Vendors Stuck with $100,000 Tab After Soiree

Meg Kissinger, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Aug. 9

A month after a lavish event to honor local African-American women during the NAACP convention in Milwaukee, several local vendors involved have been left with bills totaling more than $100,000.

The event, planned in anticipation of more than 12,000 visitors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention, was put together by Grace Valentine, a local party planner. The party was not part of any official NAACP convention activities.

Oprah Winfrey’s mother, Venita Lee, was to be the featured guest, along with 17 other high-profile Milwaukee women, including U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Valerie Daniels Carter and Vel Phillips.

The soiree was opulence extraordinaire: a sit-down dinner for 500 at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s dramatic atrium featuring shrimp papaya salad, Hoisin-glazed beef short ribs, a fashion show with New York models, a live band, an open bar and guest speaker Omarosa from “The Apprentice.”

Days earlier, Lee said she couldn’t come, Valentine said.

And when checks started bouncing before the July 11 event even began, local vendors feared that they would be left empty-handed.

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In the end, fewer than 100 people paid for the dinner, Madunic estimated, and her staff had to toss mounds of untouched shrimp, Ahi tuna and white chocolate mousse in the trash behind the art museum.

“There was nothing we could do to save all that food once it had been heated,” Madunic said.

The damage is still being assessed. So far, unpaid bills include Gracious Catering: $70,000; Private Gardener Florist: $4,700; Hotel Metro: $4,572.59 for seven rooms, including room service and restaurant charges. Wauwatosa police are investigating, said Madunic and Valentine. Gracious Catering is in Wauwatosa.

Hotel Metro sued Valentine; she has until today to answer, or a default judgment will likely be entered against her, according to court records.

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