kansas City area called Sandlin & Associates. Former employee Phillip Goodbinder is owed $5000. He described the business as a telemarketing center where he and others would make cold calls trying to sell bottled water. The FCC issued Sandlin & Associates a citation in January 2008 for sending unsolicited advertisements to businesses using fax machines. Altogether, five people won their cases against Sandlin for unpaid wages totaling more than $11,000, Kansas Department of Labor records show.