Remember WinterFest, the holiday market that popped up in the parking lot of the Brooklyn Museum just over a month ago? The festival that was supposed to be Brooklyn's answer to the popular Union Square Holiday Market, but instead was, judging by the accounts of some visitors and vendors, more like Fyre Fest: Christmas Vacation? The market may have officially closed up on January 1st, but the story isn't quite over yet—instead, it's just had it's craziest twist yet. Because vendors are now claiming that the event organizer used a fake alias to harass them and deflect criticism from her with the media.
"I'm a set designer that never got paid for my work. Lena [Romanova] used all kind of excuses to avoid payment and both her and Johan Rizki insulted me and tricked me into doing things for them. They refused to pay and they tried to do the same with the designers before me," said Wael Deek, a set decorator who was contracted to help fix the decor after the initial complaints. "And I'm almost 💯 sure that Jennifer Crosby is not a Real person."
Other vendors also told Brooklyn Eagle, who first broke the story, that they believe organizer Lena Romanova, who runs the company Millennial Entertainment with Rizki, had been using a fictitious spokesperson persona named "Jennifer Crosby," with whom Gothamist exchanged emails several times throughout our reporting on the festival (sometimes on emails with Romanova cc'd on them as well).
"There is no Jennifer," Jeff Golden, owner of Bear Hands & Buddies and a merchant at Winterfest, told Brooklyn Eagle. "Jennifer was Lena; it was her alter ego." Of the 21 former vendors the Eagle interviewed, none of them met or saw Crosby in person or talked to her over the phone.
Crosby does not appear anywhere on the Millennial Entertainment "about us" page. She has seemingly little Internet trail (no social media, Linked-In, etc); there is a YouTube page under her name with two WinterFest-related promo videos; and the only other possible trace of her we could find, outside of press releases and news articles about WinterFest, is an email address listed on the Millennial website as a contact for "hosting an exhibition." (This was not the same email Crosby used for WinterFest matters.)
Several of those vendors with whom the Eagle spoke produced various confusing email threads involving both women, including ones that show "Crosby responding to emails addressed exclusively to Romanova and vice versa."
Vendors soon began noticing similar writing styles between emails from Crosby and Romanova, most notably sentences formed in broken English with a threatening tone.
“We got an email that was very much in Lena’s voice, and that was the moment it clicked for me that Jennifer was Lena,” said another vendor who also asked to remain unidentified.
As Gothamist was reporting a followup in December about vendors frustrated with the festival's organizers, Romanova apparently became enraged by negative comments from vendor Johanna Guevara-Smiley, who runs Brooklyn-based herbal blend company Dropping Seeds with her husband. Crosby then sent an email to the couple saying they had broken their contract with Millennial Entertainment by speaking to the press: "This serves as confirmation that we are terminating your license agreement. Your actions are harmful to the event and the other participating vendors." She added that if they didn't vacate the venue by the next day, their wares would be removed.
But as soon as the couple alerted the media and other vendors, they received a followup email directly from Romanova allowing them to stay. Gothamist reviewed these email correspondences and reported on them. After our story was published, we received this email from Crosby:
This statements assigned to Lena Romanova in your article are utterly wrong. Lena Romanova did NOT write such email. That email came from me. Lena Romanova is NOT the organizer; The company Millennial Entertainment Group is. If you were given an email with Lena’s name, it is a fraudulent and falsified email then and we reserve the right to take action.
It is the kind of tactics used by those who are reporting things to you to damage the event’s reputation.
In the spirit of continuing to collaborate with you, I request that Lena Romanova name be removed immediately from your article.
To add one more wrinkle to this whole strange affair, the Eagle said that it received an "expletive-filled message written in the same syntax [as Romanova] from a supposed 'Jenna Raul,' who said she was a vendor." After speaking with vendors and searching online, they could find no evidence of any vendor by that name existing.
Gothamist also received an identical email from "Raul" with the same subject line: "A pissed-off vendor at Winterfest but not at the organizer!"
Focusing on this event is a crime. It is unethical. You made us lose lot of money because you chose to publish the stories of 1 or 2 vendors and 2 or 3 visitors ignoring all of us here and all those how visisted and didn't complain. I blame you for destroying this event more than the organizer or the museum. You are the worst kind of human being, a liar, a manipulator, and a corrupt writer. The worst kind of journalism is in Brooklyn. You have no story to write about but to destroy people's small business. This is why it is Brooklyn, making sad stories about a $9 entry fee. How pathetic and rusty one can be? Fuck you for damaging my small business; all I wanted is to sell and go home. So fuck you and fuck your paper...with your type of reporting, you are doomed.
The Eagle believes there may be other fake aliases as well—they think other employees of Millennial may not be real either. And back in December, the NY Post wrote that a different Romanova company, Boston Winter Village Inc., was sued for breach of contract when it operated a holiday market for the Boston Garden Development Group.
“We sincerely regret hiring (Romanova’s company) as our subcontractor, as over time it became quite clear that the company was unable to deliver a market to the standards that the City of Boston deserves,” Amy Latimer, president of BGD, wrote to a Boston city official in a letter obtained by The Post.
Gothamist has sent emails to Romanova and "Crosby" asking for comment on all this; a phone number belonging to Romanova has been disconnected. The number listed for Millennial Entertainment's office in Newton, MA has been disconnected as well. We've also contacted other vendors, and Brooklyn Museum, for comment.
The Brooklyn DA's office confirmed to Gothamist that they are “reviewing the complaints.”