Edmonton

The dream ceremony that nearly wasn't: Alberta couple and others seek answers from bankrupt wedding planner

Rhys Herle and Ashley Thengs are among three couples who have spoken to CBC News about financial problems with Shez Khan’s destination wedding bookings. In British Columbia, Vancouver police and the provincial consumer regulator are investigating the wedding planner’s business dealings.

‘I’ve always done my best for all of my couples,’ Shez Khan says in response

Ashley Thengs and her fiancé, Rhys Herle, plan to fly to Mexico on Saturday for their wedding. (Rhys Herle)

Rhys Herle and Ashley Thengs spent the last three weeks trying to prevent their destination wedding in Mexico from becoming a disaster.

Months ago, the Camrose, Alta. couple hired Shez Khan, a Vancouver wedding planner behind a business called Beach Vows.

Herle and Thengs settled on the Royalton Riviera in Cancun and asked guests to pay Khan for flight and accommodation packages for their Dec. 3 wedding.

The couple, who have been dating for five years, got engaged two years ago — opting for a long engagement so they could buy a house and save for the wedding. From the beginning, they wanted to celebrate with friends and family on a beach.

Herle said Khan, who came recommended on Facebook, "seemed awesome" at first.

"She was so willing to help and she even used the words, 'I can't wait to give you a stress-free wedding planning experience.'"

Herle and Thengs are among three couples who have spoken to CBC News about financial problems with Khan's destination wedding bookings. Though the Camrose couple has confirmed their wedding will go forward as planned, Vancouver police and British Columbia's provincial consumer regulator are still investigating the wedding planner's business dealings.

Khan asked couples and their wedding guests to fill out a form that asked for credit card information. (Marina Jones)

On Nov. 1, when Herle called Sunwing Airlines to ask why wedding guests still hadn't received their flight itineraries, he learned the company had received a deposit but not the full payment. Herle pegged the value at more than $35,000.

As the wedding date loomed and some guests began to panic, Herle and his fiancée learned they weren't the only couple scrambling to confirm bookings they thought their planner had completed.

As they tried to trace their guests' payments, they discovered a storm of financial problems, all traced back to Khan.

Travel companies cut ties with Khan

When Herle confronted Khan about the missing payment to Sunwing, he said Khan told him the company responsible was MK Voyages, a Montreal-based group of travel agencies and consultants.

MK Voyages president Marcel Kangoum told CBC News that Khan collected money directly from customers and wrote her own invoices. She did not use money she collected from customers to pay for their travel reservations, Kangoum said.

He said Khan started working with the company as a travel consultant in November 2017.

She was recruited because she was a respected agent known for organizing large trips, he said.

By partnering with MK Voyages, Khan could use the company's tools and credentials to arrange trips for clients.

In April 2018, another travel company — TravelBrands, headquartered in Mississauga, Ont. — reported problems with Khan's bookings, Kangoum said.

TravelBrands spokesperson Jamie Witmeyer told CBC News the company's accounting department investigated Khan's bookings earlier this year.

The team found "red flags as in different amounts, some charges going to other things, and there being a little confusion as to what's actually been booked," she said. TravelBrands immediately blocked Khan from booking through its system and refunded about $22,000 to Khan's clients, Witmeyer said.

MK Voyages also ended its relationship with Khan and asked clients with complaints about her bookings to contact police.

Kangoum said MK Voyages is paying thousands of dollars to cover costs for multiple trips Khan organized — including $23,968 for Herle and Thengs's wedding trip.

In an email, Sunwing spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman confirmed the airline received the final payment from Shez Khan and MK Voyages for the Camrose couple's group on Nov. 23.

Other couples fight to fix financial errors

Two other couples have shared similar stories with CBC News.

Marina Jones, a teacher in Surrey, B.C., and her fiancé have a Cancun wedding planned for March 2019, but it is now on hold as they try to trace more than $80,000 in missing money.

"I haven't slept and I haven't eaten," she said in an interview. "I've had a sinking feeling in my stomach."

Jones has learned that Sunwing had not been paid in full and many of her guests' credit card bills contained double charges and charges for the wrong amounts.

She said she and her fiancé, Keegan Rossouw, paid Khan a $600 deposit, which Sunwing received. Their subsequent payment was supposed to be $3,998.

Financial records shared with CBC News show they were charged twice for $3,998, but they say Sunwing hasn't received payment for their flights.

Marina Jones and Keegan Rossouw were planning to get married in Cancun, Mexico next March. But the event is on hiatus as the couple tries to figure out where their guests’ money has gone. (Hannah Stepaniuk/Hannah Earhart Photography)

Kanchan Dhugga, a social worker in Vancouver, also hired Khan to plan her destination wedding. Dhugga and Khan started planning the wedding last spring, meeting in person to discuss the details. But in the summer, Dhugga learned her vendors hadn't received deposits and were not aware of her wedding date.

More than 200 guests had paid for their flights and hotel rooms through Khan, but charges on their credit card bills didn't line up with the right dates or airline, Dhugga said.

"No one knew where the money was," she said.

Seeking answers, she called airlines, agencies and travel companies.

"I was able to get through to managers and they started telling me that the name on the credit cards and the person travelling were not matching," she said.

Dhugga said Khan returned a deposit for wedding planning services. Travel companies and her credit card company refunded the rest.

TravelBrands refunded money for more than 20 of Dhugga's guests' credit cards. "Everyone who booked through us and contacted us and asked for a refund, we credited them back in full," Witmeyer said.

Dhugga said she spent about 100 hours over three months ensuring all her guests received their money back. She lost sleep and had anxiety attacks, she said.

She reported the incident to Vancouver police in August. In an email, Const. Jason Doucette said an investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made.

Consumer investigation in B.C.

Consumer Protection BC, which regulates travel agencies, is investigating Beach Vows, Khan's company.

In an emailed statement, spokesperson Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith said Beach Vows operated as a branch location of The Travel Agent Next Door — a travel agency network — but that branch location was closed in May at the request of the network's president, Flemming Friisdahl.

"As soon as we found out it wasn't a win-win relationship, we terminated the relationship immediately and to our knowledge, we've worked through any bookings that were made using our credentials," Friisdahl said.

Montreal-based travel company Transat has also severed its business relationship with Khan. In an email, Transat spokesperson Marie-Annick Lalande said the company cut ties with Khan in mid-September and has had no interaction with her since.

Who is Shez Khan?

Khan, 34, didn't answer CBC's questions about business dealings. She also didn't explain why multiple travel companies have ended their working relationships with her.

I've always done my best for all of my couples.- Shez Khan

"I've always done my best for all of my couples," she wrote in an email, "and while there have been delays or complications every now and then, I have always ensured that I've done my very best to accommodate my clients."

She said the last few weeks have been "incredibly difficult" because she has received verbal and written abuse and threats of violence.

Because of that abuse, she said, she is now taking an indefinite break from working in the wedding and travel industries.

Bankruptcy

Documents filed under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act show Khan assigned herself to bankruptcy on Dec. 4, 2017, owing more than $200,000 to creditors. She declared assets of $7,150.

In June, Cruise Connections Canada filed a notice of motion in a Vancouver court, indicating it is the largest creditor in Khan's bankruptcy. Khan was working with the cruise retailer in 2016 and 2017.

The notice of motion says Khan did not provide her financial records relating to her business conducted in the two years prior to the bankruptcy.

"She stated at the examination that she deleted all financial information relating to her joint venture with [Cruise Connections Canada] from her personal computer," the document states.

Khan also refused to provide her personal computer for a forensic examination, according to the notice of motion.

Cruise Connections Canada's lawyer, Mark Davies, declined an interview with CBC News but said there will be a hearing in late January.

Cruise Connections Canada has not yet returned requests for comment.

madeleine.cummings@cbc.ca

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings is a journalist and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.

With files from Ariel Fournier