(CBS) — Contestants in a beauty pageant raised thousands of dollars for charity. They thought it was going to help sick kids. But, where the money ended up is a mystery and now the contestants are asking: Was the contest a con?
CBS 2’s Dave Savini investigates.
Samantha Triani, and her mother Kim want a full investigation into Derrick Lee. He ran the Miss Illinois United States competition in 2015.
“Most beauty pageants are about giving back,” Kim Triani says.
The mother and daughter say they were Lee’s volunteers during this pageant and they question where charitable money went.
“You can’t just tell people you are raising money for a cause and then put it in your own pocket,” Samantha Triani says.
They say Lee sold hundreds of tickets to the event and used a well-known charitable entity — The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago — to promote a special Miss Photogenic online competition. A related Facebook page uses the hospital’s logo, pictures of children and explains how proceeds will be donated.
Kim Triani says she thinks this was a scam against the people in the competition.
“And he also played on their emotions,” she says.
According to the hospital, they never gave Lee approval to use their name to solicit money. A year later, no one knows how much money he collected.
Just last week, the CBS 2 Investigators found Lee managing a pageant for kids and asked him about the money. He would not say what he did with the money.
“I was a first year director,” Lee says. “I made some mistakes.”
At the event, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office served him with a subpoena. He is being investigated by their consumer fraud unit. The Illinois Attorney General’s office also is investigating whether Lee misspent charitable money.
“I think it’s disgusting,” Samantha Triani says. “I think a lot of children could have benefited from that. We have no way of knowing how that money could have helped them.”
Months after the pageant and after Kim Triani blew the whistle, Lee gave $100 to the charity. He denies wrongdoing.
Lee also has been accused of owing money to past contestants and $4,000 to a company that created a pageant video.
Cook County prosecutors declined to comment on what their investigation entails.