A longtime carnival operator who claimed he could deliver cotton candy machines, foot-long hot-dog stands, a Ferris wheel and other rides seemed like just the person needed for the first-ever carnival in the small, central Minnesota town of New London.

So when Edwin A. Reinke said he needed $5,000 up front, months before the carnival was to take place last year, the town approved the payment and began planning.

And then came trouble.

When Reinke didn’t deliver, Racquel Skindelien, a co-organizer of New London Water Days, panicked. When she called Reinke to follow up and was told he had died, her panic turned into grief, which later gave way to anger when Skindelien learned that Reinke was, in fact, alive and well and had delivered his machines elsewhere that same weekend. “I was mad,” Skindelien said.

She said her first call to Reinke was answered by a man who said he was Reinke’s son. Reinke was dead, and Skindelien had just interrupted the family’s prayer circle, he said.

The pattern of broken promises, elusive conversations and refusals to return the down payments of counties and towns statewide caught up with Reinke on Wednesday when state Attorney General Lori Swanson filed a civil suit against his Minnesota’s Magic Midway, based in Anoka.

The three-count suit alleges that Reinke engaged in deceptive trade practices and violations of the consumer fraud act and that he did business under an unregistered, assumed name. It listed seven county fairs and festivals that claimed to have been victims of his company.

The attorney general’s office is seeking an injunction to stop Reinke’s business, pay back the money he owes and pay civil penalties.

Reinke, contacted Wednesday, said that he has been talking with Swanson’s office since August but that he was unaware a suit had been filed. “I have no idea what the lawsuit said or anything,” he said. “We quit last year when I had open heart surgery. That’s why I couldn’t fulfill the contracts.”

Several county fairs complained about Reinke to the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs (MFCF), according to the suit. The MFCF president told the attorney general’s office that the organization had received complaints about Reinke dating to 2012 involving fairs in Kittson, Big Stone, Jackson and Fillmore counties. Organizers of the Montrose Days Celebration, New London Water Days and Olivia Corn Capital Days also complained.

The fairs prepaid $2,000 to $8,500 to Minnesota’s Magic Midway, but Reinke repeatedly failed to show up, the suit states.

Reinke’s references include New Hope Mayor Kathi Hemken, who said Wednesday she considers him a friend. She met him at least 15 years ago when she was co-chair of a festival in New Hope and hired his company to provide rides and concessions.

“We found him to be honest and fair,” she said.

The attorney general’s lawsuit was filed in advance of an industry conference held in Bloomington at which small towns and counties can meet carnival operators. Swanson said her office felt it was important to file the suit before other potential customers met with Reinke’s company. “The goal of the lawsuit is to get people their money back and, two, to stop this from happening to more people,” she said.

In some cases, Swanson said, Reinke would double-book fairs for the same weekend. Stonewalling was a pattern, and excuses ranged from medical problems to troublesome employees to carnival accidents, she said. The organizers of the festival in Montrose said Reinke told them at the last minute that he wouldn’t work their festival as promised but that he had arranged for a subcontractor from Iowa to fill in. Then they got a second call saying that the subcontractor couldn’t attend after losing his fingers operating a ride.

Organizers of the Big Stone County Fair paid Reinke $5,000 in 2012 to provide for their festival, but he never showed, said Bruce Wellendorf, one of the fair’s organizers. When they asked for their money back, Reinke promised he would send it, said Wellendorf.

“Still waiting,” Wellendorf said Wednesday.

 

Paul Walsh contributed to this story.