Leadership Forum impresario still hasn't paid contractors left in the lurch from April event

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By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

Nearly two months after globetrotting entrepreneur Bill Loiry told The Lens that he would pay stiffed New Orleans contractors who worked on a Gulf Coast Leadership Summit held here in April, most still haven’t been paid in full.

Megan Hargroder, left, tweets from the Gulf Coast Leadership Summit, work for which she has not been paid.

“He’s basically telling me to get in line to get paid,” former Gulf Coast Leadership Forum executive director Mandi Thompson said Thursday. In addition to the $1,750 Thompson says she is owed, Loiry debts include $200 claimed by the independent videographer who produced media materials for him and more than $2,000 for the social media strategist who produced the high-profile conference’s online content, as well as several other outstanding bills for the Hilton Riverside event.

Loiry says that he plans to, in time, pay all legitimate bills, a characterization that according to him doesn’t fit Thompson’s $1,750 claim. He says that he has made “payment plans” with other contractors and intends to pay Thompson a smaller sum that he believes she owes. Those on the other end of the plans say, however, that Loiry has not kept his word.

“I’ve gotten promises of ‘I will have it for you by Friday for the past four weeks,’ ” strategist Megan Hargroder said.

The debt, however, hasn’t slowed Loiry, a jet-setting 53-year-old Florida native who has made a living hosting for-profit conferences in areas caught in the throes of disaster or geopolitical transition.

On July 18, one of his several unincorporated organizations sponsored a $350-a-seat seminar on the region’s energy industry. Featuring a roster of speakers that included U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, Jefferson Parish President John Young, and state Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, the event drew more than 100 people to a donated conference hall on Tulane University’s campus.

Loiry, who didn’t attend the event due to a last-minute change in schedule, declined to disclose how much he took in from registration fees, saying only that the conference “featured a very strong program.”

When people register for one of Loiry’s events, payments are wired to a bank account connected to his company, Ultimate Events LLC, registered in Nevada. Since 1996, courts in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Florida have issued at least 16 judgments against Loiry or another one of his companies, the now-defunct Equity International. The judgments total more than $210,000 and include unpaid bills as large as $16,000 owed to a hotel in Washington. Nearly half of that debt, $100,000, is owed by Loiry personally to the Internal Revenue Service for unpaid income taxes.

Complaints about Loiry’s business practices have followed him in the three decades since he left his family’s Florida book-publishing business for a career in disaster-zone event production that has taken him from post-war Bosnia to hurricane-devastated Central America to Iraq and Afghanistan. Only two weeks before his last New Orleans event, Loiry told Thompson, his former executive director, that the Gulf Coast Leadership Forum operations in New Orleans were “financially unsustainable.”

As a result, he would be discontinuing her position and “not planning any new events in New Orleans,” he wrote in the July 1 email.

Last week, Loiry, a former member of the Clinton Global Initiative, sent a different message to The Lens.

“The Gulf Coast Leadership Forum and our related leadership forums will continue to organize conferences in Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast,” he wrote in an email sent on July 21. “The Gulf Coast is my home and I am committed to it and our people.”

That commitment may not be enough to keep Loiry from falling into the same troubles that bedeviled him in D.C. – where he did business before leaving amid a welter of lawsuits filed against him by former colleagues.

South Coast Solar CEO Tucker Crawford moderated and helped promote Loiry’s July 18 Louisiana Energy Day. Crawford, who also presides over a nonprofit trade group, the Gulf State Renewable Energies Industries Association, has never had a financial relationship with Loiry, Crawford said. Instead, he donated time and resources to help the entrepreneur pull of his April summit and follow-up events, including the one on July 18. When Loiry couldn’t make it to the event, Crawford said he filled in, recruiting volunteers working with his nonprofit trade group to help him,

“Literally I had my interns working on it,” said Crawford, a New Orleans native who has worked in the solar energy industry for years.

“My responsibility is the industry. Anything that puts the industry in front of the public or government officials, I am going to it,” he added.

Crawford says he harbors no ill will towards Loiry and respects the work he has done to bring people together for conversations about the region’s energy economy. Even so, he isn’t sure what kind of future his former partner has here.

“You can only burn so many bridges,” he said.

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