A virtual philanthropic conference, touting a star-studded guest list including George Clooney and Matthew McConaughey turned out to be a sham, according to the PR firm initially promoting the event.
Earlier this week, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications blasted out emails publicizing Thrive Philanthropy’s two-day digital Connect Summit on June 23 and 24, where, “Attendees will have access to the most influential innovators in philanthropy and learn how they can implement unique strategies to drive more impactful programming, fundraising strategies, and advocacy.”
The event’s keynote speakers allegedly included Matthew McConaughey, George and Amal Clooney, Ashton Kutcher, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, Camilla Alves and Julie Cordua.
Participants were promised gift bags and access to virtual events including yoga sessions, cooking classes with a celebrity chef, an exclusive concert with big country music stars and an exclusive screening of Clooney’s new documentary.
Tickets for the event were being sold for $399-$1,799, depending on the type of ticket up until Thursday.
But on Friday, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications sent out an email apology, saying that they were duped by Thrive Philanthropy’s founder Stephanie Lapensee.
“Regrettably, due to fraudulent information provided to us by our now former client, Stephanie Lapensee founder of Thrive Philanthropy and creator of the Connect Summit, our agency, Wunderlich Kaplan Communications no longer represents this project,” the firm told Page Six in a statement.
The PR firm added that they learned the celebrities listed had never promised to participate and that some had never heard of the event altogether.
“It seems that we were hired to launch a conference that was built on lies,” the firm said, adding, “We are horrified about the situation and will be working diligently to make sure that all information put out there is corrected … It’s been a whirlwind but we deeply apologize and hope to work with you in the future.”
George Clooney has confirmed he and his wife Amal were never set to participate in the conference.
“There are ads running claiming that Amal and I will be participating in the Thrive Philanthropy’s Connect Summit. We Have never heard of this summit and have never been approached to be part of a charity that is charging $399.00 for people to participate,” Clooney told Forbes in a statement. “We don’t know whether this charity is what it says it is and was just duped by a booking agency or whether there is something more nefarious involved. The best antiseptic is sunlight, and in the interest of protecting the public and the many important charitable organisations we hope that this situation will be rigorously investigated.”
Reps for Reynolds and Lively, as well as Stephen and Ayesha Curry, also confirmed to Forbes that they were never involved.
Lapensee later claimed the debacle was merely a “miscommunication.”
“We deeply regret the circumstances surrounding the Connect Summit. Miscommunication from Thrive Philanthropy led to keynote speakers being publicized before they had officially committed to participating in our virtual conference,” she said in a statement on the Connect Summit’s website on Friday. “We were hopeful and optimistic that we would be able to confirm these speakers and were in the process of determining their interest.
“I understand the disappointment and concerns of all involved with the conference. It was not our intention to mislead the public, and I am sincerely sorry for the confusion this has caused. All admissions to the conference have been paused and the one ticket that was sold has been refunded, although I understand this does not minimize this error in judgement.”
She added that Thrive Philanthropy will reevaluate whether or not to proceed in putting on the summit and “prove an update on the future of the event in the coming days.”