In 2017, our event production company was eight years old. In those eight years, we grew from one event to over thirty per year and from under six figures to over $3 million in annual revenue.
As we struggled to keep up with our growth, we received some complaints from the Better Business Bureau. Although we are a B2B only organization, they stated it was still within their purview to mediate business to business disputes.
We met with some of the BBB executives and asked for suggestions. We asked what they had seen companies do when trying to catch up to rapid growth. It was suggested by one BBB executive that we hire a Controller, someone in-house that would not only implement systems but reduce wasted spending and other issues. We took that advice, and hired a Controller.
That hire was disastrous. The individual we hired was not only suffering from severe mental illness, but was also a con-artist who had been claiming to be a CPA with an MBA for years. She had neither. And she nearly destroyed our organization. It was all over the news, and it was very nearly the end of our company.
As we floundered in turmoil, bad press and angry vendors, we got a call from a BBB investigator. She wanted to help. She knew how hard this must be, and she wanted to assist us in what was a very, very trying time.
After a few weeks and multiple calls and emails with this investigator, she stated that Diane Taylor, President of the St. Louis BBB, simply needed a statement from me detailing all that had happened and what we were doing to correct it. I wrote several versions, and each was supposedly rejected by Ms. Taylor. Each revision suggestion took out a bit more information about our former Controller. Finally, the investigator offered to simply write the statement herself. She claimed she knew just what Diane Taylor wanted to see, and she could write it, send it to me and I could return it via my own email.
Believing that the investigator, a woman named Rebecca Phoenix, was genuine in her intentions, I sent back her document as my own. She had removed every mention of our "CPA", and had whittled it down to a basic customer service plan. After sending it back, I received another email from Ms. Phoenix. In this email, she stated that Diane Taylor has accepted my statement and that they were issuing a consumer alert regarding our business. Shocked, dismayed and betrayed, I asked why she would do that. The answer came from their in-house attorney, telling me if there were errors in the (already released to the media) alert, to list them in writing. I did, and they were never changed. And then I was ignored.
The local media took the release and in some cases had published it without even contacting us for a statement. You will see that a lot in BBB releases. They say it, it must be true. So after that, we were pretty much powerless to do anything. We had venues drop us, sponsors drop us, a complete nightmare. The alert painted us as scam artists stealing from non-profits, never mentioned our Controller, nothing. So we took screenshots of all the correspondence I had with Rebecca Phoenix and posted in online at www.PetExpoTruth.com. Shortly after that, they did another release, this one completely false, and our input was not even sought, not a question even asked. And again, the media picked it up. We also learned that Rebecca Phoenix was calling our vendors, venues and sponsors and encouraging them to drop our events. She did this a lot.
We finally hired an attorney and we were preparing to file suit against the BBB when their outside counsel sent us an email stating they would no longer contact any of our venues, etc prior to an event. So we dropped our efforts, hoping to finally move on.
Shortly after, we learned Rebecca was contacting venues again. When we confronted the BBB, the response was that Rebecca was indeed keeping to the agreement, because she was now calling AFTER an event, not BEFORE. And as ridiculous as that sounds, in that same period the Association of BBBs awarded the St. Louis BBB a $10,000 award, in part for the second alert they did about us that had been proven false some time ago. So we posted all of that online at www.BBBhurtssmallbusiness.com. And we started to hear from a lot of businesses that this was not entirely uncommon. The BBB needs publicity. It boosts membership sales. Why else would they publicly announce via press release whenever a member business is expelled. It stirs fear, keeps members paying, and on and on it goes.
And our former CPA? She never showed up to court, abandoned her Illinois residence and has since pulled the same type of stunt at a large tax preparation chain and then again in California, where she was once again jailed.
If the BBB had even attempted to warn others about her, those two businesses would have at least been spared from going through even a little of what we did. But they have their own agenda, and that did not fit the narrative they ne
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