The owner of a now-defunct New Jersey wedding photography studio has pleaded guilty to theft charges, bringing to a close one of the state's biggest consumer nightmares for brides.
Marc S. Schwartz, 47, of Randolph, N.J., pleaded guilty Wednesday to fourth-degree theft of services before a New Jersey Superior Court judge.
Schwartz is the former owner of Celebration Studios, which contracted to provide still and video photography services at weddings throughout New Jersey. In 2005 ConsumerAffairs.com began receiving numerous complaints from New Jersey brides who said they had paid thousands of dollars up front for the company's services but had not gotten any pictures.
In January 2008 the company closed its doors and went out of business, causing even more consternation.
"I hired them for both photo and video for my wedding on December 5, 2004," said Jennifer, of North Bergen, NJ. "I received my proofs but didn't receive any prints, albums or video footage. They were never available to make appointments and never attempted to help me get all that I paid for."
Brides complained that they paid as much as $6,000 in advance but never received any pictures. One year ago, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office obtained a court order, allowing it to retrieve the stashed merchandise and begin distributing it to customers of the now-defunct Morris County photography company. The court also ordered subcontractors who had worked for Celebration Studios, some of whom were never paid, to turn over their materials as well.
While the story had a happy ending, many brides received their wedding pictures years after their wedding had taken place.
Under Schwartz's plea agreement, he must pay $75,000 in restitution to eight photographers, and the state will recommend that Schwartz be sentenced to one year of probation. In pleading guilty, Schwartz admitted that he hired the photographers to take photos and videos for Celebration Studios and failed to pay them in accordance with their agreements.
In addition, a plea was entered on behalf of the corporate defendant, Celebration Studios, to a third-degree charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of property. The company, through its attorney, admitted that it engaged in theft and fraudulent business practices by entering into contracts with customers and receiving money for wedding photography services and products that were paid for, but not delivered.
"We took swift legal action through the Division of Consumer Affairs to ensure that any photos and videos that were in the possession of Celebration Studios were secured for the affected couples," said New Jersey Attorney General AnneMilgram.