New York Attorney General Letitia James today announced that she has permanently banned event producer Ishmael Osekre from producing events and festivals in the state of New York. Osekre — who operated his business under African Food Festival, LLC — scammed thousands of people from Harlem to the Hudson who bought tickets to the New York City African Food Festival in 2016 and the New York City Pizza and Burger Festivals in 2017 by deceiving them into paying for food and entertainment that were never provided.
Osekre also cheated the production staff, vendors, and contractors that he hired for the events by not paying them or issuing bad checks to those who refused to work without pay. Osekre is required to pay more than $310,000 in restitution and penalties, $111,198 of which are for consumers who were affected.
“Ishmael Osekre’s fraudulent schemes were an epic recipe for disaster that scammed New Yorkers out of their time and money,” said Attorney General James. “Today’s order bans this shameless individual from ever carrying out this type of illegal business in our state. Let this serve as a warning to all fraudsters that their attempts to cheat our communities will be brought to light and will not go unpunished. My office will continue to use every ounce of the law to hold those accountable and ensure that New Yorkers are not burned again.”
In October 2017, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) initiated an investigation after receiving dozens of complaints related to the New York City Pizza Festival and the New York City Burger Festival. Complainants — who bought tickets on websites like Eventbrite and GoldStar based on false online ads featuring unlimited food samples — were charged for VIP packages, drinks, games, and other forms of entertainment. Upon looking further into Osekre’s business practices, the OAG found that he had also scammed ticket holders and vendors in the New York City African Food Festival a year prior in a similar fashion.
Throughout the investigation into Osekre’s fraudulent practices, OAG staff gathered evidence that included numerous online Facebook ads, Osekre’s personal and ticket-selling websites, screenshots of tickets, copies of emails and failed checks, and testimony from dozens of defrauded ticket holders and vendors.
The 2016 African Food Festival sold thousands of tickets and generated more than $100,000 in revenue. However, Osekre kept all of the proceeds and did not issue any refunds, even after the flood of complaints. Ticket holders for the 2017 Burger and Pizza Festivals were able to submit enough complaints to raise flags for ticket sellers EventBrite and GoldStar, so these companies refunded the ticket costs back to more than 1,100 affected consumers.
The court order — granted by Judge Francois A. Rivera in Kings County Supreme Court — enjoins Osekre from being involved in event production or festival production in the state of New York pursuant to Executive Law § 63(12) and New York state General Business Law Article 22-A. Osekre is also required to pay a total of $311,398 in restitution and penalties, $111,198 of which will be for consumers who were affected and $150,000 for the state of New York. In order for Osekre to continue to work at any festival or at any event, he must pay off the financial obligations and obtain a $500,000 performance bond.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Eubank, under the supervision of Assistant Attorney General In Charge of the Brooklyn Regional Office Michael Barbosa. The Brooklyn Regional Office is a part of the Division of Regional Affairs, which is led by Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Jill Faber and is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.