NBC 5 Responds

Local holiday festival company leaves trail of lawsuits and unpaid bills across the country

NBC Universal, Inc.

A company that claims to bring cheer to holiday families across the Chicago area has a dark side behind their image, several lawsuits allege.

Amaze Light Festival, a company that puts on dazzling light shows around the Chicago area, has left a trail of unpaid debts and lawsuits, devastating community members in its wake.

One of those community members is Kim Scerine, who has ran the nonprofit dance troop "On Broadway Dancers" based in Coal City for more than 30 years.

Three times a night during last holiday season, Scerine’s dance troop performed for crowds at the Amaze Light festival in Tinley Park.

The On Broadway Dancers performing one of their daily shows at the Amaze Light Festival in Tinley Park (2022)

“Many of my dancers gave up their winter jobs so that they could do this. We also left school early many times. We were 45 minutes away from the venue,” Scerine told NBC Chicago.

But a year later, the dance troop is still waiting for Amaze Light Festival, also known as "Artistic Holiday Design LLC" to pay them the $48,000 they say they’re owed as outlined in their contract.

“In 37 years of having a dance company, I've never had anybody not pay us,” said Scerine. “I'm not the only people that they haven't paid.”

NBC 5 Responds began digging into Artistic Holiday Design LLC and its owner Derek Norwood.

Police reports detail a 2021 altercation involving Norwood and an organizer of the 2021 Amaze Light Festival in Rosemont.

Body camera footage shows officers responding to the Aloft Hotel and eventually escorting him out. Norwood was later charged with battery and was eventually found not guilty in a bench trial.

In the body camera video, Norwood tells officers, We own a company that’s putting up the lights. They continue to destroy us every single step of the way. We fight with them.”

Norwood captured on Rosemont Police Body Camera video from 2021 Battery Incident. Norwood was found not guilty in a bench trial

Soon after the incident, Norwood sued the City of Rosemont for allegedly trying to derail the 2021 light show. Months later, the village of Rosemont filed a countersuit, alleging Norwood's company failed to fulfill its obligations.

Now, Norwood’s company is engaged in legal battles with almost a dozen other companies in New York, Florida and Illinois, who all allege his company hasn't paid them for services such as venues, transportation and staffing.

The amounts allegedly owed by Norwood’s company add up to millions of dollars.

“How is this not a crime? How is this not fraud?” said Scerine.

Among those still waiting to be paid include Odyssey Fun World, the site of last year's Tinley Park light festival and the Tinley Park Police Department, the latter of whom are owed $80,000.

As for the light festival, a lawsuit filed by Odyssey Fun World alleges that Norwood prematurely ended the festival and left behind dozens of large holiday decorations.

“At any given time, during the day, we had anywhere from eight to 15 police officers that were out there, and then probably six to seven traffic control personnel,” Tinley Park village manager Pat Carr said.

This isn’t the first time Norwood has had issues with his business ventures.

NBC 5 Responds found bankruptcy filings from 2010 that show Norwood ran another holiday lights business that ended up more than a million dollars in debt to dozens of creditors.

In 2021, a letter from First Bank to the village of Rosemont showed that all the money Norwood made from his light festival in Rosemont had been garnished by the bank as part of a "loan agreement."

Norwood declined to be interviewed, but in a statement, he told us:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the Amaze Light Festival from last year. We are in an ongoing public lawsuit with Odyssey Fun World, so I am not able to provide a lot of information based on that. What I can say is they have wrongfully held our assets and we are extremely disappointed. Unfortunately, our light festival fell well short of our minimum expectations as far as revenue. This has caused a major financial gap and we have been working on a recovery plan since January and We have and will continue to be transparent with all vendors concerning this. We never projected the event would fail but we take FULL responsibility for it and we are going to honor and prioritize our obligations and debts. You have mentioned On Broadway Dancers are owed money for their work performed at Amaze last year, this is correct and we are truly sorry for that. Kim and her team did a wonderful job and we absolutely loved working with them. They should not be out this money and it is extremely disappointing for all that she is in the spot she is in with this debt owed to her. With that said, we are not running away from this problem but working overtime to cover this debt however the process does take time. On Broadway Dancers will receive a series of payments in 2023 to be paid in full. Outside of the Amaze Light Festival. Artistic Holiday Designs was opened in 2015 and experienced much success in distributing our products all around the country, especially in Illinois where we have sold to over 40 cities. We have been a pillar of integrity in our industry and have already contracted enough sales to fully pay any debts owed for 2023 and beyond. No Amaze Light Festivals will be produced this year and the only projects we are taking on are a direct fee for service.”

Scerine told NBC Chicago that she’s skeptical that she’ll ever see another cent from the company, expressing anger over a Facebook post from earlier this year that appeared to show Norwood on a yacht in Florida, seven months after Scerine's organization was supposed to be paid.

"We're not paid and you're out on a boat in the Keys?” said Scerine.

Norwood on a yacht in the Florida Keys earlier this year. Courtesy: Scerine/Facebook

Scerine didn’t want her dancers to get discouraged by what had happened, and ultimately took out a loan to pay off her employees.

"You can't leave kids not paid. You can't do that. I can't do that to my kids," Scerine said.

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