A Charleston wedding planner is accused of using a couple’s credit cards to pay off his business’ mounting debts after they trusted him to stage their dream ceremony.
Charleston police on Sunday arrested Robert Lawson Smith, 35, of Barre Street. He is accused of funneling some $28,000 that had been intended for the couple’s wedding to vendors to whom he owed money. He is charged with financial transaction card theft in connection with the incident.
Smith maintains that he did nothing wrong and that he is being persecuted for imprecise bookkeeping.
Wendy Shearer of Miami doesn’t see it that way. She told police she and her now husband, Adam Shearer, hired Smith through his event planning company, White Tuxedo Production.
Smith also operates under the name Lawson Roberts, and does business locally and out of New York.
On his website, Smith says he has worked with multiple celebrities, including Ryan Gosling, the Dave Matthews Band, Heath Ledger and Elizabeth Taylor.
The couple used a credit card to pay Smith a $2,500 retainer fee and gave him access to two credit cards to pay for the wedding, which cost $63,000, according to an incident report.
The couple told Smith all charges were to be authorized by them, the report states.
Wendy Shearer said Smith told them that their wedding was paid in full two months before the May 2011 event, held at a Charleston plantation. She also said the amount spent was even more than what is indicated in the police report.
The day before their honeymoon, the couple received a call from their credit card company alerting them to possible fraud, Shearer said.
The couple discovered up to $28,000 in charges on their credit cards for vendors that Smith had claimed to have already paid, the report states.
Shearer said that number has since fluctuated as the couple contacted vendors themselves.
“We’re lucky we even had a wedding because they weren’t paid,” Adam Shearer said. “But he had already taken all our money.”
Wendy Shearer said Smith showed the couple one photographer’s portfolio and charged them $2,500 to be allotted for that person’s services. Instead, she said, Smith paid someone else $700 to do the job.
The couple paid Smith more than $4,000 for a band from Atlanta to perform at their reception. But, according to Shearer, he hired local musicians who received $1,800 to attend.
“There could be other victims out there. It’s something I wouldn’t want any bride to have to go through,” Wendy Shearer said. “He did something and he needs to pay for it. I want it to get out there so it doesn’t happen to other people.”
With the help of their credit card companies, the couple had most of the charges made to Smith reversed.
Smith initially denied that he was arrested when contacted by The Post and Courier on Tuesday. He said he went to the police department only for questioning.
On Wednesday, Smith called the newspaper and changed his story, acknowledging the arrest. He said he initially denied the charge because he didn’t want to incriminate himself before he had a chance to talk with his lawyer.
Smith insisted that he thought everything went fine with the Shearers, and added that he received a “glowing” thank-you note from the couple following their wedding.
“They said we made their fairy tale come true,” Smith said. “We left thinking, ‘OK, another good job done.’?”
He was shocked weeks later, he said, when the couple’s accusations against him grew. And by having their payments reversed, he said, the couple essentially left him with their bill.
He can’t afford to take that kind of hit, he said.
“I wish I could say I was this big large conglomerate that makes millions of dollars a year, but that’s not the case,” Smith said.
According to Smith, he was arrested on a technicality due to the credit card company’s definition of fraud.
He said in previous years, companies asked him only to provide evidence of a lump sum charged on a card. This time, he said, the companies asked that he justify each individual charge, which he could not do.
Smith’s lawyer, Joe Good, described the Shearers’ claims as “frivolous.”
“They essentially had an extravagant wedding for free. The client was otherwise very happy with the event. There’s just a dispute over the charges,” Good said. “They’re taking this to another level by alleging something that’s absolutely not true. To paint Lawson Roberts in any kind of negative light would be wrong.”
Smith was arrested on charges of check fraud in March 2009 and April 2012, according to State Law Enforcement Division records. The SLED rap sheet does not include dispositions for those charges, and that information could not immediately be found in county court records.
He was held Sunday at the Charleston County jail, and was released on a $10,000 bail.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.