Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cat is out of the Bag

I didn't want to detail the scandal surrounding the previously mentioned wedding vendor. However, we got our money back and it's all over the news so I'm ready to spill the beans!

After Eric and I got engaged, one of the first things we made sure to do was find a photographer. We met with somebody from Celebration Studios, a tri-state wedding photography and videography company. Celebration was referred to me by a coworker whose daughter is getting married a month before we are. They were recommended to her by some other happy clients.

CS had many different locations all throughout NJ, NY and Philadelphia. We met with Karen Towerton from the Montclair office. She offered us a phenomenal package which included a videographer too! I should have realized it might be too good to be true.

The catch? If you pay up front, you get a 20% discount. The red flags should have popped up then. Over lunch that day, we decided to book this company. We were later able to choose our photographer based on an online gallery of some samples of different photographers' work. We then met him in person and were really excited about his style and thought he'd do a wonderful job shooting our wedding.

Things were fine until last month, while perusing message boards on The Knot, I came across some negative feedback about CS. I was shocked. The more I dug, the more information I unearthed. Brides and grooms, married for 1, 2, 3, even 4 years, still waiting for wedding albums, videos, proofs, all paid in full. Some turned in baby pictures to be used as a montage for their videos. Phone call after phone call, email after email, they were fed lie after lie. And by late fall, it was impossible to get a hold of anybody by phone.

Celebration Studios was going to be "new and improved," or so they claimed. They were just backlogged. Their design center was closed in order to restructure things, to make it better, they claimed. It was supposed to reopen January 2nd. However, on that day, a sign was on the door at the center in Clifton, promising a reopen by January 31st.

However, just a couple days later, there was a for lease sign hanging in the window.

It was that week, I started to really get frightened. I started spending every waking minute on the Wronged by Celebration Studios yahoo group. I found out CS stopped paying their photographers and videographers. Some are owed $10,000 or more. They quietly closed each and every office. Sales staff quit. Basicallly within the course of a week, there was nobody left working for this guy.

Except one office actually didn't close. Their Philadelphia office became Accent Studios. Marc Schwartz, the owner of CS, claims it's an unaffiliated business. Then why did it not only have an identical website until people caught on? Why is it owned by Marc's girlfriend, Shani Whittemore? Clients of CS claim that they booked with CS, yet their credit card statements say Accent.

Schwartz is claiming to have no money left. His lawyer says he's going to be filing bankruptcy. Then he won't have to pay back anybody. But where did all this money go? There were SO many shady dealings. It's been all over the news. Check out these links if you're curious.

By the way, we're sooo lucky that we disputed our charges with the credit card company. We got every penny back that we paid that scamming CS! Not everyone was so lucky though. Hundreds of brides and grooms may never see those pictures and albums they paid so much for. My friend was telling me about her coworker who hired CS to shoot her wedding this weekend. She paid up front. In cash. Even though she has retained a lawyer, she'll never see that money again. People have been filing criminal complants and there are a couple class action law suits that are forming against Schwartz.

And we found an awesome photographer to boot. We really did our research this time. His name is Josh Lynn and we can't wait for him to shoot our wedding!

Links

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Marisa,
My fiance and I booked with Shani W back in Oct (paid in full etc) for our wedding this May. My contract was with CS but we were charged by Accent (never heard of Accent until last week). I have been in contact with Shani to get a refund and I've begun filing civily and persuing criminal charges etc for fraud, misrepresentation and theft. If you have any more information to share I would love to talk to you as the more I know the more people I will include in the law suits etc. Please email me at burkej15@hotmail.com to discuss when you get a chance.
Thanks you so much for your post,
James Burke

Dante's mom said...

We were married in 2005 and will never get our albums! I've given up being upset- I'm happily married with a wonderful DVD full of wonderful pictures! (even though I paid almost 4K for albums, etc). I'll get an album eventually when I feel like shelling out the $ again!

I'm glad you were able to re-book with another company...Celebration has ruined a lot of people's weddings, its so sad! Good luck to you :)

Anonymous said...

Shani took us for $1500. If anyone knows of a class action suit against Shani Whittmore and Accent Studios.
I can't believe Shani did this. She has daughters that will get married one day and shw would feel pretty bad if someone did this to her. I just don't understand people like this.
Frustrated and Confused,
Tim Orban

kennady said...

It is really nice to share an experience and this information may be helpful for other engaged people who are currently planning their wedding. Along with the free wedding app will be more helpful to plan a successful wedding.