TODAY | February 05, 2013
>> rossen reports on dream weddings that turned into nightmares. planning the big day is hard enough. but what happens when the people you trust take your money and then don't deliver? jeff rossen is here with that story. good morning to you.
>> hey, savannah. we all know how stressful it is to plan a wedding but this takes it to an all new level. we're talking about 50 couples across the country who 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 were using the business account to pay for luxurious, personal expenses. this is griffin mansion, the sprawling estate nestled in the las vegas desert. gorgeous from the air.
>> welcome to griffin mansion.
>> even more stunning inside, billed as the destination for your dream wedding . denise and edward, bride and groom to be, were hooked.
>> everything was so elegant, beautiful, exactly what i envisioned for us.
>> fairy tale ?
>> 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-run business, run by this husband and wife, anthony lopez and portia ladawick. she even appears in the ad.
>> our philosophy here is simple, to provide you with the wedding day of your dreams.
>> reporter: but just ten days before the big day , a bombshell.
>> they called to inform me that they will not be having my wedding in a week.
>> your wedding is a week away and they say, we can't do it?
>> it was 11 minutes after i made the final payment.
>> reporter: the owners offered to move her wedding to a replacement location that she says was a joke. 20 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.
>> reporter: in your wildest dreams , did you ever think this would happen to you?
>> it was really heartbreaking.
>> reporter: officials say griffin mansion shouldn't have been throwing wedding receptions in the first place, 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 openers kept that secret. they looked you right in the eye and said everything is great, no problems? give me more money?
>> yeah. pay in cash. we'll give you a discount.
>> oh, yeah.
>> eep after they knew your wedding was never going to happen?
>> reporter: in fact, more than a month after they were shut down --
>> this is where your guests will sit.
>> reporter: griffin mansions was still trying to book new customers. it was all captured on hidden camera .
>> cocktail hour can be inside and out. so it's a really nice option for your guests.
>> reporter: nbc station in las vegas went in, posing as a bride and groom.
>> and you guys have a liquor license, i'm assuming?
>> we do, yep.
>> reporter: officials say that's not true.
>> they don't have a heart.
>> there's a special place in hell for them.
>> reporter: what's worse, documents show the husband and wife owners, anthony and portia, were using the business account on lavish expenses, racking up big tabs at victoria's secret, barneys, luiv vuitton, spa treatments, even fertile treatments.
>> they're a con couple, kept taking money at an accelerated pace, booking weddings that would never happen.
>> reporter: they filed for bankruptcy. anthony lopez and his wife declined our requests for an interview.
>> you have nothing to say? nothing to say to the brides and grooms?
>> reporter: lopez wouldn't talk. just shruged outside of bankruptcy court . he said they did everything they could for the couples, but denise said it wasn't nearly enough. and they had to scramble to put together a whole new wedding in just days.
>> get robbed of everything. you plan for that special day and you don't get to have that.
>> reporter: 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 with the credit card company directly. you can also buy wedding insurance, which usually costs between 150 and $500. that may be worth it, considering the average price of a wedding in this country is $27,000.
>> jeff, thank you. good advice.