A little late on the news, but I feel that this information should be spread on any medium possible, as Akihabara Expo have failed to make any effort to notify its attendees, which is arguably more heinous than the alleged acts of its CEO leading up to this. If you are currently registered to attend Akihabara Expo in December, go straight to Paypal and file a dispute, and make absolutely sure to cancel your hotel reservations.
Amidst rumors of “AkibaExpo” CEO Michael Pham embezzling funds from the budget of Southern California’s upcoming Akihabara Expo, the inaugural Orange County-based otaku culture convention has been cancelled. Allegations spread by registered attendees and AkibaExpo staff involved indicate that Pham had been repurposing money towards personal “business trips” to Akihabara in Japan and personal merchandise. After rumors continued to surface last week, Pham deleted his Facebook page and went under the radar, leaving the scrambling staff members to fend for themselves against an army of angry customers. This ultimately led to a notice of cancellation posted exclusively on Facebook.
Since then, AkibaExpo, at this point a sole proprietorship, has its PayPal account either deleted or restricted due to a spike of complaints and refund requests sent to PayPal. Additionally, the Akihabara Expo Facebook page has deleted its profile picture and cover photo, and their website appears to be nonfunctioning. Many paid attendees have also reported having trouble with PayPal staff in regards to securing refunds, and it could be months before anybody could receive any of their money back.
On the optimistic side, we may be receiving refunds as early as mid-November, as PayPal has acknowledged a pattern of negative activity towards Akiba, but it could be safest to assume that we will be waiting a while. What we can take from this debacle is that we should support new conventions with a grain of salt. A first-year event announced with the magnitude of promises that Akihabara Expo has created is a yellow light to stop and take a closer look.
Of course, Mr. Pham may be innocent in regards to his initial accusations and his staffers may have acted haphazardly as a response to his disappearance. Of course, it is important to support newcomers to the increasingly active pop culture event scene. However, if you must pick one such event to attend and blow your money on, it would be safest to do so with some financial leeway, or to pick a more stable, established con instead. I have read a lot of stories about Akihabara Expo attendees now unable to do anything because they had put all of their eggs in one basket.
For those who are looking for another anime event to attend in SoCal, Anime Los Angeles (now to be held at Ontario Covnention Center) is an excellent choice for the cosplay scene and a positive environment. Outside of that, you could save up for a trip north to the larger SacAnime and even larger Fanime if you’re really itching for some otaku nerd action before the big baby Anime Expo in July.
Finally, good luck to everyone waiting for PayPal to act! I myself am in the same situation and I’m hoping to retrieve the AkibaExpo money in time for ALA in January.