Police take a look at profits from charity fishing event

It was billed as a charitable fundraiser to support sick children while also sparking excitement among Manitoba ice fishermen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With hundreds of participants, the 2021 Full Tilt Winter Walleye tournament ended up being one of the largest virtual ice fishing competitions in Canada, according to participants.

They were told all proceeds would go to the Manitoba Children’s Hospital Foundation – but it’s been 10 months and the charity hasn’t received a donation from the event organizer.

The Winnipeg Police Service is addressing the issue as disappointed and angry fishermen raise questions.

The virtual tournament (in which fishermen do not gather in person, but submit evidence of catches via an app) was hosted by Christian Lillyman, who runs a home improvement company based in Ste. Anne, according to online profiles and people who know him.

Lillyman did not respond to messages from Free press looking for comments. The event’s Facebook page is no longer active.

CHFM confirmed that it did not receive a donation on Friday, but officials arranged a meeting with the tournament organizer. A statement sent by email pointed out that the foundation had no involvement in the organization or management of the event.

Todd Brega, manager of The Fishin ‘Hole at 1522 Regent Ave. West, was disappointed with what happened with the virtual ice fishing tournament and is now helping to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital Foundation. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“To date, funds from this third-party event have not been donated to the foundation,” a spokesperson said. “We are continuing to try to resolve this issue with the organizer.”

Police are aware of the situation, spokesman Const said. Rob Carver.

“Investigators are evaluating the information. No investigation has yet been opened,” he wrote in an email.

The registration fee for the tournament, which ran from February 20 to March 7, 2021, was $ 50 for adults and $ 25 for children 16 and under.

Participants and sponsors who spoke to the Free press about 500 fishermen signed up and expected them to eventually know the total donation.

Respondents said they had no doubts about the legitimacy or intent of the competition when paying entry fees or agreeing to donate prizes. They were happy to support a good cause and enjoy the sport at a time when in-person tournaments were on hold due to public health restrictions, they said.

The Full Tilt event used the FishDonkey app for its attendees. The organizers collect the entrance fee through the app, which incurs a service charge. The platform has been used by thousands of tournaments in Canada and the United States.

FishDonkey co-founder Bonnie Amundson said the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company was contacted by the Winnipeg Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit.

Fishermen in the virtual tournament submit evidence of catches via an app.  (Chelsea Kemp / The Brandon Sun files)

Fishermen in the virtual tournament submit evidence of catches via an app. (Chelsea Kemp / The Brandon Sun files)

She declined to say how many Manitobans registered for the 2021 event, or how much money could have been raised by the organizer.

“We are in communication with the police and are leaving it in their hands. If, in fact, it is true, we have also been duped and misled,” Amundson said.

Manitoba businesses donated dozens of prizes, including cash, fishing gear and guided trips. It was not known if each winner received their prize.

The Fishin ‘Hole agreed to be a presenting sponsor after being approached by Lillyman, said Todd Brega, who manages the Winnipeg store of the Prairie chain of stores.

He donated $ 1,000 as a grand prize and an ice auger for an early raffle.

He was disappointed to learn that CHFM had not received a donation.

“We were told after the event that this is the largest virtual tournament held in Canada,” said Brega.

Shu-Mon Mok, who runs the Fishing Prairie and Shield blog, interviewed Lillyman for an article published just before the tournament began.

Participants and sponsors believed that around 500 fishermen registered for the event.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)


Participants and sponsors believed that around 500 fishermen registered for the event. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“All the events help good causes, it brings in a lot of money and the fishing community is pretty good with it,” said Lillyman. “It was quite heartwarming to see the community come together. None of this would be possible without the participation of sponsors and individuals.”

In an interview, Mok told Free press fishermen began asking questions after a participant claimed he had not received his award and was unable to contact Lillyman.

“There is a lot of disappointment and anger,” Mok said.

Some fishermen and sponsors fear that this problem could damage the reputation of the community. Jerry Esau, who participated in the Full Tilt tournament, is part of a group planning a fundraiser that has yet to be finalized to support CHFM.

“There is a lot of anger. We want to make amends and help the community heal,” Esau said.

Selkirk-based Harvester Outdoors, which donated a guided river excursion to the now-contested event, is donating the profits from its bait sales to CHFM.

“The outdoor industry is extremely charitable. They have a really good heart, ”said owner Sean Johnston.


Twitter: @chriskitching

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