Kids Beauty Pageant Organizer Took Cash Before Disappearing, Parents Say
BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — They went from tiaras to tears.
A group of irate Brooklyn stage moms claims a children's beauty pageant organizer took their entry money for a November competition — then postponed the pageant and disappeared before it could take place.
Kim Sheppard, founder of Ultimate Extravaganza Pageant Systems, accepted deposits ranging from $50 to $300 for the "Ultimate Princess" pageant that was supposed to be held last fall, nearly a dozen parents told DNAinfo New York. She even held training sessions to help the young competitors become beauty queens, they said.
But after Sheppard postponed the show from its November date to a date in February, they never heard from her again. In addition, they learned, she never actually booked the venue before abruptly moving out of her Brooklyn apartment and yanking down her pageant website, they said.
"She just disappeared with other people’s money," said Silka Gomez, who paid $125 as a deposit for her two girls. "For all I know, she could be doing this to other mothers. Where is she?”
DNAinfo spoke to 11 parents about their experience with Sheppard — out of the more than two dozen that were included in a pageant email provided to DNAinfo. Parents said they each paid several hundred dollars to enter their daughters in the pageant, bringing the estimated total to about $2,150 that they say Sheppard took from them.
That's in addition to the hundreds more that many parents paid for custom-made dresses for their daughters, they say.
Latesha Jones, 39, invested $400 on a custom dress so that her 2-year-old daughter could feel like a real princess.
“I was skeptical at first but after seeing how happy my [daughter] was I paid her the money,” Jones said. “As an adult I can take it but what about the kids? To do that to children, you rob them of something, especially the ones that are old enough to understand.”
When Sheppard stopped returning voicemails and emails, parents called the Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Downtown Brooklyn, which is where Sheppard held her first "Ultimate Princess" pageant in Brooklyn last April, and where she told parents she planned to host the second one.
“She did not schedule a pageant here,” an event coordinator told DNAinfo New York this week. “We haven’t heard from her since March . We’ve gotten a few calls about it.”
Sheppard has not answered phone messages or emails since December, parents said. Her website was taken down this week, and neighbors told Gomez that she moved out of her Bed-Stuy apartment late last year.
The NYPD said that they have not received any complaints about Sheppard, nor has the Department of Consumer Affairs, which investigates fraud complaints.
Sheppard could not be reached for comment, but in interviews about her pageant last year, she said she specifically chose to reach out to parents in NYC neighborhoods she knew didn't have a lot of disposable income.
"Areas in Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Harlem aren't traditionally affluent areas and we want to give these girls a chance to participate in pageants," Sheppard added in an August interview with DNAinfo. She also promoted her pageant on WPIX 11.
Parents told DNAinfo they never called anyone to complain after Sheppard disappeared because they didn't know who to call, and because the amount of money she took from them wasn't worth it.
"I thought about going to small claims court but I think exposing her is better than taking her to court," Jones said. "People need to know she can't be trusted."
Gomez said Sheppard's disappearance is even more upsetting because she had become friendly with Sheppard, after her daughters participated in Sheppard's earlier pageant in the spring.
Gomez was so pleased with that pageant that she posted a testimonial for Sheppard's website, and the two became close. Gomez often dropped Sheppard off at her Bed-Stuy apartment after training sessions.
But the last time Gomez went to Sheppard's apartment, in December, a neighbor told her that the pageant organizer moved out.
Another mother, Audrey King, signed up her 4-year-old granddaughter to be in the November show. King had entered her granddaughter in pageants before and thought Sheppard behaved like a professional.
“She was giving the kids advice on modeling and answering the parents’ questions," said King, 61, who paid a $100 deposit. "She was great with the children. It looked like she knew what she was doing. I’m shocked at the situation.”
Patricia Bryant, who paid $200 so her granddaughter could participate in the pageant, said she would be willing to forgive Sheppard for postponing the pageant as long as she needed. But she can't forgive her disappearing without an explanation.
"She could've just called and said something came up, but she just disappeared," Bryant said, "That's not right. Somebody has to find her."