Manatee County residents report rental facility scam

Norma Sanchez has been collecting accessories for her daughter’s quinceanera for about a year now. A photo album, guest book and glass coasters with Celeste’s young face filled a cardboard box at Sanchez’s feet. Paris is the theme.

Like many Latino families with daughters, the Sanchez family has anticipated this night for a long time. A quinceanera — or quince as it’s also commonly known — is a lavish 15th birthday party that symbolizes a girl’s transition into young womanhood. It is especially important to Sanchez because she and her husband have only one daughter.

As the 33-year-old sat in her Palmetto home Wednesday afternoon, however, Sanchez’s eyes were far from joyous. The man she said they rented a Palmetto warehouse facility from for the celebration was nowhere to be found, and the mother of four is not sure if the venue is still secured.

Sanchez is one of several Manatee County residents who say they’ve fallen victim to a booking scam by Jeremy Alsina, 38.

They claim Alsina accepted payment for use of a rental facility at 5012 U.S. 41 N., Palmetto, but has now disconnected his cell phone and has been completely unresponsive — leaving many in panic and questioning whether they can still count on having a venue for assorted birthday parties, baby showers and weddings.

“I’m very upset that I have nowhere to have my daughter’s (15th birthday) party, and I am three weeks away from it and I have no place,” Sanchez said, adding relatives are arriving from as far as South Carolina and Texas. “I’m sad and upset at the same time.”

As she scrambles to recover before July 2 approaches, Sanchez has created a GoFundMe page to ask for donations to help raise enough money to pay to rent a new facility.

Three contact numbers for Alsina were disconnected and he did not respond to email requests for comment, though some alleged victims said he had begun responding to people individually Wednesday night. In a Facebook comment thread of alleged victims, Alsina’s business partner said Alsina needs to return to the area and face the problems he created.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case. Sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow could not confirm the suspect is Alsina because no charges had been filed as of Thursday.

“We have a detective assigned to it and we’re certainly looking at it to see whether or not any crime has occurred,” he said. “Several people have come in.”

Ten people have come forward as of Thursday, Bristow said.

Angel Couchois, 36, of Palmetto, said she was to meet Alsina last Saturday to take another look at the venue for her wedding April 15, 2017.

“He didn’t show up, and then we fully found out he was MIA,” she said.

According to an incident report filed Monday by Couchois, the mother of six paid $2,000 to rent the venue. She said Wednesday night she tried to reach Alsina several times to get her money back, but hasn’t heard back.

“It’s heartbreaking and I have six kids to take care of, so it’s not easy to come up with $2,000 and now it’s gone,” Couchois said. “We’re kind of up in the air. ... I have the love of my life, so I’m not going to let this hold us back.”

Maria Ramirez, 30, also of Palmetto, said she heard the venue had been double-booked over the weekend and thought it was a misunderstanding. She had already made a payment for her daughter’s quinceanera next year. Ramirez said the Facebook page associated with the rental space has been deactivated.

“I instantly thought he ran off with the money,” she said.

She later spoke to Alsina over the phone.

“Jeremy supposedly is going to pay everybody back,” Ramirez said. “He didn’t tell us when.”

Amaris Castillo: 941-745-7051, @AmarisCastillo