A formal complaint has been filed against the founders of the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge after some participants began to question the credibility of the event.
Jeri O'Barr filed a complaint with the State of Florida's attorney general regarding the Hoka Hey Challenge's organizers.
The challenge, which began June 20 and is scheduled to end Sunday, was organized by Beth and Jim Durham of Hot Springs. Jim Durham also goes by the name Jim Red Cloud.
The Hoka Hey challenge is billed as a 14-day competition in which riders travel 7,000 miles from Key West, Fla., to Homer, Alaska. Riders paid $1,000 each to participate. The first one to make it to Homer without cheating and can prove that they stayed on route was told they would win a grand prize of $500,000. The Durhams said a portion of the money collected would go to selected charities.
The formal complaint made to the Florida attorney general's office will be transferred to the South Dakota attorney general within the next two weeks, according to information specialist Shannon Knowles, with the Florida attorney general.
In her complaint, O'Barr says that "the organizers refuse to give us a number registered to ride but I have heard somewhere between 500 and 750. There were supposed to be tracking devices on the bikes ... that did not happen. There was supposed to be a film crew for a reality show. I never saw a crew in Key West before the start ... but I hear that there is a team en route."
O'Barr went on to say in her complaint, "My husband would have never chosen to support this event had he known, up front, what Jim Red Cloud's real agenda was.
"I am speaking out, against much ridicule."
Participants and their family members have begun to question how legitimate the organization is and if any rider will actually win the $500,000 grand prize.
"I have never in my life been a part of anything so disrespectful, and I am appalled at the whole situation," said O'Barr, whose husband, Ricky, is riding across the country in the challenge. "My husband said he had never seen anything less professional."
Toni Schultz, whose husband was participating in the challenge but dropped out before finishing because of frustrations with the directions and maps riders were given, said she contacted the South Dakota Attorney General for answers on the challenge's legality.
"The attorney general office said they have no regulations to regulate how Jim (Durham) does this challenge," said Schultz of Clarksburg, Pa. "Right now, no crime has been committed, but if he doesn't pay out that prize money, then that would be a crime.
"It makes me wonder ... what we can do to hold this man accountable for what he has done," she said.
After three phone calls and two e-mails, neither Beth nor Jim Durham responded to the Journal's attempts to contact them nor commented on the reactions of what challengers and families of the challengers have said about the organization and its founders.
The day before the start of the race, there was a question-and-answer session hosted by founder Jim Red Cloud to provide riders and their families with answers to any questions they may have on the challenge.
"We sat down with every rider, and the first thing that Red Cloud did was say, ‘Some people have called me a cheat and liar,'" O'Barr said. "He went on to talk about what honor and integrity he had, she said.
"But then he stood up and said, ‘I did lie to you, I used you to get you (the riders) here,'" O'Barr said.
He is a self-proclaimed liar, O'Barr said.
Other people at the meeting in Key West thought that Red Cloud was extremely rude to everyone.
"My thought at the meeting was that Red Cloud had just intimidated everyone in this audience, and now, people were scared to ask questions," Schultz said. "I really didn't appreciate his swearing and the foul language and absolute disrespect he showed us in Key West.
"He treated us like garbage and it absolutely blew me away," Schultz said. "He said to us ‘I used you (the riders) to get money because my people (on the reservation) needed water.'"
Schultz said that all of these riders paid thousands of dollars to participate, and she thought they deserved to be treated with more respect.
To hear him come right out and admit that he had used them to get money "was shocking," Schultz said. "He was very abrasive."
One man who was considering entering the challenge said he decided against it at the last minute because he thought the whole ride was untrustworthy.
"Jim Durham got really upset with me when I suggested that he put the prize money into an escrow account," said Jim Puckett, who is the organizer of the Not Superman Rally, a motorcycle challenge and scavenger hunt. "I suggested that he put it into a bank, and he went berserk at the idea of it."
An escrow account is held by a third party, usually a bank, to holds money in trust to make sure that it goes to the proper person. In this case, that person would be the winner of the $500,000 prize money.
Puckett said that Durham accused him of having "inside information."
"I came to the conclusion that it was highly unlikely that it was a legitimate organization, and it didn't smell right, so I decided not enter," Puckett said.
Some participants were upset by the fact that Red Cloud said that the riders would be warriors as part of the vision that he had. The vision claimed that 1,000 warriors would travel to seven of the sites of the biggest massacres of Native Americans in the United States and collect their dead souls.
"I think he's entitled to his religion, but he has no right to turn this challenge into a religious agenda," O'Barr said. "He never spoke of anything but his vision of collecting the dead souls of warriors. It's unacceptable; ... that is not what we paid for; we paid for a motorcycle race."
"I think he's blowing a bunch of hot air," said Donna Kramer of Ohio, whose brother, Michael Novak, is riding in the challenge. "Jim is trying to make himself more Indian than he is to scam people. I don't believe any of it, and none of it makes any sense at all."
Puckett questioned the legality of the challenge because he believes that the challenge is "essentially a race on public highways."
"With a prize of a half-million dollars, people are going to speed like crazy," Puckett said. "They keep calling it a challenge, but really, the first one there is the winner. ... That is pretty much the definition of race on public roads. That's illegal."
Multiple people said that they are concerned with how the organizers have changed the rules at the last minute.
O'Barr said that she was concerned with how riders were told when they registered that all of the motorcycle riders would have tracking chips on their bikes, and then at the last minute were told that they wouldn't.
"What are their rules even? ... It seems like they are bending the rules a lot," Kramer said.
Before the challenge, Beth Durham told a Journal reporter that "the terms and conditions and required rules are outlined in the applications."
"At the meeting, we were trying to figure out what we were allowed to do and not allowed to do so that we wouldn't get disqualified," Schultz said. "People kept asking the same questions, and he just got frustrated and wasn't any help in clarifying rules.
"He had no right to be frustrated with us when he was the one that changed the rules and we were the ones that paid for this," she said. "If anyone had the right to be frustrated it was us."
Some people are concerned about whether any of the money raised will actually go to the charities that the organizers promised it would.
"Technically, if you don't specify the number you plan to donate, you could give $10 to each charity and still keep your promise," Puckett said.
Beth Durham said before the challenge that although Hoka Hey is not a registered nonprofit organization, the Durhams do not plan to make a profit.
"We will use some of the money to pay for expenses in the challenges, but I don't have the cost to organize the event," she said. "All proceeds left over will go to charities."
"To find out the veterans' charities could be bogus, ... that's just wrong," Schultz said. "Many of the riders, including my husband, have an emotional connection to the meaning of being a veteran, and I will be so angry if that money doesn't go to the charities we were promised."
"It's a great disappointment that it has been so disorganized," Puckett said. "I am quite surprised by how truly disorganized they are, and people are now picking up on that."
Contact Ruth Brown at 394-8329 or email@example.com