Flaunt Magazine Didn't Pay Its Art Basel Bills, Locals Say

Well, that didn't take long. The dust hasn't even settled yet on this year's Art Basel but already accusations of broken promises and unpaid bills are emerging.

Los Angeles-based fashionistas Flaunt Magazine, for instance, hosted a much-hyped party at Wynwood's Mana warehouses featuring Kendrick Lamar. But locals say Flaunt founder Luis Barajas flew in for Basel, berated them, and bounced without paying.

"I'm pissed," says Kerry McLaney, an event producer who estimates Barajas owes her and her crew $17,000. "I felt like I was coming onto this project as a favor. But instead, it turned into hell."

McLaney -- who has bright red hair and briefly freelanced for New Times several years ago -- was preparing for an already busy Basel schedule when she received an urgent call from a friend on Friday, November 29.

Event planner Stephanie Lobato told her that Flaunt Magazine needed a warehouse turned into an exhibition space in less than four days. McLaney had her doubts. Last year she had trouble getting paid for producing another Art Basel event for New York jetsetters. But she eventually agreed.

"They were in trouble if I didn't come onboard for this," McLaney says. "I was their last resort."

She examined the designs for 24 gallery-style walls and sent Barajas an estimate of $20,000. Barajas agreed and overnighted her a $10,000 deposit.

From Saturday through Tuesday, McLaney and her carpenters raced to ready the space. But McLaney says Barajas kept changing the plans, demanding retaining walls, even a stage on short notice. Some walls were built, then torn down, then built again.

Whenever McLaney asked for more money -- either to pay her employees or for new materials -- Barajas promised to pay her when the work was completed.

By Wednesday morning, hours before the Kendrick Lamar show, the project was nearly complete, McLaney says.

"Things weren't done on time but that was understandable because of all the changes Luis made," Lobato adds. "At end of the day, the show went off without a hitch."

But when McLaney went back to Mana on Thursday to pick up her check, Barajas blew up at her.

"He started freaking out on her and cussing at her and saying he wasn't paying for any of this," Lobato says. "He was super nasty." Lobato was so angry with Barajas's bullying that she stripped her name off of the 'Thank You' wall and walked out.

"I'm not going to give you your money," Barajas said to McLaney. "You're going to have to sue me."

Barajas then allegedly demanded security guards remove the woman from the space she helped construct. When they refused, he called Miami Police and had her escorted out.

McLaney sent Barajas an email asking for $12,700, but the magazine mogul shot back: "Unfortunately the job was never completed if it wasn't for our crew and Vance Crew I have giving you $13,500 which I believed is more than enough for the poor job you executed." He then directed further complaints to his lawyer.

In a statement to New Times, Barajas wrote that McLaney's crew hadn't completed its work on time and had built "structurally unsound" and "unsuitable" walls.

"One of the most important installations was never completed due to the delays. Flaunt still incurred the cost of the installation -- over $4,000 worth of draping, projector rental, and shipments for a work that was never shown," he continued. "As a result of McLaney's failure to construct suitable walls on time, the entire production schedule, from lighting to installation of artworks was delayed, resulting in numerous rushed work orders, the need for additional cleaning crews, and therein additional expenses to Flaunt."

"Flaunt is still assessing the damages caused as a result of McLaney's egregious negligence and is weighing all legal options accordingly," Barajas concluded.

But McLaney says she is the one getting screwed. She says she inherited an impossible, ever-changing project at the last minute. Now she and her carpenters are out $17,000.

"I know Luis is from L.A. and everything and they put up movie sets overnight, but it doesn't work like that here, especially at the 11th hour," McLaney says.

Lobato backs up her friend.

"Kerry worked her ass off for him," she says. "He's just a scumbag. And he needs to be made an example of."

Both McLaney and Barajas claim they are considering lawsuits. But McLaney says the ordeal falls into a broader category of out-of-towners flying into Miami for Art Basel only to leave wreckage and unpaid bills behind them.

"It's a Basel routine," she says with a shake of her red hair. "They come down here with no experience and make ridiculous requests at the last minute."

"It makes Miami look stupid."

Send your tips to the author, or follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.

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