Florida wedding venue suddenly closes, leaving brides in limbo

Several women hire attorneys in effort to get money back

By Lisa Bell - Anchor

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Several brides are now in limbo after an Orange County wedding venue unexpectedly closed.

The women told Local 6 their wedding plans are now a mess after they spent thousands of dollars in down payments and the operator of the venue, The Estate of John's Lake in Oakland, can't be found.

The venue, a 1920s mansion, was once owned by Osama bin Laden's brother.

Wendi Hartley, of Minneola, said she and her fiancé, John Stewart, were supposed to be married in January at the estate. Hartley said she paid the $3,400 venue fee and handmade 70 invitations for her big day, as she got ready to live happily ever after.

"It has turned into a nightmare," said Hartley. "I mean, we found out (the place was shut down) when we were on vacation."

Hartley said the man who ran the estate, John LeClair, called them in August stating Orange County zoning had shut down the venue due to excessive noise.

Five weeks have now passed and Hartley is still waiting for her $3,400 refund.

Hartley, along with several other brides, told Local 6 their calls to LeClair are no longer being returned, and they worry they will never see the money. Several of the brides have now hired attorneys hoping to get their money back.

LeClair declined Local 6's request for an on-camera interview, but he admitted he owes money to nine brides.  LeClair also told Local 6 the septic tank on the estate's property broke and he simply could no longer afford to stay in business.

LeClair said every bride will get back every penny they are owed once he sells some residential properties. He expects those sales to close in late September and anticipates paying back the brides in early October.

"That kind of leaves me a little leery because there's no forwarding address, there's no way to get in touch with him and that's where the other brides are at, too," said Hartley.

Meanwhile, the estate is already be leased by someone else -- a family -- who actually plans to move into the home in a few months. The family told Local 6 at least five brides have shown up at the estate in the past month looking for LeClair, including one bride who was supposed to get married this weekend.

The family also told Local 6 when they took over the property in August, they found documents and other evidence that LeClair was still booking weddings at the site even after it was shut down.

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