The Shadiest Man in the Racing Biz
Search the web for Dean Reinke and you’ll soon be scrolling through a rap sheet of consumer complaints about how he and his for-profit road-race company, USRA Half Marathon, do business. Is he a fraud who has stayed one step ahead of the law, or an upstanding man who’s been slimed by his enemies?
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On August 12, 2012, Maureen Lampa, a 61-year-old retired teacher, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend all piled into Lampa’s Chrysler convertible for the three-hour drive from their home in Westminster, Massachusetts, to Freeport, Maine.
In May, the women had signed up for a race called the Freeport Half Marathon, and they'd spent four months running five to ten miles a day, five days a week, to prepare. This would be Lampa's fifth half marathon. For her daughter, Katherine, and her daughter's friend Lauren Laserte, both 21, it was their first.
On August 13, after spending the night in a nearby hotel, the group pulled into downtown Freeport an hour before the race's scheduled 7 A.M. start time. But when they arrived, there was no sign of a race. No start banner, no water stations, no police directing traffic, no markers indicating the course route. Lampa walked into L.L.Bean's flagship store on Main Street to ask about the event. Nobody knew anything about a Freeport Half Marathon. Did Lampa have the wrong day? The wrong location?
The women drove back to their hotel room. As soon as they arrived, Lampa sat down and sent an e-mail to the race's organizer, Dean Reinke, the 60-year-old CEO and president of a five-year-old nationwide series he calls USRA Half Marathon, a company he founded in 2009.
“I am sitting in my hotel room with no race to run,” Lampa wrote. “I spent over $100 to register my daughter and me for this race and spent $150 for a hotel room, because we live three hours from the supposed race site.… I want my money back!”
Three hours later, Reinke responded to Lampa—and other runners who'd sent bewildered e-mails—claiming that Howard Spear, the director of a popular annual event in Portland called the Maine Marathon, was to blame for the race getting canceled, apparently acting out of spite. Anybody with a complaint should take it up with him.
Spear had nothing to do with the cancelation of Reinke's event. The strange reality is this: the 2012 Freeport Half Marathon was never even scheduled to happen.
“With registration open and plans fully underway, just a few months ago Maine Track Club's Howard Spear submitted some false accusations and lies about the USRA to local politicians,” Reinke wrote. “Spear had done the same thing a year ago but was rebuffed by the Freeport USA Tourism Group who were very happy with us and the event.… Due to his actions, our agreement to use the approved course was reneged on despite the support of Freeport USA, Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the State of Maine Tourism.” To Lampa, Reinke wrote that Spear “has proven he is a pathological liar.”
Lampa and several other runners contacted Spear, who was shocked by the accusation. “I've never even met him,” Spear told me when we spoke on the phone. “And I certainly didn't try to block his race.” That's true. Spear had nothing to do with the cancelation of Reinke's event. The strange reality is this: the 2012 Freeport Half Marathon was never even scheduled to happen.
A year earlier, Reinke had hosted a half marathon in Freeport and it had gone off without any problems. But after the race, Reinke didn't pay the $1,325 he contractually owed the Freeport police department for traffic-control services. In the meantime, Reinke had already started collecting entry fees for a 2012 race in Freeport, even though he didn't have any permits in hand and hadn't applied for any.
In spring 2012, James Hendricks, a Freeport town-council member, called Reinke and asked him to come to Maine and answer a few questions. Reinke flew in and insisted that there had been a mix-up about the delinquent payment. He wrote a check on the spot and submitted a special-events application for the 2012 event. At meeting's end Reinke was informed that, before his 2012 application could be approved, the town council would have to meet and decide whether to grant him a new permit. “We shared our concerns that we were not happy that the event was advertised as a set event when in fact the Town of Freeport had not approved it,” Gerald Schofield, chief of the Freeport police department, told me in an e-mail.
Reinke was invited to attend but told the council he couldn't make it. On May 1, the seven council members voted unanimously to deny his permit. Reinke was informed of the decision, but the USRA website, which he owns and operates, continued to promote and collect entry fees for the race, as did Active.com, a separate online-registration forum for people seeking race opportunities. In all, roughly 100 people reportedly paid the $60 entry fee for the race, and 30 complained to Hendricks that they did not receive refunds.
Hendricks encouraged Lampa and other runners to contact the office of Maine's attorney general to file a complaint. The Maine AG referred them all to the Florida AG—Reinke's company is based in Winter Park, near Orlando—who told the runners that the office didn't handle small claims and suggested that they file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If the runners wanted their money back, they'd need to lawyer up and take Reinke to court.
“That's not worth it,” Lampa says. “You'd end up spending more on legal fees to recover the money than on the entry fee itself.”
And that's where the matter died. The 2012 Freeport Half Marathon, the race that never happened, made Dean Reinke a slightly wealthier man.
To people in the running community, the Freeport incident wasn't surprising. Google Reinke's name and you'll see why: Most results will lead you to angry blog posts and message-board complaints by runners or people linked to running organizations. Going back to 2010, there are stories about charities that worked with Reinke and then never received any of the proceeds they were promised. About races that never happened and refunds that weren't paid. About police departments, race officials, and T-shirt companies that say they were never compensated for the work they did on USRA events.
One blogger describes Reinke as a “con man.” A commenter labels him a “snake oil salesman.” A poster to a message board called LetsRun.com sympathizes with a fellow runner who “fell prey to yet another shady race situation in the long, sordid history of this individual as a race director.” In a RunnersWorld.com thread about Reinke, one runner stated that “Reinke managed a half marathon in Lexington, KY this past March. It was the most poorly facilitated race I've ever seen. Reinke only cares about making profit and has no concern for the runner's experience.”
The Better Business Bureau gives a solid F to Reinke Sports Group—the LLC behind the USRA Half Marathon Series—and lists 23 user complaints on its website, including allegations of poor race management. There's also a Tumblr site called Reinke Sports Group Race Reviews, which is dedicated to “chronicling the negative reviews and race failures of the USRA Half Marathon Series.”
On May 1, the seven council members voted unanimously to deny his permit. Reinke was informed of the decision, but the USRA website, which he owns and operates, continued to promote and collect entry fees for the race.
The site contains a glut of negative information, including a letter from the Convention and Visitors Bureau in Bentonville, Arkansas, stating that Reinke never paid two charities—the Bentonville Public School Foundation and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank—proceeds he'd promised them from a 2010 race, and that Reinke still owed money to the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center for space used during a prerace expo and packet pickup. The visitor bureau eventually covered the amount owed to the charities and the hotel.
Also available on the Tumblr site is a link to a letter from John Sensenig, the owner of John's Run/Walk Shop in Lexington, Kentucky. In it he states: “We had a very bad experience with Mr. Reinke and his USRA race that was held here in Lexington in spring of 2010. John's Run/Walk Shop, the city of Lexington, and even the sponsored charity dropped our support of his race and refused to support him in future races in Lexington.”
Sensenig didn't respond to my request for an interview about what went wrong, but I was able to reach Anna Seitz, the client-relations and marketing assistant at Fasig-Tipton, a thoroughbred-auction firm in Lexington that lined up a facility used during the start and finish of the race.
“What didn't go wrong?” Seitz says with a sigh. “He wouldn't pay the charity, Blue Grass Farms, or the vendors, and we ended up doing most of the work.” When Reinke walked into a meeting with city officials requesting permits for a 2011 race in Lexington, he denied everything. “Voices were raised,” says Seitz. “Then we said, 'We're not going to sit here and argue with you. We're recommending that you not be granted a permit.' It was the first time he shut up.”
Not surprisingly, Reinke has had his share of legal disputes. In 2010, in a partnership with the city of Joplin, Missouri, he staged the Mother Road Marathon, an event that drew 1,929 runners. After that race, the city council decided that city employees had done a disproportionate amount of the work and told Reinke they were severing ties. Nonetheless, he moved forward, promoting his own Mother Road Marathon in Joplin. The city of Joplin sued Reinke for rights to the race's title, but he prevailed. According to reports at the time, Joplin settled out of court, paying him $20,000 to give up the name.
Also that year, Reinke petitioned the city of West Lafayette, Indiana, and Purdue University to hold a half marathon that would weave through the city and the Purdue campus. He was denied permission, but he began promoting a race 30 miles away, calling it the Home of Purdue Half Marathon. Purdue sued Reinke for using its name without permission. As part of a settlement, he was barred from appropriating the school's intellectual property and banned for three years from holding races anywhere in Purdue's home county, Tippecanoe.
In 2013, the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, also sued Reinke over unpaid bills, and the city of Barnstable is considering similar action. “I don't understand how he keeps getting away with stuff like this,” says Sergeant Andrew McKenna of the Barnstable police department, which worked one of Reinke's races. “Why do places keep hiring him?”
McKenna asked the obvious question. Based on his track record, how is Dean Reinke still in business?
To start with, it's important to note that not all USRA races are flops. Reinke holds 23 events nationwide, and a few are consistently successful, following a simple model that works for race organizers around the nation: charge an ample entry fee, keep costs under control, realize profit. Runners have proven to be remarkably tolerant of fees closing in on $100 for non-marathons and $100 to $150 (and sometimes more) for marathons. Still, profit margins are pretty narrow. If you attract 1,500 people to a half marathon at $60 each, and keep municipal expenses modest, you'll earn a ballpark $15,000.
In 2014, Reinke will oversee three races that have been put on three times before and four that will hit their five-year mark. Since Reinke started his race series, 25,000 people have participated, and the USRA website is plastered with photos of happy runners proudly displaying their finisher medals.
“The USRA races are fun, simple, and low-key, but with an upbeat environment,” says Todd Lytle, a race director for several charity events in Clermont, Florida, who has run five of Reinke's races. “The courses are through nice state parks and scenic downtown areas, and they're usually in smaller places where you wouldn't normally find a half marathon. A lot of times, there's bands and pizza after the race, and that's pretty unique.”
Reinke also has good working relationships with several people in the towns where his races are held, some of whom defend him. After I called the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department, looking for information about a late payment Reinke owed the city for a race held there in September 2013, I got a separate call from Ed Carnathan, sports director at the Las Cruces Convention and Visitors Bureau. Carnathan said that in the four years he'd held races in Las Cruces, there'd never been a problem.
What about the late bill?
“You've never had a late bill before?” he said. “I've asked him to pay it. I can only ask him so many times.”
An essential source for answering questions about Reinke, of course, is Reinke, but for the first few months that I researched this story, he failed to respond. I was able to piece together a basic portrait from various places, so I knew that he was 60, was on the shorter side, and was a former college athlete who'd run varsity track for Indiana University in the 1970s. I also knew that he had close-cropped brown hair and a toothy grin, and was considered a sales genius by some people who'd met him.
“The best I've ever seen,” says Mark Crepeau, a consultant in Ormond Beach, Florida, who worked for Reinke from 1989 to 1991 and credits his ex-boss with teaching him how to sell and market events. “He's high-energy, a dynamic presenter, and unbelievably disciplined. He has a schedule and routine, is organized as hell, and has a steel trap for a memory.” Others described Reinke as gregarious, extremely smart, and willing to promise just about anything to close a deal.
“That's the problem,” said Crepeau, who has mixed feelings about Reinke. “He'll promise the universe but only deliver 20 or so galaxies.”
To pitch events, Reinke attends biannual conventions that bring together visitor bureaus, sports commissions, hoteliers, and the like. Typically, he goes after the local tourism center, and to seal the deal, he'll guarantee to get people in hotel beds and at restaurant tables. That's usually enough to prompt the visitor bureaus to sign on. At that point, Reinke often connects with a local liaison, usually somebody from a running club, who'll help map out the course, secure permits, and lock down portable toilets, volunteers, and other race essentials.
But almost always, city officials and others involved in the race go back to their desks and start to research the man behind the USRA Half Marathon Series. They usually run into the flak about him that appears online, and that's when the master salesman really demonstrates his charm and skill.
One person I spoke with—I'll call him Tom, because he asked that I not use his real name—was Reinke's liaison for the Tri Cities Half Marathon in Richland, Washington. Not long after signing on with Reinke in 2011, Tom confronted him over the phone about reports of unpaid bills in various cities. He says Reinke offered a multitude of excuses.
“Dean told me that those cities had experienced great success with his races,” he recalls. “Then they decided they could do it without him and they kicked him out. The way he saw it, based on that, he didn't owe them any money.”
OK, but why had Reinke opened registration for the Tri Cities race prior to securing permits? Tom remembers Reinke saying: “I've been doing this a long time, and this is how we do it.”
“Everything had an answer, and it seemed to make sense,” Tom says. “I decided that there were two sides to every story and that he was telling me the truth.”
In February 2012, the Tri Cities Half Marathon was executed perfectly. The race drew 659 participants, and Reinke spared no expense to make it a first-class experience. There was plenty of food and refreshment at the finish—pizza, cookies, Gatorade—a band played, and each runner received a T-shirt and a high-quality finisher medal. “The die-cast ones,” said Tom. “Not the kind with stickers on them.”
The next year, Reinke was determined to grow the event, with the goal of drawing at least 1,000 runners. He also wanted to hold a health and fitness expo in one of the hotel's convention center on the afternoon before the race, something runners would cruise through while they picked up their numbers. To sell vendor spots at the convention, Reinke hired Wendy Harris, a local stay-at-home mom. For each vendor Harris brought in, she'd earn a 15 percent commission.
Tom continued in his role as liaison, but things seemed different to him this time. The year before, when Tom submitted receipts to Reinke for purchases, Reinke sent him a check almost immediately. Now it was taking months. “He blamed it on his billing system,” Tom says.
Meanwhile, Tom had discovered that Reinke owed the nearby Yakima Valley Sports Commission $1,500 for a race that had taken place there earlier in the year. “Dean told me he'd applied for a grant and that it had fallen through,” Tom explains. “He'd planned on paying that bill using the grant money. It should have raised a red flag, but I was just so excited about what we were doing that I was blinded.”
Eight hundred and forty runners turned out for the 2013 Tri Cities Half Marathon. Reinke was so pleased that he decided to move his Yakima race (the one he still owed $1,500 to the city for) to the Tri-Cities area and hold it in July, calling it the Columbia River Half Marathon.
But soon after the 2013 Columbia River event, Tom started getting complaints. Mighty Johns, the company that supplied the portable toilets for the Tri-Cities race, was still owed $550; Russ Zornick, who'd timed a race for Reinke in Edmonds, Washington, was owed $750; Wendy Harris hadn't received all of the commission she'd earned; and the local charity, the Union Gospel Mission, which had provided the volunteers and was promised $225, hadn't been paid, either.
After a local TV station ran a report about the unpaid charity, Reinke immediately sent them a check. As of December 2013, however, Mighty Johns, Zornick, and Harris still hadn't been paid, even though each of them had contacted Reinke several times requesting what they were owed.
By the time Harris found out that other people were still waiting for checks, she was already selling vendor spaces at another health and fitness expo for Reinke's Columbia River Half Marathon. At that point, shortly before the July race, Harris quit, sending Reinke an e-mail that said, “I am not paid to be at the expo or the race. Nor have you paid me for the booth spaces filled.… My time is valuable. I do not and will not work for free.”
Reinke replied, calling Harris “unprofessional.”
“I am very disappointed,” he wrote. “I expected a lot more from you. I guess you don't care what you leave behind since you are leaving the market.”
Harris and Tom, who had also told Reinke that he was stepping down from his post, took their case to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, telling officials about the unpaid bills. When Reinke caught wind of it he was furious, and Harris says he left a threatening voice mail. “He said I better hope he doesn't run into me the next time he's in town,” Harris told me.
But what happened after that is the most puzzling. The Visitor and Convention Bureau ignored the warnings and allowed Reinke to move forward with a 2014 race anyway. Why? “They said they didn't want to get wrapped up in the politics,” says Tom.
Dean Reinke is on the phone, and he sounds pissed off. A few weeks ago, I sent him an e-mail requesting an interview. He declined, saying he was too busy. I followed up a week later, telling him I realized he was probably hesitant to speak with me because of allegations made against him in the past, but that I'd love to fly to Florida and give him the opportunity to discuss it. That e-mail went unanswered.
Now, however, he seems fully aware that I've been tracking his business practices. “I'm getting calls from people saying you're trying to bring me down!” Reinke shouts. “I don't need somebody who's trying to do a hatchet job on me. Do you even know anything about me? Have you ever done any of my races?” The conversation is brief, with Reinke repeatedly saying, “I've been doing this for 30-plus years!”
Reinke's departure from Brooks was acrimonious. George Dietel, Reinke's boss, fired him after learning about what he viewed as shady business deals. He discovered that Reinke would sometimes provide better sponsorships to race directors if they brought him in as a speaker.
As Reinke says, he's been involved in the running industry since the early 1980s. Prior to that, he was a track and cross-country star at Andrew Jackson High School in South Bend, Indiana. After graduating, in 1971, Reinke went on to compete for Indiana University, where he ran a 4:02 mile and represented the school at several NCAA championship meets. “He was a light-footed runner,” recalls Sam Bell, 85, Reinke's coach at Indiana. “We had a pretty good team, and he was our number-two man. He was outgoing, congenial, people liked him.”
Reinke graduated from Indiana in 1976 and by the early eighties had landed a job as promotions director at Brooks Sports, the running-shoe company that, at the time, was located in Hanover, Pennsylvania. His job was to sponsor athletes and work out sponsorship deals with running events.
But Reinke's departure from Brooks was acrimonious. George Dietel, Reinke's boss, fired him after learning about what he viewed as shady business deals. For one thing, he discovered that Reinke would sometimes provide better sponsorships to race directors if they brought him in as a speaker—somebody to provide an inspirational message. For that, Reinke would be paid separately.
When I called Dietel and told him what I was researching, he chuckled and said, “I'd just as soon have nothing to do with it.” But in a 1989 story published in a newsletter put out by Road Race Management, a membership organization, Dietel said that the firing stemmed from “very flagrant double dipping” and involved “a considerable amount of money.”
After leaving Brooks, Reinke went back to South Bend, where he was hired by the St. Joseph's Medical Center to create, promote, and direct a 10K that he called the Sportsmed. According to news reports at the time, after three years at the helm of the race, he stopped working with St. Joseph's in 1984, for reasons that I couldn't pin down.
Rather than walk away quietly, Reinke began promoting his own race, one that would take place the same day as the hospital's event. St. Joseph's sued, and Reinke was slapped with a temporary injunction that barred him from “promoting, organizing, sponsoring, advertising, directing, or conducting” any race that overlapped with the St. Joseph's 10K.
According to reports, Reinke ignored the injunction and moved forward, promoting what he called the Sportsfest 10K. At that point, the judge in the case issued a permanent injunction and decreed that Reinke was responsible for paying St. Joseph's $20,000 for damages to the hospital's reputation, plus attorney fees. Reinke agreed to back off, but he couldn't afford to pay the hospital. The court recognized his inability to pay the judgment.
A few months later, Reinke announced that the Chicago Vultures, a team in the American Indoor Soccer Association (AISA), would play an exhibition against the Chicago Sting, from the Major Indoor Soccer League, at the University of Notre Dame. But the Vultures hadn't signed off on the game. “He did not get our permission, nor do any of our teams want to play in anything that is connected with Dean Reinke,” Martha Makay, executive assistant to the AISA commissioner, told the South Bend Tribune at the time. “Reinke wants to get paid for promoting our soccer teams, and we have told him before that we can take care of our own promotions. He has caused our league nothing but trouble.”
In 1985, it was reported that Reinke filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. He owed large sums to various media outlets that had promoted other running events he'd staged in the area, as well as to utility companies and lawyers, to name a few. Roughly $200,000 worth of Reinke's belongings were liquidated and used to pay off the debt, and Reinke moved to Winter Park.
But just two years later, Reinke started an even bigger business, Dean Reinke and Associates, that promoted nearly 100 running races nationwide, including a masters racing circuit for elite runners 40 and older. The masters races attracted big names like Boston and New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers, Olympians Marty Liquori and Frank Shorter, and Kenyan sensation Wilson Waigwa. Reinke wanted to do for running what other senior circuits had done for golf and tennis, and by many accounts the races were well produced. But the circuit wasn't without controversy.
According to Rodgers, Reinke skimmed money from appearance fees owed to the celebrity runners. Rodgers recalls a race in Macon, Georgia, that was sponsored by Arby's. “The fee that Dean had given me seemed low,” he says. “So I asked the guy from Arby's what I was supposed to get, and it was double what Dean had paid me. I confronted him, and he hemmed and hawed and said, 'You know, Billy, I treat you so well, and I take you to a lot of races.' He was like that. He was always looking to hustle people.”
Reinke also continued to have trouble paying his bills. The Road Runner's Club of America's Footnotes, National Masters News, and Running Times—all of which were owed advertising fees—approached Imperial Chemical Industries, Reinke's main sponsor for his masters circuit, to ask it to step in and force Reinke to pay up.
By 1991, the masters series was over. For the next decade, Reinke continued to promote races on a small scale while also taking on a variety of other clients. In the mid-nineties, he served as executive director of the United States Croquet Association. “He just sandbagged his way through that job,” says Bob Alman, publisher of Croquet World magazine. “He would take credit for things he had nothing to do with. Everyone wanted him fired.” By 2004, he was working for a publisher of sports books.
In 2010, Reinke started the USRA Half Marathon Series, seizing on the surging popularity of the 13.1-mile races. Since 2003, half marathons have grown faster than road races of any other distance. From 2006 to 2012, the number of finishers increased by 10 percent or more each year. During the past five years, Reinke has expanded from 10 to 23 races, with plans for more events. In a November 2013 newsletter e-mailed to past USRA participants, Reinke wrote that he had just attended a conference in Salt Lake City and that he was interested in organizing races in 25 cities. “We love to increase the number of areas where we are placing our events and would love your feedback if you'd like us to come to your area,” he wrote.
A little over a week after our first phone call, Reinke agreed to a real interview, with the condition that it wouldn't be recorded. This time there's a different guy on the phone. Reinke speaks very fast but he's jovial. He asks me where I'm from.
I grew up in Vermont, I tell him.
“You see your Catamounts basketball team last night?” he excitedly asks, referring to the University of Vermont's near upset of Duke.
I tell him I missed it.
“Too bad! It was a great game!”
I can't help but like this Reinke a little, and I can see why people might find him easy to trust. He tells me about growing up in South Bend, how he'd wanted to be the quarterback at Notre Dame but realized he was built to be a distance runner.
I can't help but like this Reinke a little, and I can see why people might find him easy to trust. He tells me about growing up in South Bend, how he'd wanted to be the quarterback at Notre Dame but realized he was built to be a distance runner. He tells me about his family: three children, one of whom has special needs. And he talks about his father, the head of a construction company who “busted his ass” and taught young Dean that if you “work hard, you get rewarded.”
But when I start asking about unpaid bills and canceled races, he gets defensive.
“I don't owe anybody any money,” he says firmly.
What about Marathon Sportswear and Gordon Lovie, the T-shirt makers who say they're owed roughly $12,000 and $2,300, respectively? Or Val Lofton, a race timer who claims she's still owed $1,000? Or Mighty Johns? Or Russ Zornick? Or Wendy Harris? Or the Barnstable and Las Cruces police departments?
Reinke pauses. “The thing that you need to understand,” he says, “is that I'm not always responsible for the bill. Sometimes it's the convention and visitor bureau, sometimes they were supposed to be paid through a grant, sometimes it's a sponsor that owes them money.”
I ask Reinke why, then, he doesn't tell these people that they need to contact somebody else to get paid? Why does he ignore their calls and e-mails?
“I don't ignore them, I've told them this.”
I move on to canceled races without refunds. Earlier, I'd spoken to Phil Stewart, editor and publisher at Road Race Management, a company that publishes newsletters and how-to guides about organizing running events. Stewart told me it's common practice for road races to have a no-refund policy for canceled races, but that it usually applies only when a race is shut down because of bad weather or some other circumstance out of management's control—not because the race director failed to secure permits. And when directors do cancel, they typically roll over the entry fee to the next year's race.
When Reinke cancels races, he allows runners to transfer into one of his other 22 events. But those are often several months later and several hundred miles away from the original location. When I ask Reinke about this, he stresses: “But I do offer refunds.”
This contradicts several people I spoke with, who told me they'd requested refunds after canceled USRA races in Tracy, California; Greenwood, South Carolina; and Freeport, Maine. All have failed to get a refund.
In addition, responding to an online article published after the canceled Greenwood race, Reinke had this to say in the comments section: “Like most major races throughout the country, we too have a no refund policy as stated in our waiver, standard in the industry.”
Reinke and I speak for nearly two hours, and he continues to deny allegations. When I ask him why he was fired from Brooks, he tells me he wasn't. “The company wasn't doing well,” he says. “I decided to move on.” But usually Reinke is focused on trying to shift the conversation toward the great things he's done for people and the sport of running.
“We're creating a tourism destination event to get people active and support a charity,” he says, sounding sincere. “I look at people who've had a heart attack or cancer or people whose husband just left them. We take a serious look at these people and how our races change their lives.”
When it comes to road races and possible games of deception, Reinke isn't alone. According to Jean Knaack, the executive director of the Road Runner's Club of America (RRCA), small-scale con artists across the country set up races, collect entry fees, then flee town—never to be heard from again. In 2012, an Indiana company called Rapid Running Event Management pulled the plug on three races it never received permits for, pocketing the entry fees and not refunding any of the participants. It subsequently went out of business. “But nobody does this on Reinke's scale,” says Knaack.
For its part, the RRCA booted Reinke from its membership (something that Knaack says rarely happens), established a race-management code of ethics, and published an online story called “Buyer Beware,” which advised runners to do several things before signing up for any race, including “Google the company or promoter.”
But none of that has real teeth. RRCA membership is essentially just a label, and Reinke can always figure out another way to sell his races. In fact, he's already begun going around tourism offices, pitching city mayors and city managers directly. So the real question is this: Is Reinke acting criminally?
“Only if there's intent to deceive,” says professor Robert Weisberg, an expert in white-collar crime at Stanford Law School. “But if he's doing these things over and over, you could make the case that he's doing it on purpose. And that's larceny.”
Though Reinke has probably pocketed at least $25,000 through unpaid bills and by refusing refunds, that would certainly be enough for the attention of a prosecutor.
Weisberg says that if Reinke is using the -Internet to collect entry fees, thereby reaching across state lines, he could be charged with a federal crime. “But federal prosecutors probably have bigger things to deal with, so they aren't concerned with something like this.”
If any law-enforcement agency is looking into criminal charges, it certainly isn't deterring Reinke from pressing forward.
Last December, he e-mailed me a few references, people who he says can vouch for his character and professionalism. One is Chris Hamilton, the executive director at the Aurora, Illinois, Convention and Visitors Bureau. I call Hamilton, only to find out that he has been let go. Instead, I'm directed to Charlie Zine, Reinke's liaison for the inaugural Fox River Trail Half Marathon, held in Aurora in May 2013. Zine tells me that the race went pretty well but Reinke never paid the charity, the Rosary High School track team, which did all the volunteer work and was owed at least $200.
“We use that money to put on meets, buy equipment, and buy food for the races,” says Vic Mead, the school's coach. “We do this for a lot of races, and we're usually paid within a month, but I'm still waiting.”
Later I speak with Dale Berman, the mayor of North Aurora, a city where part of the race took place. He's aware that the charity hasn't been paid and tells me that “there won't be a race here if I have anything to do with it. The Convention and Visitors Bureau wouldn't support his permit, and as mayor of North Aurora, I wouldn't allow him to race here.”
Given that information, it appears unlikely that Reinke's 2014 half marathon in Aurora will happen. But when I log on to the USRA website, I'm able to sign up for the race anyway, paying a $50 entry fee with my credit card. I don't expect to ever run it. And I don't expect to get my money back.
Gordy Megroz is an Outside correspondent.