Newlyweds: Wedding planner ripped us off

Couple demanded photos, refundable deposit

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

OCOEE, Fla. - As Erika and Bryan Gonzalez celebrate their first wedding anniversary, the couple fondly recalls their nuptial ceremony and reception with family and friends.

“It was magical,” said Bryan Gonzalez.

“Amazing,” added his bride, Erika.  “Everything felt very very unreal.”

[WEB EXTRA: Hiring a Wedding Planner? Here's How to Make the Most of Their Services]

But for nearly a year after saying “I do," the couple said they could not get copies of their wedding photographs.

The newlyweds have also not been refunded a $500 security deposit that was required to rent the banquet hall.

“We never received anything,” said Erika Gonzalez.

The bride and groom blamed the missing photos and money on the wedding planner they paid to organize their big day, Leana “Angel” Jones.

When News 6 contacted Jones for comment, the wedding planner occasionally provided information that was contradicted by public records and her own previous statements.

REFUNDABLE DEPOSIT DISPUTE

According to the bride’s contract with Jones’s company, Angels Dream Events, the couple was required to pay the wedding planner a $500 refundable deposit  to reserve the Lake Shore Event Center, a rental facility owned by the City of Ocoee.

Records obtained by News 6 confirmed Angels Dream Events forwarded that $500 deposit to the city of Ocoee a month before the February 2016 wedding.

As long as none of the wedding guests damaged property inside the rental facility or left behind a mess of rice or confetti, the couple expected they would be refunded the security deposit.

“We made sure to inform everybody to play by those rules, so we would receive the $500 back,” said Bryan Gonzalez.  “According to (Jones), she said we did everything fine, and that we should expect the security deposit back.”

But a year after the wedding, the couple still has not received it.

When News 6 contacted the wedding planner about the missing money, Jones claimed that the couple was not entitled to a refund.

“They lost their deposit because of damage to property,” said Jones.  “I know that we received a letter from Ocoee stating there was damaged property.”

According to Jones, the city of Ocoee charged her for a piece of furniture that was reportedly broken during the Gonzalezes’ wedding.

“They kept $221 for a chair," said Jones.

However, records obtained by News 6 contradicted the wedding planner’s claim.

A checklist, which was signed by Jones, indicated the rental facility was left clean following the wedding reception.  There is no mention of a broken chair.

“There was no property damage reported during the event, which would have resulted in a reduction from their security deposit or a request for reimbursement from the renter,” said Ocoee Parks and Recreation Director Jeffrey Hayes.

The city of Ocoee provided News 6 with a copy of a check sent by the city to Angels Dream Events, refunding the full $500 security deposit.

Jones initially told News 6 she did not receive that check.

“I don’t deal with paperwork like this,” said Jones, claiming another employee of Angels Dream Events handles all of her company’s finances.  “They would have mailed it to my company.”

News 6 asked Jones whether Angels Dream Events used the same mailing address as her home.

“No,” replied Jones.  “Definitely not.”

But after News 6 pointed out that the address printed on the refund check is a residential property in Ocoee where Jones once lived, she changed her response and acknowledged the check had been mailed to her home.

“Honestly, I remember this check probably coming in,” Jones said after a few moments of reflection.

News 6 later obtained a copy of the canceled check from the city of Ocoee, which confirmed it had been cashed four days after the city issued it.

The back of the check was endorsed by someone using the wedding planner’s signature.

Jones did not respond to a follow-up email and phone message from News 6 inquiring about the signature on the canceled check.

WEDDING PLANNER CLAIMS COUPLE OWES HER MONEY

Regardless if a chair was broken, the wedding planner told News 6 the bride and groom are not entitled to any refund money yet, because she claims they have not finished paying for their wedding.

“They owe me $3,400, and that’s with the credit of the $500,” Jones said, referring to the disputed security deposit refund.

The wedding planner acknowledged she has not formally attempted to collect the reported debt in the year since the couple’s wedding but suggested she was planning to so.

“It’s going to go into collections,” said Jones.

But moments later Jones changed her position, claiming she was unable to recoup the $3,400 because her business had incorporated under a new name a few months after the Gonazalezes' wedding.

“We can’t really collect that money anymore,” Jones told News 6.

The wedding planner promised to provide News 6 with documentation confirming the Gonzalezes' debt.

“All these details will be in the contract, which will soon be sent in the next 5-7 business days,” Jones explained in a January 10 email to News 6.

At the time of publication, News 6 had not received any documentation verifying Jones’s claim that the newlyweds owe her money.

NEWLYWEDS BLOCKED FROM WEDDING WEBSITE

The Gonzalezes insisted they have paid Jones in full and claim they have never heard about the debt until News 6 informed them about the wedding planner’s allegations.

“We made payments all the way through until exactly one month before the wedding,” said Bryan Gonzalez.

The couple was unable to provide News 6 with documents proving they fully paid the wedding planner.

However, the Gonzalezes claim they have a valid reason for not being able to show record of their cash and check payments. The couple no longer has access to a website, set up by Jones, that contains their contract and receipts.

“The password was our wedding date, and it doesn’t work anymore,” said Bryan Gonzalez.

According to the couple, Jones uploaded all of their contract and financial documents to a website maintained by WeddingWire, a company that provides online tools for wedding vendors and clients.

Jones told News 6 her company stopped using WeddingWire’s online services after the Gonzalezes’ wedding.

“We no longer have access to it.  We don’t use that format anymore,” she said.

However, News 6 has learned the Gonzalezes’ financial records could still be stored on WeddingWire’s website.

“Regardless of the vendor's status, the client's site will live on in perpetuity,” said Kate Hoffman, WeddingWire’s associate director of corporate communications.

Hoffman said she was prohibited from discussing details about specific vendors’ accounts.

However, WeddingWire representatives told News 6 that the only reason a client’s records would be missing is if that client or the vendor actively removes the files.

Jones did not respond to an email from News 6 inquiring whether she had attempted to re-establish the Gonzalezes’ access to WeddingWire.

GETTING RESULTS: WEDDING PHOTOS RECOVERED

Nearly a year after their wedding, the Gonzalezes claimed they still had not received still photographs taken during the event.

Over the summer, Bryan Gonzalez said he called the wedding planner to inquire about the missing photos.

“She said they were already mailed out, and that we should be expecting them any day,” Bryan Gonzalez told News 6.

When the photographs never showed up, Gonzalez claimed he sent several text messages and left voicemail messages with Jones inquiring about the delay.

Jones denied receiving multiple messages from Gonazalez, but confirmed she did speak to him over the summer.

“I have never got but one call from them almost seven months ago,” Jones wrote in an email to News 6 in early January.

However, in a later interview, Jones contradicted her own previous statement to News 6 about the timing of Gonzalez's phone call.

“I think it was somewhere in the beginning of December,” Jones stated.  “I said, ‘That’s OK. We’ll mail (the photos) right out to you.'”

But seven months after Gonzalez said that conversation took place – and about a month after Jones suggested the call might have occurred -- the wedding photos still had not been mailed out.

The Gonzalezes said they wanted to contact the photographer directly but did not know her name.  According to the couple, the wedding planner refused to disclose the identity of the subcontractor hired to photograph their event.

Jones also refused to tell News 6 the photographer’s name.

“The clients hire my company, not (the photographer’s),” Jones wrote in an email to News 6.  “I don’t go throwing around my hired helps’ company names.  I try my best to deal with the nonsense on my own.”

The Gonzalezes only had two clues about the identity of their wedding photographer.  They believed her first name might be Terry, and, thanks to video recorded by a wedding guest, they had footage of her taking photos at the wedding.

News 6 reviewed a list of vendors posted on Jones’s company website but could not find any photographers named Terry.

However, Jones had posted a listing for a photographer named Tara.  An image of Tara Homan on her photography business’s website resembled the woman captured on video at the Gonzalez’s wedding.

When News 6 contacted Homan, she confirmed she had sent the couple’s wedding photos to Jones within weeks of their February 2016 wedding.

“Until today, I’ve heard nothing,” said Homan.

Jones first informed Homan about the missing photos on Jan. 3, according to the photographer.
That was the same day News 6 first contacted the wedding planner about the Gonzalezes’ complaints.

The following day, Homan sent duplicate copies of the wedding photographs directly to the couple.

Although the Gonzalezes finally have the wedding photographs, the couple is still waiting for their $500 security deposit refund.

“It’s not even about the money,” said Erika Gonzalez.  “It’s your integrity.”

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