Feb. 5, 2013 at 8:37 AM ET
Planning a wedding is hard enough. What happens when the people you trust take your money and don't deliver? It happened to dozens of brides from around the country. We looked into the company responsible.
More than 50 couples from all over the country paid to get married at a gorgeous mansion in Las Vegas. But when the company suddenly shut down, they were left in the cold. What's worse, the owners used the business account to fund personal luxury expenses.
Griffin Mansions, a sprawling estate nestled in the Las Vegas desert that is gorgeous from the air and even more stunning inside, billed itself as the destination for your dream wedding. Bride- and groom-to-be Deniz and Edward were hooked. "Everything was so elegant, beautiful, exactly what I envisioned for us," Deniz Mizzoni told us. "The fairy-tale wedding."
They say they paid more than $20,000 for the all-inclusive package, from food to flowers to the photographer. It's a family business, run by husband and wife Anthony Lopez and Portia Latawiec. She even appears in the ads.
But just 10 days before the big day, a bombshell: "They called to inform me that they (would) not be having my wedding in a week," Deniz told us. "And it was 11 minutes after I made the final payment."
The owners offered to move her wedding to a replacement location that she says was a joke. Twenty grand gone ... and she says they refused to give her a refund.
In fact, there were 53 couples from 12 different states who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, their dream weddings turning into nightmares. "It was really heartbreaking," Stefani Lara told us.
"I literally just had a breakdown," said Stephanie Perez.
Officials say Griffin Mansions had been operating without the proper permits for years. And it finally caught up with them; health officials shut them down for violations after guests at one affair got sick from norovirus. The brides say the owners kept that secret.
In fact, more than a month after they were shut down, Griffin Mansions was still trying to book new customers. It was all captured on hidden camera. The NBC station in Las Vegas went in posing as a bride and groom, who were assured Griffin Mansions had a liquor license. But officials say that's not true.
What's worse, documents show that owners Lopez and Latawiec were using the business account, the brides' money, on lavish expenses, racking up big tabs at Victoria's Secret, Barney's and Louis Vuitton, and on spa treatments and even fertility treatments. Portia Latawiec is now pregnant.
"They're a con couple," said attorney Glenn Truitt, who represents some of the couples. "They kept taking money at an accelerated pace, booking weddings that would never possibly happen."
"I think there's a special place in hell for them," said bride Wendy Kaufman.
The owners of Griffin Mansions filed for bankruptcy. Anthony Lopez and his wife declined our request for an interview, and Lopez wouldn't talk outside bankruptcy court; he just shrugged.
Lopez said they did everything they could for the couples, but Denise Missoni said it wasn't nearly enough: "You plan for that special day, and you don't get to have that. You get robbed of everything."
Experts say if you're planning a wedding, there are ways to protect yourself. For one, pay with a credit card, not cash. That way, if something goes wrong, you can dispute it. You can also buy wedding insurance, which typically costs between $150 and $500.
Another tip: Don't always trust those online reviews. Call to make sure they have the proper permits, and see if they have previous complaints.
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