'Ripped out my heart and stole it': Manitoba brides, vendors say convicted fraudster owes them thousands
Several people say they’ve been promised they will be paid back
Brides and wedding vendors say they want to be paid back thousands of dollars, alleging a Manitoba wedding planner and convicted fraudster faked invoices, inflated bills and failed to pay subcontractors.
Amanda Somers, who owns Simply Perfect Decor, said she was at an event in May when an ecstatic bride-to-be came up to her, saying she was excited that Somers was going to be decorating her wedding.
The problem, Somers said, was that she didn't recognize the bride — an immediate red flag for the small business owner, who does in-person consultations with all of her clients.
"I said to her, 'Are you sure you booked with me?' and she's like, 'Yeah, Simply Perfect Decor, I have an invoice and I paid you.'"
'Couldn't believe what I was reading'
The bride said the invoice was given to her by Arvilene Rodriguez, a wedding planner who owns Blake Audrey Events.
"I couldn't believe what I was reading," Somers said, adding that she had not been contacted by Rodriguez to decorate the wedding.
She said Rodriguez texted both back, assuring them it was just a mix-up and everything would be fine.
She gave the CBC a copy of the invoice and screen shots of her conversations with Rodriguez.
Somers said she eventually did her own consultation with the bride and then discovered Rodriguez had inflated invoices for her services.
"She overpriced on everything and she up-sold stuff and she added stuff that I don't even do."
In the last week, the CBC has spoken to several local wedding industry vendors and brides, who allege they're owed money by Rodriguez. Those vendors have posted warnings to their clients, asking them to check in to confirm their bookings so they're not left in the lurch on their special day.
Police report made
Skye Auger hired Rodriguez in November 2016 to plan her wedding and said she too was allegedly overcharged for items including a cake that she paid about $650 for when it in fact retailed for only $256.
Auger wants $3,750 back — money she said she paid Rodriguez to give to vendors. She said she started to get suspicious two weeks ago when a DJ told her to check in with other vendors the couple had hired because he hadn't yet been paid either.
"I feel like she just ripped out my heart and stole it. Like, I trusted her," Auger said.
She said she confronted Rodriguez, who promised to give her about half of the $3,750 Auger said she is still owed last Friday, but she hasn't received it.
Auger filed a police report, which police confirm they've received, and is taking the case to a judge in small claims court in September.
Meanwhile, another vendor, Meagan Peterson, said she paid Rodriguez $80 to rent a table for a holiday extravaganza Rodriguez was putting on at the Holiday Inn on Ellice in November.
She got worried after seeing posts about Rodriguez on Facebook from brides and unpaid vendors and decided to call the Holiday Inn, who told her there was no event booked for Nov. 12.
"It's scary. I just started getting into vendor shows and it's really hard to get into them."
Peterson said she asked Rodriguez last Monday for her money back and she allegedly promised to return it within a few days. But that hasn't happened yet.
Filed for bankruptcy in 2014
Court records obtained by CBC News show Rodriguez was convicted in 2009 for credit card fraud stemming from incidents in 2006 and 2008.
Records also show she filed for bankruptcy in 2014 and the Residential Tenancies Board started garnishing wages after Rodriguez's landlord came forward in 2012 against her and her partner.
CBC News has tried repeatedly to get an interview with Rodriguez but she has declined requests for comment in text messages exchanged with a reporter.
An assistant who works for Rodriguez also declined to comment when reached by phone.
Somers said the incidents have put an unfortunate cloud over Manitoba's wedding industry. She had a message for brides.
"They just have to do their homework before they book someone," she warned future brides.
"You have to look them up, get referrals, read comments."