A Pesach program in Orlando, Fla., which attracted many guests from the New York area, descended into chaos this week after the owner of the program failed to pay at least $75,000 for goods and services provided by the resort, workers and vendors, according to the program’s remaining staff, The Jewish Week reports.
The program was started 16 years ago by the owner, who appears to have vacated the premises, leaving his remaining staff to contend with hundreds of shocked and disgruntled patrons.
Unlike Pesach programs held in hotels, at this program, guests rent spacious, multi-bedroom houses to accommodate large and multi-generational families in popular vacation areas. Staff at the program said they were unaware of any financial problems until last Thursday when they first learned that a housing vendor was owed $6,000.
“That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Brian Goldberg, one of the program’s operations managers, in an interview with The Jewish Week on Tuesday.
Guests and staff found out on Sunday that money was owed to the vendors who rent out the private villas. Eviction notices were put on 11 villas, eight occupied by staff and three by guests, Goldberg said.
On Friday, the resort staff informed the Pesach program staff that $50,000 was owed for use of the resort’s common areas, including a kitchen and space for a dining tent. That began, in Goldberg’s words, a “scramble.”
At that time, the owner promised to pay the resort by check, which was due by April 1, but he had asked that the management wait until this past Monday to cash the check. When the check bounced on Monday, the resort staff called the police to remove the Pesach program staff and equipment from the premises. In addition, Goldberg said he learned that the program owed $11,000 to a tent rental company for tents used for synagogue services and a dining area.
Guests were informed on Monday evening that they would be barred from using certain parts of the resort. “We have been informed by the management at Windsor at Westside and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department that we are temporarily not allowed to use the common areas at Westside,” wrote Goldberg in an email to guests. “This is an unfortunate situation for everyone involved, and we are banding together in an effort to provide the necessary essentials to our guests through the remainder of the holiday.”
Dennis Ratzker, the operations partner, said several guests pledged to help cover the debts still owed by the program to vendors and workers. Goldberg and Ratzker have together paid more than $15,000 from their own pockets to cover costs.
Though the total debts unpaid remain in the range of $75,000, according to Goldberg, he said he expects to uncover more debts as the holiday progresses. “We’re going to need more propane, and I assume the credit card” that was given to management “is not going to work. I think we’re going to discover more unknowns.”
For now, davening is being held in one of the villas since the large tent that had been used is now off limits, and food is being brought in from Miami.