Cleveland group The Synergy Foundation received a $1.5 million settlement in 2011—including $475,000 from the city of Cleveland—after being removed as managers of the Gay Games. They've since disappeared.
"They took the money and ran," says Kelly Stevens, Director of Communications for the Federation of Gay Games (FGG), the international governing body overseeing the Olympic-style competition.
Gay Games 9, featuring 36+ sporting events and 3 cultural events, will rock Northeast Ohio next summer (see Facetime).
The Synergy Foundation was formed in 2009 and secured the Gay Games bid with an exciting proposal.
"The genius of that proposal was selling the entire region, not just Cleveland," says Eric Resnick, who reported on Synergy for the Gay People's Chronicle in 2010 and 2011. "[Northeast Ohio is] inexpensive, with lots of available lodging. We're not as glamorous as the coastal cities, but we've got an ordinary, everyday' LGBT presence that the Federation saw as an opportunity to really come in and make a difference."
But things soon went South with Synergy.
The FGG revoked Synergy's licence in July, 2010, citing financial irregularities in its claim that the Cleveland group hadn't fulfilled its contractual obligations. Moreover, the FGG later testified, Synergy had been organizing events on the side.
"To say that the Synergy folks weren't delivering on anything would be an understatement," says Resnick, who couldn't believe that Synergy had won the bid in the first place. "These are shady characters. They've always been shady. [Co-founder] Doug Anderson is a con artist."
The red flag for the FGG was the fact that members of Synergy's leadership—the three executives and one board member—were in relationships with one another.
"Once we found that out, we started investigating, and that unraveled everything." says Stevens.
Resnick says it's troubling how wholeheartedly Cleveland city officials bought into what he calls a con "from the word 'Go.'" "Cleveland bought into this hook, line and sinker, and nobody did their due diligence," he says. "A Google search on Doug Anderson would have done better."
That's an example of a much more significant (and much more widespread) problem, according to Resnick: Some 'straight allies' are so eager to lend their support to LGBT communities that they'll unknowingly get into bed with unethical people for the PR.
"Look at who the apologists were. Look at Joe Cimperman. That fits him to a T," says Resnick. "He's got a good heart, but in many ways, he's a cheerleader first, and he does his diligence second or third."
Cimperman now sits on the Cleveland Special Events Group Corp., the organization created by the city to oversee the games once Synergy was ousted.
Synergy filed suit—a "shotgun blast at the city, FGG, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Jackson Administration player Valarie McCall," via Scene's story in 2010— alleging that City Hall was working with the FGG to toss the local group off the project.
Reported the PD: "The lawsuit claims that FGG wanted to cancel Synergy's contract so it could receive a greater share of sponsorship money and other funds than its licensing agreement with Synergy permitted."
Stevens says the lawsuit was almost unthinkable, especially as the FGG itself is a nonprofit with limited resources. "It was really just shocking. The whole situation was unpleasant."
The suit was settled before trial—in the best interest of the Gay Games—and the Synergy Foundation walked away with $1.5 million.
The group seems to have thereafter closed its books. The final year of its nonprofit financial reporting is 2011.
Some leaders in the gay community aren't sure of Anderson's whereabouts, but they suspect he's "moved on."
"On one hand, if it hadn't been for Synergy, Cleveland wouldn't be getting the gay games," says Resnick, who acknowledges that if nothing else, Synergy did put together a very compelling proposal. "But on the other hand, the city wouldn't have been conned."
A website containing court depositions and other documents related to the Synergy case has been removed. Scene was unable to contact Doug Anderson and Synergy's other leaders for this update.