Bloomberg Businessweek

The Pizza Schemer

The problems with the New York City Pizza Festival began with the pizza. Slices were cut into comically miniature triangles, nowhere close to what Ishmael Osekre, the organizer, had promised. In Facebook ads he’d hyped stuff-your-face quantities of thin crust, served outdoors on a late-summer weekend in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. He’d set prices high, charging as much as $69 per person for VIP access, and recruited more than 1,100 ticket buyers for the pizza fest, as well as a simultaneous event, the New York City Burger Festival, which promised “mountains of french fries, oceans of ketchup, and waterfalls of beer.”

Ticket holder Timothy Seitz arrived at the venue with his wife and found a mostly empty lot where hundreds of hipsters were SMH-ing in a line along a barbed-wire fence, waiting to grab a slice. As state investigators would later allege, Osekre had obtained only eight pies and a few boxes of sliders. Witnesses confirm that there was little, if any, beer, and that the pizza was gross, if still technically pizza. “Like what you’d serve elementary schoolers,” Seitz says. He wondered aloud, “Did we just get scammed?”

Osekre tried to calm the hangry crowd, telling attendees he’d ordered more pies. Too few arrived. Well into the afternoon, ticket holders, waiting and baking in the heat, demanded refunds, but Osekre was noncommittal. Then, suddenly, he disappeared. He’d taken in $63,680, according to state investigators.

In the following days, complaints and ridicule for the Hobbit-size slices raged on social media. Internet sleuths soon discovered that Osekre had apparently promoted the same food festivals the prior year—without any location or ticket sales information—before postponing them. They guessed it had all been part of a scheme allowing him to bolster the events’ Facebook following and legitimacy.

“Osekre had me check out his Facebook page, and remarkably, there were like 30,000 people interested in going,” says Jeremy Asgari, whom Osekre contracted to supply party furniture, only to stiff him on a $3,000 bill. “The guy is a genius marketer.”

Media outlets around the world dubbed the September 2017 event the Fyre Festival of Pizza, a nod to the fraudulent music extravaganza in the Bahamas four months earlier. In the years that followed, there were civil charges brought by New York State Attorney General Letitia

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