It’s a nightmare most brides dread. You hire what you think is a professional wedding photographer to capture the most memorable day in your life. But shortly after your wedding, the photographer disappears, along with your money and your photos.
New York’s Attorney General has filed lawsuits against Terry Michael Photography operated by Michael DiPaolo Jr. in Tuxedo Park, New York; JMK Photography operated by Jillian K. Karalunas and Victoria A. Vega in Lackawana, New York; and Mannix Studio d/b/a Star Wedding Photography run by Robert J. Mannix in Troy, New York for failing to deliver wedding photos to customers who have pre-paid in full. The Attorney General is seeking fines, penalties, and restitution against the photographers.
Update: The Attorney General has settled its dispute with Terry Michael Photography, accused of failing to deliver wedding albums to its clients, and failing to show up at weddings despite being paid in full ahead of time. The studio’s owner, Michael DiPaolo Jr. , has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and to provide all outstanding wedding albums by May 1st to the studio’s former customers.
The lawsuits against Robert Mannix, Manix Studio, and JMK Photography are still pending. The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that, in the Manix case, Mannix photographed couples’ weddings but later failed to provide them with their wedding albums. Couples generally paid in the $2,000 – $5,000 range for the wedding packages, including albums hand-crafted from Italy, that they never received. When consumers tried to contact Mannix their calls were not returned and the business is no longer in operation.
The lawsuit, filed against Mannix in Albany County Supreme Court, seeks $42,920 in restitution, $135,500 in penalties, injunctive relief prohibiting Robert Mannix from engaging in fraud, or from operating a professional photography business unless he files a $100,000 performance bond. The same bond is sought in the JMK Photography suit.
It is unclear how much time must pass before a wedding photographer is assumed to be in default of their business obligations by the Attorney General, but in one instance, JMK Photography sent a letter to customers in November 2010 stating that their customers would receive all of their pre-paid photos within ten days, and JMK Photography never delivered the photos.
“When the wedding day is over, it’s the pictures that couples use to reminisce. These photographers left newlyweds with nothing,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As we approach what is typically the height of the wedding season, couples who are making plans should be armed with information that will help them recognize and avoid potential consumer fraud.”
The following are tips for consumers who are hiring wedding photographers:
- Insist that the company identify the individual who will be photographing your wedding. It is common for photographers to book more than one wedding on a date, and send someone else to shoot the wedding. Make the identity of the photographer part of the contract.
- It’s important to check at least three references for weddings that took place within the past three months. Up to date references can offer critical insight on a photographer’s recent job performance.
- Do not pre-pay in full. Hold back 25 percent of the total cost until you have the products in hand. This will create a powerful incentive for the photographer to complete the contract. Oftentimes, a photographer who has been paid in full will shoot the wedding and take months to deliver the products.
- Make sure the contract contains certain due dates for each task. For example, the pre-bridal photograph should be taken by a specified date, the proof should be ready by a specified date and the photograph should be ready within seven days after the consumer makes a selection.
- Ask if the photographer belongs to a wedding photographer’s association. This could serve as an additional reference.