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Real Story Behind The Mint Jubilee Mess

February 17th, 2010 by jake · 20 Comments

For years, mayoral candidate Chris Thieneman has accused the University of Louisville for trying to harm his name, blackmail him and everything else under the sun. All in connection with the Mint Jubilee, a black tie fundraiser for the Brown Cancer Center, that Thieneman and others originally founded.

We’ve written about it on a number of occasions. Though, for purposes of full disclosure, the original author of those stories was receiving information directly from Thieneman. Here are some of the old stories:

So what really happened? Why was UofL really trying to separate from Thieneman? Hoo boy, you’re going to love it. Because it seems this very website neglected to share a world of detail. A world of ego, out-of-control spending, huge profits for entertainment companies, questionable contracts and unbelievable behavior.

In light of Thieneman’s claim at a press conference yesterday that he’s disappointed in the direction the new charity event is taking (primarily, he’s upset that there’s a focus on celebrities and Hollywood?), let’s dig in to a motion for summary judgment filed by UofL’s legal counsel.

Pay close attention to the parts where Thieneman wants the celebrity treatment.

You’ll want to read the juicy, juicy after the jump…

At first, the Mint Jubilee endeavors were fairy successful. By about 2002 or 2003, the Mint Jubilee began compensating some of its officials. It also retained Fusion Entertainment Group, a California company to assist with promotions and marketing services in exchange for a percentage of proceeds.

Exhibit 1 (Warning: PDF Link) details that Fusion was to receive 20% for all “hard dollar” sponsorships and in-kind sponsorships would be handled on a case-by-case basis. 10% would be paid to Fusion if the same sponsor was to be used for the following two years without the company’s involvement.

For after parties, Fusion was set to receive 37.5% of the total gross revenue for both Thursday & Saturday events. The company would also receive a whopping 50% of the total gross revenue for any new event it produced on Friday.

But the Jubilee was hemorrhaging money at a rapid pace:

The Mint Jubilee quickly became a less than successful proposition. For example, in the federally mandated “Form 990″ relating to its results for the fiscal year ended July 31, 2002, the Mint Jubilee Corp. reported revenues of $2,292,029 with proceeds to charity of only $29,430, a pay-out of less than 1.3%.

Exhibit 2 (Warning: PDF Link) is the 990 that will make you sick to your stomach.

Within a couple years, the event had gotten so out-of-hand that it was LOSING $75,000, charity suffering tremendously:

By the middle of this decade, the Mint Jubilee was bleeding badly; the Form 990 report for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2004 reports that against revenues of $1,027,601, the Mint Jubilee suffered a loss of $74,939 with nothing being distributed to charitable causes … Thus, although patrons were paying hundreds of dollars per plate to attend the Derby Eve gala believing they were supporting charitable causes, actually nothing went to charity.

Exhibit 3 (Warning: PDF Link) is equally painful to examine. But it gets worse.

Following the ’04 Mint Jubilee, it was clearly apparent the Mint Jubilee was, figuratively speaking, lying upon its death bed:

  • The charitable gaming license for the Mint Jubilee bingos was revoked by the state.
  • On June 16, 2004, a volunteer member of the organizing committee, Kristin Stuedle communicated by e mail with the Thienemans and Karen Taylor, one of the compensated staff persons, complaining of “questionable charges” to the Mine Jubilee.

Exhibits 4 & 5 (Warning: PDF Link) open our eyes to a potential mess. The entire organization started to fall apart over mismanagement.

  • At the June 28, 2004 meeting of the Mint Jubilee Executive Board, the board addressed the unauthorized charges noting “[t]he vast majority of the expenses were charged on Mint Jubilee credit cards issued to Chris Thieneman and Tom Thieneman, which are currently held and use is authorized by Karen Taylor and Tom Thieneman.”
  • At that meeting, “[t]he board noted their concern that the deficits for the past three consecutive years may jeopardize the Mint Jubilee’s 501( c )(3) status.”
  • As the minutes also reflect Angie Gimmel, another volunteer board member complained that “she is extremely disappointed and saddened for the Cancer Center and the volunteers. She noted the Executive Board was not aware of a large number of unauthorized, unapproved expenditures. She would like for the Executive Board to request reimbursement for the unauthorized charges. She offered her resignation, effective at the end of this meeting.”
  • A few weeks later, on July 31, 2004, six (6) of the board’s ten (10) members resigned en masse, namely Denver Allen Angie Gimmel, Paula Gish, Lisa Palmisano, Kristin Stuedle and Mary Weilage. In doing so, they requested an Addendum to the June 28, 2004 Minutes stating, “each of the above Board members hereby resigns effective immediately. This is due to the deficit on the Mint Jubilee’s books … the excessive unauthorized spending … and the entering into of binding contracts without Board approval. All of these factors may jeopardize the Mint Jubilee’s 501( c )(3) status in the future.

Exhibit 6 (Warning: PDF Link) details planning meeting minutes from that June 2004 board session. At this point, things were so bad that UofL had to take over.

At this juncture, three of the only four remaining members on the Board were the Thienemans and Karen Taylor, the compensated member. The Mint Jubilee was nearly dead. Rather than allow the demise, discussions ensued about the Brown Cancer Center simply taking over full responsibility for the event, including recruitment of volunteers, solicitation of sponsorships, financial management, promotion and the coordination and logistics associated with the event.

Exhibit 7 (Warning: PDF Link) is the proposal presented for James Graham Brown Cancer Center – Mint Jubilee on August 25, 2004. When you read the document, it’s clear UofL and the Brown Cancer Center weren’t trying to ruin a good thing. The two connected entities were trying to rescue the event.

Plaintiff and the Brown Cancer Center agreed to so save the event and by April 28, 2005 agreed to the terms of a License Agreement, drafted by Plaintiff’s counsel, through which Thieneman granted to the University of Louisville a license by which the University, on behalf of the Brown Cancer Center was granted the exclusive rights to the Mint Jubilee trademarks for a period of five (5) years “to promote research initiatives at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.” … The five (5) year exclusive license remains in effect; it does not lapse until April 28, 2010.

Exhibit 8 (Warning: PDF Link) is that license agreement signed by Thieneman and UofL. Once UofL and the Cancer Center took over, immediate improvement was realized:

Returning to the original model of using volunteers rather than using compensated promoters taking a percentage of revenues resulted in an instantaneous turnaround in results. The ’05 Mint Jubilee generated a net return in excess of $135,000. See Declaration of Kelly M. Wesley. The ’06 Mint Jubilee generated a net return of just under $172,500.

By the third year under the Brown Cancer Center’s tutelage and management, the Mint Jubilee realized approximately $350,000 in net proceeds, a “record amount.”

Suffice it to say, the Brown Cancer Center effectively turned the Mint Jubilee from a seriously ill, dying endeavor into a viable charitable event enjoying ongoing success. Thus Thieneman and the Brown Cancer Center began discussing extending the duration of the License Agreement beyond the five (5) term scheduled to end in April 2010. In one such discussion, on or about October 3, 2007, the Brown Cancer Center suggested the possibility of granting Theineman, at no charge, “celebrity status,” which would give him all the benefits normally bestowed upon the name sponsors of the annual gala as well as extensive ongoing publicity crediting him as the “founder” of the event.

Exhibits 9 & 10 (Warning: PDF Link) offer those details.

That’s when things got strange. Thieneman wanted “celebrity status” and a host of freebies from the charity:

Thereupon University counsel proceeded to draft an agreement providing that in exchange for extending the license “in perpetuity,” the Thienemans would be granted, among other things, “celebrity status” at the gala each year including express check in privileges; inclusion in the gala written program of a “history” of the Mint Jubilee listing the Thienemans as founders; reference to the Thienemans as founders on all press releases; an annual invitation to speak to the planning committee about the history of the event; public recognition from the podium at each gala of the Thienemans as the “founders”; two free tables of ten (10) (at the current rate of $500 per plate, a benefit valued at $10,000 per year); a free full page advertisement of Thieneman’s real estate business in the event program; and a plaque at the Brown Cancer Center acknowledging the Thieneman family.

Exhibit 11 (Warning: PDF Link) details it all. You’ll want to take a look.

Like clockwork, Thieneman further derailed efforts to save the charity event. He started asking for additional special treatment and such egotistical things like a full-on press conference signing like that of a professional football signee. All the while he was working to undermine the agreement.

A few weeks after the proposed agreement was forwarded to the Thienemans, on November 21, 2007, representatives of the Brown Cancer Center again met with the Thienemans. A file memorandum relating to that meeting notes as follows:

A former agreement had previously been e-mailed to both of the Thienemans and the purpose of this meeting was to finalize terms.

The Thienemans both verbally agreed to the terms of the written agreement. When asked to sign the agreement, Chris stated that he wanted the BCC [Brown Cancer Center] to host a reception/press conference where he could sign the document (similar to when he signed his contract to play professional football). He also requested that President Ramsey be at the signing …. Chris stressed that his word was his bond and that signing the agreement now was not necessary. We discussed the logistics of such an event and the difficulty of finding time on the President’s calendar. Chris stated that he is in no hurry to sign the agreement and indicated he was willing to wait until this event (including the President) could be arranged.

To accommodate the splash Thieneman desired, schedules were checked and the reception/press conference was arranged for April 2, 2008. Then suddenly, on March 26, Thieneman canceled the scheduled event saying “Tommy and I would like to wait til after the gala to see how everything goes.”

The real reason Thieneman was backing out of the deal soon became apparent. During this time period, the co-founder Matt Battaglia re-emerged and informed Keith Inman, a University of Louisville Vice-President that “Chris Thieneman has plans of pulling the Mint Jubilee from the Unversity of Louisville. Any chance you could forward me a copy of the agreement UofL had with Chris Thieneman and The Mint Jubilee for me to review? … Anyway, let’s talk in the near future to discuss is there any future with me working with the University of Louisville and the Mint Jubilee.”

But it goes further… Thieneman decided the charity wasn’t giving him enough, so he refused to sign until he received free tickets to the Kentucky Derby:

Months later, in September, 2008, the Thienemans requested a meeting with UofL’s President, Dr. Ramsey. Vice-President Inman sat in on that meeting. During that meeting, the Thienemans again agreed to extend the license in perpetuity.

-SNIP-

This agreement was reduced to writing, but then again, as the time came for signing same, Thieneman refused, requesting Derby tickets as well as all the previously discussed recognitions. Inman advised the University could not commit to provide Derby tickets, but agreed to all the other requests and rescheduled a meeting to finalize the agreement. Then again, Thieneman failed to appear …

Enough! By this point, it is more apparent Thieneman has no genuine interest in extending the License Agreement so the Brown Cancer Center again determines to start planning a transition to the post-license period. Thus, in April of this year, Inman informed Thieneman that because the license was not being extended, during this year’s Gala, the Brown Cancer Center plans to announce the transition to a new name.

At the same time, Thieneman apparently was in contact with the press to announce he was not going to renew the License and that he was directing the Brown Cancer Center to transition to a new name for the Gala. As reported on May 1 by a news service found on the Internet at www.Thevillevoice.com.

Exhibits 12, 13 & 14 (Warning: PDF Link) has all the details.

The motion goes on for several pages documenting – legally – why UofL is following the law and is not violating trademark. And the institution was doing just as Thieneman originally suggested in several of the stories appearing here on this website. I could excerpt all that, but trademark law makes me want to pop a vein.

Long story short: it’s clear, in our opinion, that UofL went out of its way to do the right thing and follow the law. Something I was once wholly skeptical of.

That’s the real story.

Tags: Bad Behavior · Charity · Chris Thieneman · Kentucky Derby · Legal · University of Louisville

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Feb 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but at what point does the IRS start to demand more transparency from “non-profit” groups and events?

    Generous and well-meaning people should have some way of differentiating between grifters and the people who really give back.

    It seems the “non-profit” industry has become one of the most profitable. As taxes are increased in the future, I could see more and more people playing the “non-profit” angle to funnel money into other businesses.

    This story certainly explains why there seemed to be such a fight over control what shouldn’t have been charitable to begin with.

  • 2 Brendan // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I can only hope that this soon puts an end to Thieneman’s career as a public figure. What a clown.

    Thanks for the crappy podunk library system, Chris!

  • 3 jake // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Did you bother to read anything I posted?

    It had nothing to do with control on UofL’s part– the Cancer Center needs that cash to – gasp – help out.

    Thieneman, on the other hand, allegedly (apparently?) just wanted some publicity and an ego boost.

  • 4 jake // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    And in Chris’ defense, he didn’t kill the library tax.

    Mayor McCheese Jerry Abramson did with the fishy language and refusal to guarantee where the funds would/guarantee there wouldn’t be other cuts made to funding. That’s what pulled people out of the woodwork.

  • 5 Brendan // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Disagree. Everyone I talked to — and I campaigned for the library tax — were convinced by CT’s argument that they could “support the library, not the tax” because there was a way to get something for nothing because there were $$$ millions laying around unused by the city.

    Thieneman’s subsequent promise to work hard to help the libraries improve without the tax have proved to as genuine as OJ’s quest for the real killers.

  • 6 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I hope the event continues to get back on track in helping out the Cancer Center and egos are put aside for the good of the event and the work the Center does.

  • 7 Ryan Stultz // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Enlightening. I’ve wondered about a lot of the charity galas Derby week. I wonder how many of them actually end up raising a significant sum? It seems like a number of people run them for the recognition and chance to show off, not to raise money. I’ve heard rumors that one of the largest well known ones is a joke when it comes to actually raising money. I have a suspicion that Chris isn’t the only one who had thrown million dollar parties under the guise of a non-profit, without the beneficiary of the party receiving more than a pittance.

  • 8 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I have to agree with Jake in that my biggest concern was the lack of sunset provision on the tax after the Library improvements were completed and the loophole which would have existed to allow for the bonding of the construction debt and using the “library” tax revenue for other spending priorities.

    If the tax was set aside specifically for the library improvements and would end after that work was completed, I would have supported it.

  • 9 jake // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I think most fundraisers during Derby season work out really well for affiliated charities.

    And it’s clear this one did, as well… once UofL took it over.

  • 10 Mark H (Not Hebert) // Feb 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    When I was in college in Lexington, I was involved with the Madden party for several years and while the event did not generate a huge amount of cash, the corporate trades for comp tickets and access went a very long way providing food, goods, and services for the Boy’s Ranch. Anita was always pressing for ways to cut budget costs and optimize the benefit to the kids.

    Not to mention, those were some damn fun parties…..

  • 11 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Feb 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    In Thieneman’s defense over the library tax, it was Abramson who killed any subsequent activity on helping libraries after the library tax was rejected by voters. GOP Council members did genuinely try to start to find alternative funding approaches, but Mayor Jer put his foot down and the Council Democrats heeded his position.

  • 12 MJG // Feb 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I think most of the charities do fine, though some closed last year with the economy, like the Lexington Ball. For example, the Barnstable party has raised huge sums of money from what I understand (my wife works at the UK where they donate the money, and I drive buy the diabetes research building they donated on my way to work in Lexington every day). But not all of them need to raise as much money as Barnstable: as Mark H said, the point is to raise some money and throw a fun party. Looks like Thieneman couldn’t do either.

  • 13 AC360 // Feb 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Per Ryan’s comment – I have been told that this is also a story that the barnstable Brown party is also hugely un-charitable. They basically spend (or so I have been told by someone formerly on the committee) $300K to raise $100K.

    If you really want to be philanthropic, it rarely means you are going to have the biggest spread in the Voice Tribune.

    And it sounds like CT’s organization needs its 501c3 designation revoked.

  • 14 MJG // Feb 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    AC – I don’t have a dog in the fight but I just googled and it looks like Barnstable brings in pretty big money (I don’t know how much they spend though). According to the U of Kentucky:

    “The University of Kentucky plans to develop a new center to research and fight diabetes and obesity, thanks to millions of dollars in donations from Derby party hostess and UK alumna Patricia Barnstable-Brown of Louisville. . . . According to UK, $1 million from previous Barnstable-Brown galas already has been donated. Barnstable-Brown and her family also plan to give an additional $1 million in the next few months. Finally, the family has committed to give the new center all the proceeds from the parties in 2009, 2010 and 2011. That’s expected to generate between $1.8 million and $3 million, UK said.”

    http://www.kentucky.com/lexgo/parties/story/587229.html

    Sounds pretty serious to me. Also I didn’t know they had a committee? Anyway if someone knows anything else I’d be curious

  • 15 AC360 // Feb 17, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Until I can see a Form 990 for the Barnstable-Brown Foundation….
    And I tried – not on Guidestar or the Foundation Center site.
    It’s also not listed in the Kentucky Foundation Databook.
    Anyone?

  • 16 EJXD2 // Feb 18, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Lost in all this is that the Jockeys’ Guild used to be a part of the Mint Jubilee but was unceremoniously kicked to the curb in advance of the ’09 event.

    Aligning with jockeys, even though it split the proceeds to another charity, gave the event a racing industry tie-in at least.

  • 17 Tammy // Feb 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Its nice to see the truth finally getting out! Thank you for responsible and well researched journalism Jake, you do your profession proud!

  • 18 Christy // Feb 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    “I think most fundraisers during Derby season work out really well for affiliated charities.”

    Ha! Look into the “Derby Gala” how much proceeds are raised and to what charities do the $$ go?

    Follow the money on THAT one…

  • 19 Nancy A // May 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Chris Thieneman for Mayor? NOT ON MY WATCH! I am a lung cancer survivor and took my treatment with BCC as well as my daughter took her Thyroid cancer treatment there. We received top notch treatment and nothing but the best of concern, attitude, compassion, treatment, services, etc. I think that most of you are missing the point here. Mr. Thieneman supposedly, I repeat SUPPOSEDLY created this event for the benefit of the Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville. Little did the BCC and U of L know that it was with strings attached in end. Politics aside, Mr. Thieneman where do you get your ego from?! Did you ever go into the Mint Jubilee and see a young child sitting there getting ready to be fitted for a wig because they had lost their hair to chemo, and on top of that, their family had no insurance! Or really look at that “deer in the headlights” look and reach out to that child? My husband and I have worked the gala, I have donated items for silent auction and I have nothing but respect & admiration for the people of the BCC & U of L. For God’s sake I am still alive because of them! As far as I am concerned the Thienemans can take their gala name and ….use it elsewhere, along with the egos! Heaven help us if you are elected Mayor, we will really feel raped then! Long live “The Julep Ball”!

  • 20 Nancy A // May 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Oops I forgot, it was my understanding also that as far as the jockeys go, I won’t say all of them, but some were looking for compensation also. Oops must of been friends with the Thienemans!

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