Organizers of the Modesto Marathon are out $60,000 after the race registration company it worked with on this year's event shorted the nonprofit organization.
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RacePartner, based in West Palm Beach, Fla., and operated by Forte Interactive, failed to pay the ShadowChase Running Club for entries that were made on its platform during November and December, which are busy months for the March race, said Vickie Chu-Hermis, race director.
"There have been several attempts to collect on the owed funds to no avail," she posted on the Modesto Marathon page on Facebook. "The company is currently under an FBI investigation. We have filed a police report and have been added to the FBI investigation but frankly don’t expect to be able to recoup the missing funds."
The Modesto Marathon was created in 2010 to support ShadowChase's Teens Run Modesto program, which engages at-risk youth, helping them set goals and build self-esteem. Its immediate goal for participating junior high and high school students is to train for and run a marathon.
The loss of $60,000 is a huge blow to TRM, said Mike Araiza, director of races for ShadowChase. "It's frustrating, because our budget for our teens program is about $120,000. The money comes directly from the marathon proceeds, so this next year, half of it is gone," he said.
Over the years, "we built up a little bit of reserve, but if you use all your reserve, the next little hiccup and you're in trouble."
The FBI office in West Palm Beach said Tuesday afternoon that it could neither confirm nor deny that Forte Interactive is under investigation.
But multiple news sites are reporting that the marathon is far from alone in being owed money by Forte Interactive.
The San Francisco Giants won a judgment for $621,836 against the company last month, the Palm Beach Post reported earlier this month. "The team said Forte Interactive never turned over fees paid by thousands of runners who competed in the Giant Race series of events in San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2017."
The Post article also said Chicago Cubs Charities, a nonprofit affiliated with the MLB team, sued Forte Interactive in Palm Beach County Circuit Court this month. "The organization says Forte Interactive owes it $141,429 in registration fees paid by runners who participated in the Cubs' annual Run to Wrigley Field 5K race in April 2017."
In all, the Post reported earlier this month, 10 organizers of races across the country say more than $2.5 million in entry fees collected by Forte Interactive have disappeared.
The Dana Point Times reported last month that Forte owes the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce more than $239,000 for registrations processed for the Southern California city's Thanksgiving Turkey Trot.
And the Milwaukee Business News reported in February that the Milwaukee Brewers and the Brewers Community Foundation filed a lawsuit against Forte Interactive and the Achieve Agency alleging that RacePartner refused to turn over nearly $204,000 raised last year by the Brewers Mini-Marathon and other events.
Kirk St. Johns took over RacePartner in mid-November after its founder and former president and CEO, Clay Williams, left for the Achieve Agency, according to the Dana Point Times.
Chu-Hermis, who in addition to being the marathon director is on the ShadowChase board, said it's been months since she heard from St. Johns. She spoke with him in November after he took over, she said, and he said the company was being restructured and cutting operating costs and everything would be fine.
"When I last talked with him, he said he was going to send out a goodwill payment to us and we should be all paid by June," Chu-Hermis said. But even then, he didn't correctly state the amount owed to the Modesto Marathon, she said, the payment never was received and emails and phone calls have stopped being returned.
In the meantime, the Modesto Marathon has moved on to I Am Athlete for its race registration.
An email sent to RacePartner by The Bee on Tuesday morning, seeking comment, was not answered. St. Johns did respond to the Dana Point Times last month, saying, “We are in no way attempting to absolve ourselves from the debts owed to the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce. The people of Dana Point should not, cannot, and will not be left holding the bag for this."
Here in Modesto, though, the marathon leaders figure they will be left holding it.
"We'll tighten up our belts for both the marathon and Teens Run Modesto," Chu-Hermis said, adding that TRM does not anticipate having to serve fewer youth this year. "When we started, we had no money, so I think we’re used to that. It's not a foreign thing to us. We're growing every year, but at a pace where it's doable."
That said, marathon organizers have noticed this year and last that some donor companies have been cutting back. Chu-Hermis said she knows businesses are hit up a lot, whether for money or things like snacks and water, and it can be tough when a big event like the marathon comes knocking.
"Every year, we do reach out and ask for donations and in-kind donations," she said. With the loss the marathon now faces, "that comes down to me to go out and pound the pavement."