At least five people who have died after contracting COVID-19 attended a multi-level marketing company’s dayslong convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August before falling ill, Inside Edition Digital has learned.
Though Inside Edition Digital confirmed at least five people who attended the Paparazzi Accessories convention later fell ill with COVID-19 and then died, it is believed the actual number of people who died after attending the event is at least 11, according to people whose loved ones are involved with the company.
The exact number of people who became sick or died of COVID-19 or complications related to COVID-19 after the convention is unknown, as those who previously worked with the company said there appeared to be no public acknowledgement from the company’s leadership that anyone had even gotten sick after attending the convention.
And in at least one instance, those in the company’s social media community say they were discouraged from discussing that individuals who attended the conference had later gotten sick or died.
This article is based on nine interviews conducted by Inside Edition Digital with those people familiar with Paparazzi Accessories, also known as simply Paparazzi, and others who attended the conference, as well as a review of numerous social media posts made from and after the conference.
Paparazzi Accessories has not responded to Inside Edition Digital’s multiple requests for comment.
Andrew Thompson said he was heartbroken when he found out his former colleague Joy Gottschalk had died of COVID-19 after attending the annual convention for the multi-level marketing jewelry company, Paparazzi Accessories, in early August. Thompson, 33, a former top-ranking consultant in the company, said he’d been considering attending the event himself, but he decided against it as COVID-19 cases climbed in several states across the U.S. due to the Delta variant.
Thompson, who lives in Navarre, Florida, says he is glad he made that decision. But after the convention, which was held from Aug. 2 to Aug. 6 at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, he said he began hearing news of people getting infected with COVID-19 who had attended. His friend Joy Gottschalk, who lived in Arizona, was one of them. Her husband Don Gottschalk was another.
“I found out because as everybody was coming back from convention, I saw more and more posts on social media from friends of mine that are like, ‘We just got back from convention, and I’m starting to feel sick and I just tested positive for COVID’ or, ‘Pray for so and so, she’s in the hospital on a ventilator. She got COVID [at the convention]’” Thompson told Inside Edition Digital. “And so it just kind of went on and on and on.”
On Aug. 15, Joy posted to Facebook, saying, “Don and I are now in the same hospital. Continue to pray thank you.”
According to two friends , Joy died on Aug. 24, and Don passed away later on Sept. 3. A GoFundMe has since been set up to help with funeral expenses for Joy.
Messages of love poured in on Joy’s page after her death. “I am heartbroken to hear about Joy and her husband! Were they vaccinated?” one commenter wrote. “I used to love watching her lives on Saturday mornings! Damn Paparazzi!”
Joy and her husband aren’t the only ones who died after contracting COVID-19 after attending the Las Vegas-based convention. There was also another Paparazzi Accessories consultant Temple Masters and her husband Clint Masters, who both lived in Florida, who attended and later died.
There was Victor Miguel, who went to the convention and got sick a few days afterward, his friend, Gretchen Christine, told Inside Edition Digital. He died of COVID-19 on Aug. 30 after being placed in an induced coma, Christine said. There’s Cathie Albright, whose son, Dylan, told Inside Edition Digital that he, his mother, and his stepdad traveled to the convention from Florida and when they returned, both his mother and stepfather tested positive for COVID-19. His stepfather Mike Albright has since died.
In total, there are reports of as many as 11 people who died of COVID-19 after attending the convention, and of many others getting sick.
The Southern Nevada Health District told Inside Edition Digital that it is “not aware any specific [COVID-19] cases associated with this event and would not be able to comment on any individual cases.”
A Colorado nurse Melissa Baird told The Denver Channel that she attended the Las Vegas convention with her friends and everyone in her immediate group tested positive when they returned, except for her. She said she believes it’s because she is vaccinated.
“We were wearing masks, but we were in an arena with 20,000 people,” Baird told the outlet. “And of the people I was with, the majority of them are unvaccinated.
“We ate together and drank together,” Baird added. “[The vaccine] helped my immunity prevent me from getting it in close quarters with other people.”
Michele Lloyd, who lives in Pennsylvania and was also a previous Paparazzi Accessories consultant, told Inside Edition Digital she had tickets to the convention with her husband, but as the August dates approached, she and her husband, who has heart issues, decided not to go because they thought it would be too much of a risk.
“I said how are you ever going to protect that many people jammed together?” Lloyd said of her decision not to go. “They had a regional conference, they have six of them in the spring, and they held those virtually, so they definitely have the means and the ability to do virtual events. And why couldn’t they have converted or at least offered the option of a virtual event?”
Paparazzi Accessories is a multi-level marketing, or MLM, company which sells discount jewelry. Its jewelry is sold by consultants, who in turn recruit others to become consultants themselves. People who recruit others then earn income from the sales of the people they recruited, also known as their “downline.” All of Paparazzi’s accessories sell for $5 and they claim that sellers will earn 45% commission, according to their website.
The Paparazzi Accessories’ convention, which is held each year, offers an opportunity for consultants to receive awards and recognitions for their accomplishments within the company. This year the theme for the event was “CELEBRATE.”
At the convention, guests can receive training and obtain “exclusive” jewelry only sold at convention. There’s concerts and performances as well. This year, the events were held inside the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena, which can seat up to 17,000 people.
On their website, Paparazzi Accessories listed that the event would abide by all of Nevada’s health and safety regulations. Tickets to the event cost $245 and were non-refundable and non-transferable, and no exceptions to that policy were made, despite Nevada being placed in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, according to White House documents, published by the Center for Public Integrity in July.
A “red zone” means there were more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. Nevada had 173 cases per 100,000 in the week ending July 16, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
There was no requirement to offer a virtual option for the convention, and according to their website, Paparazzi did not offer one.
On July 27, shortly before the convention was set to begin, Nevada announced they were reinstating their indoor mask mandate on July 30 per CDC guidelines. The MGM also began on July 26 to require its unvaccinated employees to be regularly tested for COVID-19. On Aug. 16, the MGM announced it was implementing a mandatory vaccination policy for their employees.
“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our guests and employees, and that is the focus of everything we do. We’ve also made vaccinating our workforce and community a top priority and are continuing to expend significant efforts and resources to increase vaccination and do our part in helping to end the pandemic,” MGM said in a statement to Inside Edition Digital.
MGM said it also offers services to coincide with conventions, such as testing for guests who arrive, and an option for attendees to hold valid vaccine passports, but Paparazzi declined to utilize those options, a spokesperson for MGM told Inside Edition Digital.
Despite the state’s mask mandate, which required everyone — including fully vaccinated individuals — to wear a mask in public indoor settings in counties with substantial or high transmission, Clark County being one of them, videos and pictures of the convention posted to Facebook show thousands of people in the arena, and many people posted selfies and group pictures in which they were not wearing masks.
“There’s a lot of debate out there. A lot of people were blaming the people who went for getting sick. They had a choice and I agree with that, but I do think the Paparazzi had a responsibility to enforce [the mask mandate],” Lloyd said. “There are hundreds of pictures out there of people with no mask anywhere in sight.”
Thompson said when he started to see posts about people being sick, he was surprised, but when he saw one of his former downlines, Joy, had died, he couldn’t believe it.
“That was just really, really heartbreaking to me,” Thompson said. “Me and my husband still were just in shock, like not Miss Joy… And then come to find out there’s not just her.”
He said he also saw Facebook posts from another consultant, Temple Masters, about being sick in the hospital. In several photos she posted of her attending the Paparazzi convention on Aug. 5, Masters can be seen posing without a mask.
“Best night ever. Paparazzi Black & White Gala (recognition),” Masters wrote. “So blessed to be a part of an amazing company, Papa brothers & sisters!”
On Aug. 17, Master posted that she was in the ICU.
“Reason for being in ICU is because of the high level of oxygen I am on. For those who don’t know, I was admitted last Thursday night due to having Covid. I became sick after getting home from Las Vegas, our annual Paparazzi Convention,” Masters wrote.
“I am being well taken care of and the staff here is just downright amazing,” she continued. “I will not be responding to any messages or comments here due to I need to keep resting. Please keep your comments kind & loving. Please if you feel sicker than usual get tested and know the signs of Covid. It varies with symptoms. My husband is home as well with Covid. He has had a headache for days.”
On Aug. 26, condolences began pouring in on Masters’ page.
“Just heard about Temple & Clint. Can’t keep the tears away. I am in shock!” one user wrote in part. “…Heaven has certainly gained two beautiful Angels.”
But it was what happened after that, that Thompson said was disturbing. After he learned of Joy’s death, he said he saw people within the company posting about it and saying things like “RIP,” as well as posting pictures taken at the convention, in which no one had masks on. But days later, he said noticed those same posts had been deleted.
Thompson said he then came upon a screenshot, which he shared with Inside Edition Digital, in which another consultant, Brittany Gibson, appears to share a message from someone associated with Paparazzi, though their exact title was not clear from the message.
The screenshot read: “Message from E: ‘Okay not sure how to say this but just to say it. Any leader that shared anything about COVID and Paparazzi convention I urge you to delete the post. There are some people trying to criminalize and demonize Paparazzi and our founders and we need to protect the brand and image of Paparazzi. This is getting widespread attention.’”
When asked if she sent the message, Gibson told Inside Edition Digital, “I can’t speak for Paparazzi and I do not want to be involved.”
Gretchen Christine said her friend Victor Miguel died after attending the convention as a guest. She’s angry because she says Miguel’s death had not been publicly acknowledged by the company.
“Paparazzi has not even mentioned this, has not mentioned any of these people whose lives have been taken from this convention,” Christine said. “That’s what really bothers me the most. You know, take some type of accountability. People have a choice to go but this big company is not even acknowledging the people who lost their lives. Everyone that passed away came from this convention where this variant was spreading.”
Lloyd also said that it appeared that Paparazzi had deleted from their website the profiles of some of the consultants who had died. Neither Joy Gottschalk nor Temple Masters could be found in the system on the Paparazzi website, which allows people to search for specific consultants. Some of the pages of other consultants who had reportedly died after the convention still had pages on the site, however.
Lloyd also said she noticed that some people had deleted their posts about those who had died. Thompson said he noticed the same thing.
“I think it’s sad. I think it’s extremely sad that there is no mention of it,” Lloyd said.
Thompson shared that sentiment.
“I have a problem with [companies] putting on super-spreader events and not enforcing or even requiring vaccination proof before letting 17,000 people into an arena,” Thompson said. “And I have an even bigger problem with trying to erase people that have died to protect the image of a company that is worth billions of dollars now. Screw that. Screw Paparazzi. That makes me so sick.”