An ongoing controversy in Orange County’s Vietnamese community over competing Tet Festivals is heating up again, with the organizers of one of the Lunar New Year celebrations held in February being admonished for unpaid debts of at least $50,000.

The festival in Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Park, which attracted more than 100,000 visitors, boasted carnival rides, performances by A-list Vietnamese singers, a beauty pageant and other attractions. It was promoted by the Orange County Transportation Authority and Supervisor Andrew Do, and its website lists the County of Orange, Sheriff’s Department, and OC Parks among its main sponsors.

But the nonprofit organization that hosted the festival, the Vietnamese Community of Southern California, is still struggling to pay at least a third of its vendors for the event, which did not charge visitors for admission, parking or a shuttle service to the venue.

Viet Anh Pham, who owns a company called Premiere Production that provided sound and staging, said festival organizers agreed to pay him $24,650 but have so far only paid him a $5,000 deposit.

Pham and Loc Do, who designed the event’s website, held a press conference last week for Vietnamese language media calling on the nonprofit to pay up.

“Normally we do a 50 percent deposit and 50 percent the day of the show, but because I know the [Vietnamese American Community of Southern California], and the supervisor Andrew Do is behind it…I fully trust them, so I only took a $5,000 deposit,” said Pham.

Tuan Nguyen, the festival’s chair, acknowledged that nearly a third of the festival’s vendors have not been paid, and others have only been partially paid. He said most vendors have been patient with the organization and said Pham was the only one to complain.

“I want to make clear, that we will pay everybody in full. We are not avoiding any invoices and are in constant contact with all the vendors,” Nguyen said. “Those who are not paid, we pay them as much as we can.”

It was the first time the organization held the event in Fountain Valley, which they pulled together in three months. And there were a number of unexpected expenses, such as fencing, extra bathrooms and security for the event, Nguyen said.

He added that the their commitment to making the event free for the public also meant they lost a significant revenue stream.

But, Nguyen said, the nonprofit intends to pay all the vendors once all the money promised by sponsors comes in, and through additional fundraisers. They are also considering splitting payments to vendors into monthly installments, he said.

The nonprofit held its first festival in 2015 in Garden Grove Park — turning a profit of $341 — but moved to Fountain Valley for this year’s festival, after a dispute with Garden Grove over $27,000 in charges, which is still unresolved.

Beyond the debt issues, there is still simmering resentment among many in Little Saigon over the organization’s decision to establish a festival that competes with the one the Vietnamese American Student Association (UVSA) has been holding for the past 35 years.

Many in the local Vietnamese community viewed the new event as divisive during a holiday centered on family, tradition and goodwill.

This year, both Tet festivals were held on the same weekend with opening ceremonies that began at the same time. The Vietnamese Community’s decision to make their event free was considered by some to be an effort to undercut the student festival, which typically charges admission and donates its proceeds to charity.

The dispute has also spilled into election year politics, with a South Vietnamese veterans group taking aim at Supervisor Do for his sponsorship of the Vietnamese Community’s festival.

After the press conference last Wednesday, the Association of Key Military and Civilian Personnel of the Republic of Vietnam released a statement urging voters not to vote for Do, who is running for reelection in June.

“We made a mistake by previously voting for Andrew Do,” the statement reads. “With Orange County’s supervisorial election approaching, we have to consider and wonder whether or not we should vote for an individual lacking in responsibility, a traitor and person lacking in morals like Andrew Do.”

Do’s office did not return a call for comment. However, Nick Lecong, a county aide to Do, told Nguoi Viet Daily News that Do’s office mainly acted as a liaison for organizers to other government agencies.

Lecong told the paper that it was the first time the group had held such a difficult and expensive event and he had loaned the organizing committee $40,000 without interest, and has been repaid $30,000 so far.

Nguyen said that although the festival’s website listed several public agencies as sponsors, the event did not receive any direct financial support from taxpayer dollars. He said the group paid for everything from permits to special advertising on public buses to overtime for Sheriff’s deputies.

“This is an election year, so people try to use the OC Tet Festival as a way of attacking political opponents, and we’re not a part of that,” Nguyen said.

But Pham says organizers have been vague on specifics, and has given them until Friday to respond with a concrete plan on how they intend to pay him. If they fail to do so, he says he will hold another press conference next week.

“He’s lucky I haven’t taken him to court yet,” said Pham said of Nguyen. “I don’t want to deal with any political issues. I’m just trying to collect my money.”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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