Boca Painter A Victim in Inauguration Swindle | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

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Boca Painter A Victim in Inauguration Swindle

Michael Israel, the Boca painter who whips out large-scale portraits of patriotic scenes (like the ones above) by karate-chopping his canvas, was scheduled to create a painting at the so-called Veterans Presidential Inaugural Ball in Washington on the night of Barack Obama's inauguration. But the ball got canceled at the last minute; the organizer was found to have a history of bad checks and bankruptcy filings; and Israel told the Juice he's expecting federal investigators to interview him as a victim any minute now.

Israel's remarks after the jump.

"I heard the word 'veterans', and I was like, 'Yes, I'm there!'," Israel told Juice, describing a call he received from Darryl Dante Hayes, organizer of the ball that was supposed to honor war veterans.

The Washington Post reports that authorities have launched an investigation of Hayes, who runs a murky nonprofit called the Congressional Education Foundation for Public Policy. Hayes had advertised an inaugural ball at the swanky St. Regis Hotel, just two blocks from the White House, where diplomats and dignitaries stay. He claimed to have corporate sponsors for the event and said he'd invited Obama. He arranged for teenage beauty pageant winners to fly to DC and work as greeters; they'd be reimbursed for ball gowns and airfare, according to the report. Hayes reportedly asked some of his volunteers to charge $64,000 worth of expenses on their credit cards, saying they too, would be reimbursed. Hayes booked Michael Israel, offering similar promises.

Hayes' team failed to handle the logistics, like booking hotel rooms and shipping the painting materials, but Israel, believing that it was a charity cause, forgave the disorganization and paid his own expenses up front. It wasn't until he was at the airport flying to DC that one of Hayes' associates called him to say the event was cancelled. Isreal proceeded with the trip because he was slated to perform at another ball on another night (the triptych above is from that ball), but "I lost out on two shows that I turned down because I was booked for this."

Israel couldn't say exactly how much money he was out -- "With charity events, [my fee] is based on how much I bring in to them [by auctioning the painting]" -- and doubts he has any chance of recovering funds. When asked for the names of the dozen sponsors who had supposedly backed out at the last minute, Hayes told the Washington Post that he couldn't remember who they were -- because he'd left his list of them in in a rental car.  

Michael Israel says, "It's a shame. Dante took advantage of the veterans, and took advantage of sponsors who were trying to good for others -- it's like taking food out of somebody else's mouth. To me, it's worse than stealing." Israel just hopes that, with many charities in dire financial straits, philanthropists are not scared off from donating to charities because of scammers. "Kids are being fed, scholarships are being given, soldiers are being helped [by other, reputable organizations]. The key is learning how to tell them apart."  But Israel is still shaking his head at one thing: "After all this had transpired, one of [Hayes's] assistants asked me to do some kind of an event on a cruise ship with Dante. I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'"