Inaugural Youth 'Scam' Controversy Continues

Organizers apologize to students who say they were misled by false advertising.

By + More

Controversy continues to heat up around the Inaugural program for students that some are calling a scam. As parents press for reimbursements and apologies, the organizers are starting to respond by offering refunds and other remedies.

The Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, held over President Obama's Inauguration, collected up to $2,900 from thousands of high school and college students for four days of lectures and events, some with high-profile politicians such as Colin Powell and Al Gore. But students say they were misled into thinking they would have tickets to the swearing-in and official Inaugural Ball.

In an August letter sent to attendees, the conference organizers said, "On the Mall, you will watch the new President take the oath of office and listen as he addresses the nation.  You will then have an opportunity to view the inaugural parade as the new President, Vice President and their families make their way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol Building to the White House." But many participants said they missed both the swearing-in and parade because of the crowds and difficulty getting downtown. As for the ball, the conference hosted an "unofficial" ball, which means neither President Obama nor Beyonce were there, at the National Air and Space Museum.

“I told everyone I would be going to the inauguration and the inaugural ball,” Caitlin Armstrong, an 18-year-old sophomore at Auburn University, said last week. She was disappointed to discover that neither was true. Some of the students have called the event a scam and are taking their complaints to Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as a potential class action lawsuit.

The organizers behind the event, the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, released a statement over the weekend acknowledging students' discontent. They wrote that while they believed most participants has a "positive and life-changing experience," transportation and access difficulties caused problems for others. In addition to apologizing, they said they are investigating students' and parents' concerns and have started to provide refunds.