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FFN cancels 2008 event

Questions fly about where the money went

SHOW ME THE MONEY, BOY! Have the profits from FFN made it to the charities that were supposed to benefit? Credit: Tyson Williams

FFN, a Toronto leather and fetish fair, has cancelled its 2008 event amidst growing questions about its finances.

The day after Xtra attempted to contact Roy Leffell, FFN’s executive director, with questions about the 2007 event and this year’s status, a notice appeared on the FFN website.

“After a lot of thought and serious discussion we have decided not to produce a sixth version of FFN this July,” states the page as of Mar 19. “This was a hard decision, as we all love creating the party in Allan Gardens! The time we have to devote to producing an event of this scale is limited this year. Rather than scale back the event we have chosen to take this year off.”

Prior to Mar 19 the site boasted of the upcoming 2008 event and listed 2007 sponsors. All references to sponsors and to attendance figures for past events were removed before Xtra went to press.

“It’s really an issue with timing and how much time we could devote to the fair,” says John Tiffany, the co-founder of the event, from New York where he lives and works. “It’s such a volunteer-based thing. I have some family issues that I’m dealing with right now. I’m back and forth to California.”

But FFN — formerly Folsom Fair North — has also come under increasing scrutiny from sponsors and even charity beneficiaries about where the money from the event went.

Profits from last year’s event — FFN5 — held in July were supposed to go to the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWAF). TPWAF did receive $3,000 this January, but the charity — which supplied all of the volunteer labour for the event — expressed reservations about the amount.

“If PWA is to be the beneficiary then we have to be the beneficiary, don’t we?” says Pamela Beavis, TPWAF’s director of development and communications. “How much did the fair make and what were the expenses? I have asked for the records and they did offer once they have completed their bookkeeping. We’ve not had a real wrap meeting with the organizers.

“The event was solidified before I started at the foundation, for what that’s worth.”

Beavis says TPWAF was considering participating in the 2008 event.

“We were considering going forward but that would be contingent on what the books showed us,” she says.

Tiffany says the completion of the records has been held up by a dispute with Revenue Canada over GST. He believes FFN is still a registered not-for-profit corporation, which means it doesn’t have to pay business tax. Not-for-profits do not have to make their financial records available to the public.

“As far as I know it hasn’t been unregistered,” he says.

Tiffany says FFN plans to release records to TPWAF by mid-April and then will have records for the five years of the event audited and made public. He says Revenue Canada has never asked for audited statements.

“I don’t believe we’re required to file audited statements,” he says. “They have not said to us we need audited statements.”

Tiffany would not give Xtra even general statements on expenses and revenues.

“Our board wants to present financial information that is the most accurate,” he says. “I would like to say, ‘Here are the audited statements.’ I could give you a figure and that could change and it would look like we’re lying.”

When asked why, if the records weren’t complete, FFN had given $3,000 to TPWAF, Tiffany said the charity had waited long enough.

“We didn’t want to wait any longer,” he says. “We knew that we could give them that. It’s possible we could give them more.”

Over the past five events FFN has only given money to a charity beneficiary once, in 2004 when FFN donated $5,000 to the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).

Tiffany says FFN has also donated large amounts of bottled water to ACT.

“For one event we received a $17,000 donation of bottled water, little of which we used because of rain, which we gave to ACT,” he says. “I don’t care what ACT says, I saw them selling that water at the AIDS Walk.”

FFN asks for a $5 donation from anybody attending the event. There is also a beer garden, which has been sponsored each year by an Ontario brewery, although breweries are not allowed to supply free beer to such events. Chris Goddard, the marketing manager for Steam Whistle Brewery, which sponsored FFN for the first three years, says, “What we provided was service support. We did all the logistics from delivery to setup.”

Tiffany says 4,000 to 5,000 people attended the event in 2006 and 2007. Tiffany told Xtra in 2005 that 5,000 people attended the first FFN in 2003 and 8,000 in 2004. The FFN website claimed 5,500 and up to 17,000 respectively. Tiffany estimated after the 2005 event that 10,000 people attended that year. All articles about attendance have been removed from the website as of Mar 19.

But Tiffany says people have no idea how much money it costs to stage an event like FFN.

“People can say things,” says Tiffany. “But there’s not millions of dollars being made. There’s all sorts of expenses. The budget for the whole fair is under $100,000. There’s electricity, tents, fencing, police, we provide our own security. Insurance costs a lot. We have to pay for beer.”

Tiffany says FFN spends at least $10,000 on setting up stages for DJs and performers. He says the city has refused to supply the stages.

“From our point of view and working with TPWAF we would love to be able to say, ‘Here’s an additional $10,000.'”

Vendors at the event pay $800 to set up a booth and sell and promote their products. Chris Myers, the owner of Montreal’s Steelwerks Extreme — which he describes as making “extremely high-end custom stainless steel sex toys for men, especially chastity devices” — says he had decided not to participate in 2008.

“I have to get some benefit and it did nothing for my business,” he says. “I didn’t make a penny.”

Myers says he found it difficult to talk to FFN organizers.

“They’re a very difficult group of people to deal with as far as communications,” he says.

David Grazer, the president of B Cumming — the California-based maker of Elbow Grease lubricants — agrees. Grazer says he’s given FFN about $15,000 in cash over the five years and up to $10,000 of free product each year to be known as the exclusive lube of FFN. Grazer says he wasn’t aware of the 2008 cancellation until contacted by Xtra.

“I never heard word one from Roy after the 2007 event,” he says. “I spoke to John in October or November and he said, yes, it was going ahead.”

Grazer says he never committed to being a 2008 sponsor, but was contacted by one of his Toronto clients in January who was told by FFN that Elbow Grease would be a sponsor. Grazer says the client was upset about the company’s participation, given the financial questions.

“FFN told them I was on board,” he says. “But I hadn’t heard from anybody. I was very supportive of John and Dean [Price, FFN cofounder]. But I knew everyone was always questioning where the money went. No one knows what happened to the money.”

Grazer says he probably would have come on board for 2008, but he was unable to contact Tiffany or Leffell.

“As far as I’m concerned he owes me an explanation,” he says. “I’ve been a very good friend and supporter.”

Grazer also says the cheques he wrote to the event for its first two years went to John Tiffany and Associates rather than to FFN, although he says he was told he could make cheques out to Folsom Fair North.

Tiffany says he’s aware of rumours about cheques for FFN being made out to personal or US accounts and denies it, saying any such transactions involved Agitator, the FFN dance in 2007.

“There was only one company that was asked to do that,” he says. “The fair is the fair and Agitator is Agitator.”

Tiffany says Steamworks was a sponsor of Agitator, which is put on by a private company owned by Tiffany and Price. Tiffany says the company pays a flat fee to FFN for the right to put on the dance and keeps all profits. He then added that Priape, which sells tickets to Agitator, also wrote cheques to his company.

“We’ve been very clear with our sponsors that Agitator is a private event,” he says. “It’s put on by a private company.”

Tiffany says he would be willing to release the financial records for Agitator as well, but that they too are not complete.