The September 3, 1998, issue of the Spanish-language newspaper Prensa Hispana made Phoenix residents Ivan Reyna and Greg McCain look like the luckiest people on the planet.
An article chronicled how Reyna and McCain had been selected as the winners of a contest sponsored by Telemundo 64, Compass Travel, Coors Light and Prensa Hispana.
After being flown to Denver, Colorado, Reyna and McCain's three-day, two-night trip was highlighted by tickets to see the popular Latino group Mana perform at the renowned Red Rock Amphitheater. They stayed in one of the best hotels in the city. And they even went to the Coors Light brewery to see how beer is made.
Sounds like the grandest of grand prizes.
Too bad none of it happened.
Ivan Reyna wasn't watching Telemundo on August 28 when promotions director Marysela Bonillas pulled his name out of a barrel during a live broadcast. He got the news when a friend called and begged to be invited on the junket, since each winner got to take a guest.
Reyna, 24, had never won anything except a couple bucks on Lottery scratchers, so he didn't believe his good fortune until he heard a message on his answering machine from Bonillas herself.
Reyna, who knew Bonillas from the time they took a class together at Arizona State University, called and told her there might be a problem with the Wednesday-through-Friday trip. He'd recently started working at Honeywell full-time, and he wasn't sure if his boss would give a new employee half the week off.
"Marysela said that would be good, because the travel agency had accidentally booked a flight to San Antonio, and it would cost $1,000 to change it," says Reyna. "She offered a trip to Vegas, but I don't really like Las Vegas, so I asked for a trip to Mazatlan."
Reyna says Bonillas told him she would see what she could do.
Reyna didn't hear from Bonillas for almost three weeks. The next call he got about the contest was from his mother, saying she had seen his name in Prensa Hispana. When Reyna obtained a copy of the article, he was floored.
"The headline was in big, bold letters, and it was a half-page article," says Reyna. "I thought it was weird that they'd run something like that. It had details about the concert, the tour of the Coors facility, and basically how much fun we had."
Reyna phoned Bonillas to confront her about the article and to check the status of his trip. He says Bonillas told him that after learning he couldn't take the trip as scheduled, she had tried to contact the newspaper to head off the story, but it was too late to stop the presses.
As the state's largest Spanish-language newspaper, Prensa Hispana is one of the main voices of Arizona's Latino residents. The paper is distributed in 57 communities and has won numerous awards, including Best Hispanic Publication.
Presna Hispana general manager Lety Garcia says the article, written by former employee Luis Fernando, was based on information given by Telemundo's Marysela Bonillas. Initially, Bonillas issued a press release about the trip. But Garcia says that Fernando later contacted Bonillas to get more information. Garcia says she was unaware that Reyna's trip hadn't happened until New Times called.
Bonillas denies giving details about the trip to Prensa Hispana.
"That was never told to the person who wrote the article," says Bonillas. "[Fernando] called and asked me the name of the winners, that's it. It made no sense to me to write that they had gone. I'm not going to say they made it up, but I certainly don't remember telling them that they had a blast."
Bonillas says she read the article, but never called Prensa Hispana to say it was a mistake.
"I guess I must have overlooked it," she says. "It just didn't click to me to call them. I didn't think I had to call and tell everybody what happened."
Garcia disagrees with Bonillas.
"We absolutely would have printed a retraction," says Garcia. "She should have told us."
Reyna wasn't too upset about the article. In fact, he hoped it would give him some leverage to actually get a prize.
However, Bonillas told him that Mazatlan was too far away, and he would have to choose a city within a certain radius. Reyna asked for Hermosillo. Again, Bonillas said she'd work on it and get back to him.
A month passed with no word from Bonillas. Reyna called to find out if he would finally be able to collect his prize.
"She gave me all these excuses about why she didn't call," says Reyna. "[Telemundo] had been bought by another company, they were having budget problems, the travel agency had been robbed and their records were lost. She said she was trying to work it out with another agency."
Reyna says he told Bonillas to "do what you have to do, but I'm still waiting."
He waited two more weeks and again called Bonillas, who was said to be in a meeting. He called later that afternoon, and a secretary said Bonillas was out of the office. He called the next day, and a secretary said that Bonillas was out to lunch with an executive.
"As soon as I said who I was, she was doing something else," says Reyna.
He called a few hours later, gave a fake name, and says he wasn't surprised when Bonillas came on the line.
"I was firm, but I still wasn't pissed," says Reyna. "She's giving me all these budgetary problems excuses. I just told her I didn't want her to forget about me."
A week later, Bonillas left a message on Reyna's pager, something he took as a sign that she was working on his trip. But when he called her back, nothing had been resolved.
"She gave me so many excuses, I don't even remember them all," says Reyna. "I asked her for a ticket to Ontario [California], because I wanted to meet a friend in Disneyland. I told her I just needed one ticket, a room and a rental car."
Bonillas called back two days later to say that she had gotten the flight and room, but couldn't get the rental car.
"I said 'fine,'" says Reyna. "I just wanted to get it over with."
With the four-month hassle seemingly over, Reyna left on December 11 for his weekend at Disneyland. When he got to Ontario, Reyna was disappointed to see that he was staying at a less than five-star Comfort Inn.
"It was literally on the side of the freeway," he says.
One should not look a gift hotel in the mouth, but Reyna had reason to feel he'd been beaten by the sucker stick. He was already paying for the rental car and Disneyland tickets. The flight and hotel room were much less expensive than the package offered in the Denver trip. And the Prensa Hispana article had claimed the winners had stayed in one of the best hotels in Denver.
Reyna decided to register and enjoy the weekend. But the experience of checking in finally pushed him over the edge.
"I went to check in and the lady behind the desk asked for payment," says Reyna. "I explained that I had won a contest and that the room was already paid for. She said that it was only reserved, not paid for. Now I was pissed. I had to pay with my company credit card."
Adventures in Travel, the agency Telemundo used for the trip, claims the room was paid for. The agency says Reyna asked Comfort Inn for an eight-dollar upgrade for a double room, and that's why the room wasn't paid for.
But Reyna says he didn't ask for the upgrade until he had already checked in, went to the room and saw that it was not a double. Because a friend was joining him, he says, he went back to the front desk to pay for the upgrade.
"If the room had already been paid for, I could have paid for the upgrade and [Adventures in Travel] would have never known," says Reyna.
Comfort Inn was unable to confirm or deny either story.
Reyna flew home on Sunday, December 13, and called Bonillas on Monday. She told him that because he canceled his reservation, the travel agency would not reimburse him.
"Don't give me this canceled reservation crap," Reyna says he told Bonillas.
He explained about the double room and demanded that Bonillas get his money back from Adventures in Travel. Reyna says Bonillas was not apologetic.
"She told me she didn't want to offend the travel agency," he says. "But what about me?"
He says Bonillas said she would see what she could do, and that she called back a few days later to say the agency would pay for everything except the $8 upgrade.
After providing the necessary receipts, Reyna went home to Nogales for Christmas break, then called Bonillas on the first workday of January. Bonillas said the travel agency was still looking into it and that she would get back to him.
What followed was another two weeks of frustrating phone tag. Then, Reyna says that "all communication stopped. I'd call, page her, call her cell phone, and she wouldn't return my calls. I finally called and left her a nasty message. She finally called back and said that the check had been waiting for two weeks, that she had told her assistant to call me. But she never did."
By that time, Reyna says, the credit-card statement had already come and Reyna had paid for the room. When he got the check, it was minus the cost of the upgrade.
"I called [Bonillas] and told her that after all this, the least I deserve is a full refund," says Reyna. "She said she'd give me the eight bucks out of her own pocket, laying a guilt trip on me. To this day I have never seen that money."
Bonillas claims she sent Reyna a money order for $10, but was unable to find the receipt as proof. She was surprised that Reyna was still upset about the results of his prize.
"We did get him something," Bonillas says. "It's not like we blew him off. If I had known he was going to make such a big issue out of it, I would have sent him out to dinner or a baseball game. I thought it was taken care of."
When New Times called to talk to Bonillas' supervisor, Charlie Mandala, national sales manager for KDRX and KHRR--affiliates of Telemundo--responded. Mandala began working for the station in January; the station was sold to Televisión Apogeo de Phoenix, a subsidiary of the Apogee Company, on January 16. Mandala says he wasn't involved in handling Reyna's trip. New Times explained Reyna's beef to him, and Mandala admitted that the prize sounded "boggled" by both Reyna and Bonillas.
"It sounds like Marysela did what she could to compensate him," says Mandala. "We would have been obligated if he said he wanted to go to Denver. When he agreed to take another trip, then it becomes kind of subjective. We gave him what he called and asked for. If he's upset, he should have called and asked for something comparable [to the Denver trip]."
As for Greg McCain, the other winner, Bonillas says that he was "very understanding" about not being able to go to Denver. She told New Times that he dealt directly with Compass Travel, which provided him with another trip.
McCain could not be reached for comment for this story. Bonillas gave New Times his phone number, but the line had been disconnected. McCain is not listed in the phone book.
However, when Compass Travel was contacted about McCain's trip, owner Ahd Kaston said they had no record of making an arrangement for McCain.
Kaston was also upset with Bonillas about her agency's relationship with Telemundo, which called for Compass to provide airfare and accommodations to contest winners in exchange for promotions on Telemundo.
"[Telemundo] promised me that they would advertise . . . and I never saw anything," Kaston says. "They never held up their end of the bargain. When you set up something and then change it, that's not right."
Bonillas disputes this, saying that Kaston may be mistaken because Bonillas dealt with an office manager at Compass Travel who no longer works there.
"I let them know what their tag lines were going to be and I sent them some of the fliers," says Bonillas. "They also were mentioned by the DJ . . . during the giveaway."
Ivan Reyna's misadventure is not the first Marysela Bonillas has dealt with.
During her two-year tenure, Bonillas says she's been in charge of three separate contests whose prizes were the trip to Denver, a trip for two to San Diego which included tickets to Sea World, and a trip for four to Los Angeles to watch the taping of a Telemundo talk show.
According to Bonillas, Compass Travel and Adventures in Travel, Reyna is the only winner who has actually collected on one of these prizes.
Bonillas says that the San Diego trip fell through because it involved a dance contest at the Maricopa County Fair that nobody participated in.
The trip to Los Angeles was another live drawing, and the winners were selected by a representative of Adventures in Travel.
Two sets of names were drawn, and each person was allowed to bring a guest. New Times obtained a copy of a memo from Bonillas to Adventures in Travel that says, "Here are the names of the guests that will be traveling with the winners:
"Reyes Gomez & Marcela Gomez.
"Lety M. Garcia & Manny Garcia."
There is also an itinerary listing both couples.
Lety and Manny Garcia are the owners of Prensa Hispana, which was among the sponsors of the contest.
Asked about winning the contest, Lety Garcia says they had not won but had been offered the tickets by the Gomezes when they were unable to go.
Bonillas has a different explanation, saying that the Garcias were listed so they could send reporters to cover the event for Prensa Hispana.
When told of Bonillas' version, Lety Garcia says it was correct.
But if Presna Hispana wasn't taking two of the winning spots, there should have been two other winners named. Neither Bonillas nor Lety Garcia could say who these winners were, or whether any was named.
Beulah Smith of Adventures in Travel says she is certain that there were two sets of winners selected. In any case, no trip was ever claimed.
Reyna's friends have told him he should sue Telemundo, but he says he doesn't have the time or money for such a process.
"I would like to teach them a lesson," he says. "It's just messed up. I just want to make sure they're exposed. I don't want other people to be taken advantage of."
Cindy Davis, chief counsel for consumer protection and advocacy at the Attorney General's Office, says there are laws protecting against consumer fraud and crooked sweepstakes. But because Reyna did not have to pay to enter the contest, those laws don't apply in his case.
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"If there was a pattern of this, where they were trying to line their pockets, then you might have something," says Davis. "But since there was no monetary exchange, it would be a tough case to win."
There is no evidence that either Telemundo or Prensa Hispana has directly benefited from the faulty contests--although there is significant public relations value in sponsoring contests and giving away prizes.
The Prensa Hispana article about Reyna's nonexistent trip to Denver invites readers to take advantage of upcoming contests.
"Don't pass up the next magnificent opportunity," it says.
You, too, could be as lucky as Ivan Reyna.