35 Acre Virginia Farm Essay Contest

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ESSEX COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) – There’s a big mess over a failed essay contest to win ownership of a $600,000 working farm named Rock Spring Farm outside of Richmond.

The contest, write a 1,000 word or less essay on what you would you do with the farm. A Norfolk woman contacted us who entered the contest, gave the money, but has heard nothing.

We started investigating, and it appears intentions were good, the contest involved thousands of people, and the organizers were likely overwhelmed by what happened after the contest flamed out.

Dr. Carrie White loves dogs, and she wrote an essay how she would turn the 35 acre farm into an animal sanctuary.

“My husband, and I take walks around the neighborhood, and he will coo over baby’s in strollers while I am kissed by all the four legged babies,” White says.

She has a copy of the deposited check for $200 she sent for the contest. The check has her name and address on it. The check was sent in October and immediately deposited in November by property owners and essay organizers Randy Silvers and Carolyn Berry. She emailed them while we were there writing, “I have not received back my $200 yet.”

According to the rules, there must be 5,000 essays at $200 would total $1,000,000. That is presumably the amount the property owners needed to sell the farm and to “Pay very high taxes,” Silvers told us. Randy Silvers only got 3,000 essays at $200 or $600,000. Silvers then canceled the essay contest claiming he didn’t get enough money.

The rules clearly state,”Absolutely NO REFUNDS shall be made by reason of non-compliance or for any other reason WHATSOEVER, unless the 5,000 entry level has not been met. All entry fees shall be returned, if atleast 5,000 entries are not received.” According to the rules, since 5,000 entries were not received entry fees shall be returned.

The contest was canceled December 1, 2015. That was five months ago and White still doesn’t have her refund.

10 On Your Side called Randy Silvers with White in her home, “We notified by email these people who have not received their check,” he said as White shook her head, No.

White says she has never been contacted, “I wrote them a personal note, and I left messages on their answering machine.”

Silvers prefers to send communication by email, but no email was ever sent to White, and her email address was clearly on her essay along with address and phone number.

It is clear, if you don’t deliver the farm, you can’t keep the money that totaled about $600,000. We asked Silvers is White going to get back her money? He sternly replied, “Everybody is going to get back their money. Everybody’s going to get it.” We asked how many still need to receive checks, “100,” Silvers replied.

Silvers claims since returned checks were not deposited, they closed the bank account and opened another. “We are waiting for new checks for the new account.”

The conversation ended with Silvers and Dr. White talking, and a promise the check will be in the mail soon.

After White sent the email, Carolyn Berry sent this email:

“We received your e-mail this morning concerning the refund from the Rock Spring Farm essay contest. We mailed check #2093 for $200 February 1, 2016. Your check was one of the last checks to be mailed.

“Unfortunately, although we received your essay and check, we did not receive your entry form or the two self-addressed stamped envelopes as we requested in the contest rules. Your entry was not the only entry we received without the necessary communication information. All of those entries were sent last.

“Thankfully, the trustee recorded the return address on your check, which in your case, we are happy you sent a personal check instead of the requested money order or cashier’s check, or we would have had no way of knowing where to send your refund.

“Our main method of communication has been through the RSF Facebook account. Because of a snafu with the postal service, we have opened a second checking account, transferred the funds to that account, and sent e-mails to those who had not yet cashed their refund checks; we told them we will reissue checks on the second account. We did not include you in that e-mail because we didn’t have your e-mail address.

“We have not received the checks for the second account. As soon as we do, we will begin rewriting the refund checks. We will send each check certified mail, so you will need to go to the post office to retrieve it.

“Your contacting my husband this morning reminded me that I have been remiss in not posting information on the Web site about the issue with the undelivered checks. I will do so immediately.

“As we stated in the contest rules, the Web site, and the RSF Facebook page, each person who participated in the essay contest will receive a refund. We appreciate your having confidence in us by entering the contest, and we apologize you still have not received your refund. When we first posted the notice about opening the second account, we had anticipated sending the reissued checks by May 1. Since we do not have the new checks, we hope all reissued checks will have been written, mailed, received, and cashed no later June 1.”

White wrote back to Carolyn Berry:

“Thank you very much for looking into this matter. I, alas, did not receive the check that you sent. The address on the stationery on which I wrote my essay–which is the same address as that upon my check–is accurate. I am not sure why the check you sent several months ago did not turn up in the mail. Again, I never received it. In the last several months, I did mail a letter and left a phone message, both with my address and phone number, and both of which questioned why I had not received a refund.”

Berry then responded:

“Your check and others have not reached their destinations. It took two and three months after we mailed the checks for many of them to clear the bank. Some people just didn’t cash them; do not know about the rest. We never received a letter from you. If you sent it to the post office box in Virginia Beach it should have been returned to you; we closed that box in December after the contest closed. My husband said he never received a phone call from you.”

The bottom line for White it appears the “check is in the mail” card was played.

White is hopeful the essay organizers will make good on the promise to get the check in the mail sooner rather than later.

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