An Iowa company that has allegedly taken thousands of dollars from small businesses across the country without producing anything in return has set its sights on North Fork businesses, soliciting ads for a Mattituck High School football “program.”
An email soliciting ads with the all-caps subject line “2017 Mattituck HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL VARSITY SCHEDULE PROGRAM……GO Tuckers!” offers advertising on a “tri-fold brochure with a high resolution full color cover gloss, a perfect keepsake for fans, friends and families,” with prices ranging from $199.50 for a business card ad to $799.50 for the front and back covers — the “platinum package.”
One up-front clue that things may not be as they seem: There is no “Tuckers” football team. Mattituck, Southold and Greenport high schools field a single, combined football team — the Porters.
“This is not sanctioned by the school district,” Mattituck-Cutchogue school board president Laura Jens-Smith said today.
The solicitation doesn’t say that any of the revenue would go to the school, nor does it say that it’s being made on the school’s behalf.
The email urges the recipient to call “John Wilbur” a “Senior Project Director” for “CW Promotion” at 888-275-7916 ext: 101.
A Google search on the company name turns up several news reports on complaints by local businesses and chambers of commerce about similar solicitations in other parts of the country made by a company called City Wide Promotions in Davenport, Iowa.
City Wide Promotions LLC was established in the State of Iowa in October 2016 by an Alphonso W. Barnum.
The Better Business Bureau has given City Wide Promotions LLC an “F” rating. The business failed to respond to the BBB on complaints received by the organization, according to the BBB website.
The BBB website also has a “business alert” posted for the company: “The office of the Iowa Attorney General has asked that consumers with complaints also contact Al Perales at 515-281-5926.”
Barnum registered another company called New Start Media in April 2015 that also sold advertising on promotional materials. It, too, has an F rating from the BBB, negative reviews and more than two dozen complaints. Dozens of reviews on New Start Media’s Facebook page and complaints on the BBB’s website tell similar tales: the company took payment — hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars — and never produced anything. After the company was paid, it stopped responding to calls and emails.
A man who identified himself as John Wilbur — the name on the email solicitation for the Mattituck program — returned a call this afternoon.
The company’s business practice is “absolutely legal,” he said. “We don’t use trademarked names. If someone buys an ad, they have to understand we are not affiliated with any school or town,” he said. “It’s advertising. We fully disclose who we are and what we do,” he said.
The disclosure comes when prospective advertisers complete forms on the company’s “secure website,” Wilbur said. “They cannot place the order without the understanding that there’s no affiliation with the school,” he said.
“We are a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “We do this nationwide.”
He said the “programs” are distributed at stores and offices in the local area but he declined to disclose the locations. “I don’t see the relevance of giving you that,” he said. He also said the advertisers tell the company where they want the material to be distributed, then the company gets signed agreements with the distribution points and the advertiser drops the materials off there.
“We give them to the advertisers and we distribute them ourselves,” he said.
Wilbur said he could not say how many programs would be printed — “I don’t have that in front of me,” he said — but on average 3,000 to 4,000 are printed.
Mattituck is one of “two or three” communities in New York State that City Wide Promotions is producing materials for, he said. They are doing it at the request of a Re/Max real estate broker in the community, he said.
There is no record of a Re/Max broker on the North Fork. According to the Re/Max website, the nearest office is in Miller Place.
He said the broker, whom he did not identify, was a client of City Wide in Florida who had relocated to New York.
“It’s no different than what Vistaprint does,” he said, referring to the online marketing company. “It sells NFL schedules – does that make them the Dallas Cowboys?”
Wilbur objected to complaints and news reports calling the business a “scam.”
“Our legal department has destroyed many small newspapers that have printed that,” he said. He denied he was threatening this publication, but told the reporter, “I know your type.”
The Mattituck-Cutchogue school board president said she thought the district would notify Southold Town Police and possibly put out a robo-call to let people know this solicitation has nothing to do with Mattituck High School.
“It’s deplorable that people would prey on people’s good nature and willingness to support one of our local sports teams,” Jens-Smith said.