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Wedding Planner Guy Might Not Be Best Choice For $39 Million USDA Contract
But his slapped-together website is so professional!
A little while back we told you about this big $3 billion USDA programthat was intended to solve two coronavirus-related problems at once. USDA would grab up a lot of the agricultural products that are at risk of going to waste because restaurants and schools are closed, and then it would distribute the stuff to food banks and other charities to help feed the folks who are hurting because they've lost their jobs. The "Farmers to Families Food Box Program" was supposed to be an example of a public-private partnership to respond quickly to some of the economic ripple effects created by shutting down the economy. Very feel-good stuff. Problem is, the USDA seems to have awarded some contracts to vendors that don't seem especially well-suited for big foodstuff distribution, like a California outfit that does "business finance solutions" or another that sells hand sanitizers in airports.
One of the larger contracts, for $39 million, went to a San Antonio, Texas, company that specializes in corporate events and big weddings, a marketing outfit called "CRE8AD8" — like, "Create a Date" for your big event. The company has never done any food distribution, but it somehow got the seventh-largest contract to move surplus food from farms to food banks. Big surprise! TheSan Antonio Express News did some digging into CRE8AD8 and its CEO, Gregorio Palomino, and found out that Palomino had "boasted about clients who say they've never worked with him, cited unearned professional credentials and touted business affiliations that can't be verified," if you can believe that. It's very basic, shoe-leather and records-checking journalism, and golly, does Mr. Palomino come off looking a bit like the old SNL character Irwin Mainway, although maybe not as convincing.
As the Express-News points out, it's a pretty big job for a company that's never done anything on this scale. To fulfill the USDA contract, CRE8AD8 will need to
buy 18 million pounds of food, pack it into 750,000 individual boxes and transport the boxes to food banks and other nonprofits in seven states — all in less than six weeks.
But maybe Gregorio Palomino's outfit is up to the job! After all, the company's website lists locations in 27 cities worldwide — not just in San Antonio, but also in "Houston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Paris, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Tokyo and Moscow." (Everyone talk about ... Pop Music!) Of course, the paper had a little trouble verifying those outlets, because "No addresses or phone numbers are listed for any of them." But the locations are otherwise very specific. This is one professional operation, you can just tell:
And then there's that"GLOBAL HEADQUARTERS,"which "appears to be a mailbox at a UPS store in a North Side strip mall." Seems efficient to get so much work done in a tiny little space.
The paper found three supposed "clients" who said they'd never done business with Palomino. CRE8AD8's website used to say it had done events for San Antonio-based Big Business Names USAA and Valero Energy as well as the city's big annual civic event, Fiesta San Antonio. Except, oops, maybe he hadn't? The paper asked all three, and nope, they had no records of doing business with Palomino. The executive director for Fiesta San Antonio, Amy Shaw, said that not only could she find no records, she contacted the company to ask it to remove the festival's name from the website.
Not long after the paper started looking into the claims, all three "clients" were removed from the site. BUT! Palomino had an explanation!
Palomino insisted "we did perform and execute events for both" Valero and Fiesta San Antonio. He said he could not go into detail, because he had signed non-disclosure agreements with both organizations.
He also said Valero and Fiesta San Antonio had "granted verbal rights" allowing CRE8AD8 to use their logos on its website.
But you see, he took the names off the site anyway because "These respectable organizations have changed their policies since our last engagement, and we were requested to go through a process to gain their permission for future use."
Nothing doing, said Shaw. She said Fiesta doesn't require NDAs with any partners, and no, it doesn't do "verbal" permissions to use its logo either. Here's an archived version of the clients page from October 2019, and the shorter version that's currently CRE8AD8 ; looks like both UPS and the "San Antonio Area Widowed Persons Service" have also changed their policies, huh?
In the interest of fairness, the Express-News did note that one of the CRE8AD8 clients it contacted verified the company did a very nice job and has really been good to work with, so there's that.
Then there are Mr. Palomino's own excellent qualifications, like listing "CMP" after his name on LinkedIn. The News-Express 'splains that's a
designation for Certified Meeting Professional. It's a credential awarded by the Events Industry Council in Washington and regarded as the "badge of excellence" in the events industry.
Certification is granted based on professional experience, education and a rigorous exam.
So the reporters contacted the Events Industry Council and found out, nope, Gregorio Palomino is not one of those. But again, he can explain.
My CMP is a different acronym, and we found out that the organizing association that put it together didn't say we could use CMP, because I guess it was trademarked with the Events Industry Council, which we did not get it through.
Guess Rand Paul's doctor-certifying outfit has branched out to certifying meeting planners!
On it goes. How does Palomino explain his LinkedIn claim that he was on the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2010 and 2011, when the organization's chief financial officer says nope, he was a dues-paying member but never on the board? The CFO must be mistaken! Palomino says he has "photos, documents, board member pin and dozens of sources who can vouch for my participation, attendance and service during that time."
But darn those reporters (who probably hate America and successful businessmen), they did more digging:
The Hispanic Chamber's annual federal tax filings lists all board members by name. The Express-News examined the filings for the 2010 and 2011 calendar years. Palomino's name does not appear on the list of board members for either year.
That's pretty explosive stuff, and it leaves us with only one conclusion: The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce must have faked its tax filings a decade ago by leaving Palomino's name out.
But here's our favorite bit, right here!
Palomino's LinkedIn page also lists "presidential inauguration" as one of his projects. Asked for details, he said the reference was to the inauguration of [University of Texas San Antonio] president Taylor Eighmy in March 2018.
At least UT San Antonio confirmed Palomino had
cateredthat, so there was nothing misleading at all about that claim.
UPDATE: Actually, no, UT San Antonio didn't confirm to theExpress-News that CRE8AD8 had "catered" the university president's inauguration; that was merely Yr Wonkette's incorrect inference. We received an email from UTSA's comms office asking for a correction: "It is accurate that CRE8AD8 was the vendor selected to provide decorating and video services for the presidential inauguration but the company did not cater it." So there you go: the services weren't even food related. But if USDA needs decorations and video services in a box, they've got their guy.
There's a lot more, the whole article leaves you wondering how what looks like a rinky-dink operation managed to get a huge federal contract. Speaking of which, here's the homepage for CRE8AD8's USDA partnership, featuring text copy-pasted from the UDSA's description of the food box program, a stock photo, and the words "Produce / Meat / Dairy," complete with photos of what those things are. No, those aren't links.
Now, maybe it's unfair to judge a recipient of a $39 million federal contract by its hastily slapped-together website. If nothing else, nobody needs to worry the money is going into the website. And who knows, maybe by the time the contract ends, June 15, we'll all be amazed at what a wonderful job CRE8AD8 did in getting food to food banks across the Southwest. And if that happens, won't we all feel silly for having worried about little things like whether every last part of Gregorio Palomino's LinkedIn page and corporate website was "true"?
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