Monday, November 5, 2007
7 News Investigations: Where's the party?
South Florida loves a party! But imagine having to pay for a special event twice. That's just what happened to clients of one party planner. Now police are investigating. Seven's Carmel Cafiero has the story in this special assignment report, Where's the Party?
WSVN -- From weddings to birthdays, we daydream and plan and spend to make memories that last a lifetime, but these people say the party planner they hired took their money and their dreams.
Melba Gonzalez: "It was very painful."
For Melba Gonzalez, it was her 25th wedding anniversary. She was renewing her vows in church followed by a big reception.
She says she paid the planner about $25,000, but, just before she left home for the mass, an agent from the reception hall called to tell her the bill had not been paid.
Melba Gonzalez: "And if I did not pay by 5 p.m., which I only had like 25 minutes, then my party was going to get canceled."
She called the planner who told her everything would be OK.
Carmel Cafiero: "Was it?"
Melba Gonzalez: "No, it wasn't."
Melba Gonzalez: "I had to pay $13,000 over the phone, money that I had already paid."
Melba managed to smile through her tears for some of the pictures, but she says the limo never showed up, there were no flowers in the church, the wedding cake had not been paid for and neither had the photographer.
Melba Gonzalez: "I try not to cry, but it's really hard because how can somebody do something like that?"
Worse yet, she had recommended the planner to several friends who also lost money.
Lillian Villamizar thought she was getting a top hotel for her son's wedding but discovered no reservation was ever made.
Lillian Villamizar: "I felt so stupid because here I am thinking I'm a smart person, and I shouldn't let this happen to me."
Marilyn Capone says she paid the planner close to $6,000 for her daughter's 15th birthday party.
Carmel Cafiero: "And what did you get for that money?"
Lillian Villamizar: "Nothing. Nothing."
Andres Hernandez says he is out $15,000 for his daughter's 15th.
Andres Hernandez: "And I really have to get a second mortgage on my house to do this party, you know?"
Eliso Ruiz says he lost $5,000 on a party for his daughter Kassandra.
Eliso Ruiz: "I contacted her, and it was lies after lies."
Kassandra felt so bad for her parents, she offered to cancel.
Kassandra Ruiz: "'Let's do something small,' and I had canceled it for about two days, then they were like, 'No, you've been dreaming about this, go ahead, go through with the party.'"
Carmel Cafiero: "They had all hired Ana Nunez who worked with a company called Dream Stages, in South Miami-Dade. The office is empty now, and her clients say Ana Nunez has become a very hard woman to find."
John Ruiz: "A lot of these clients are pretty smart people that are out there in the business world."
Attorney John Ruiz represents several Dream Stages customers.
He thinks the state should license and bond party planners.
John Ruiz: "The reality is anyone can open up a company today and say they are a wedding planner and start taking twenty and $30,000 deposits from people."
The Miami-Dade Police Department is now investigating Ana Nunez and Dream Stages.
We tried to get an explanation from Ana Nunez about all this, but she turned down a request for an interview through an attorney.
That attorney says it's normal for planners to pay for events on the day of the events.
In the case of Melba's wedding, she says Nunez had a heart attack on the way to pay for the reception and ended up in the hospital.
The lawyer also says Lillian is the one who cancelled her event.
Nunez's customers meanwhile insist they have been hurt both personally and financially.
Melba Gonzalez: "I don't know, I would not have the heart to do that. I don't wish that even to my worst enemy."
The customers plan to sue, and when they do, a jury might be asked to put a price tag on once-in-a-lifetime memories.