Charges dismissed against Charleston wedding planner, but prosecutors say case not over
A fraud charge against Charleston wedding planner Robert Lawson Smith was dismissed during his preliminary hearing this afternoon. The move came after attorneys argued over inconsistencies of dates and dollar amounts in the arrest warrant.
Smith is accused of defrauding a Miami couple out of $28,000.
Magistrate David Coker granted the dismissal of the charge after Charleston Police Sgt. Don Daquigan, a veteran fraud investigator, testified. He’s the one who arrested Smith and said the charge against Smith was based on unauthorized expenditures made on the couple’s credit card on at least two occasions by Smith.
While the couple was on their honeymoon they discovered Smith had paid off previous debts with their credit card, Daquigan testified. Smith was authorized to use the cards to pay for wedding costs but at least two charges came after the couple was married, Daquigan said.
Smith’s attorney, David Aylor, argued that the warrant points to credit charges made up to May 2011, when they were married, but police say charges came after that time. He said the warrant also lacked specific dollar amounts and details of the expenditures. And the amount of charges Daquigan discussed on the stand seemed to conflict with what was in the warrant, he said.
Prosecutor Larry Todd says he was okay with judge dismissing the charge if Aylor wanted to argue specifics, but he said police will then come back and serve Smith with numerous charges based on each and every bogus expenditure.
“Have him stand by to be rearrested,” Todd said.
Aylor later said he wouldn’t be surprised to see police arrest Smith again, but he’s seen nothing to suggest the outcome would be any different. The couple authorized Smith to use their credit cards. They may now be suffering from “buyer’s remorse” but that would be a matter for the civil courts, not a criminal prosecution, he said.
Charleston police last month arrested Smith, 35, of Barre Street, and charged him with financial transaction card theft. He was accused of funneling money that had been intended for the couple’s wedding to vendors to whom he owed money.
The hearing held Wednesday was to determine if there was enough probable cause to go to trial.
According to Smith, who also operates under the name “Lawson Roberts,” Wendy and Adam Shearer signed a contract authorizing him to spend $63,000 on their May 2011 ceremony.
Smith said that he consulted with the couple on choosing vendors and all the charges incurred came from vendors who provided services for their wedding.
Smith acknowledged that on some occasions he negotiated cheaper deals with vendors he had standing relationships with. Rather than charge the couple the lesser fee, Smith said he kept the difference. He said the practice is “the industry standard” in the wedding planning business, and that nothing in the disgruntled couple’s contract prohibited him from doing so.
The Shearers disagreed with Smith’s interpretation of their contract, however, and said they only agreed that Smith would be paid a $2,500 retainer fee and 15 percent of the total cost of the wedding.
Wendy Shearer has said Smith showed the couple one photographer’s portfolio and charged them $2,500 for that person’s services. Instead, she said, Smith paid someone else $700 to do the job and attributed the work to the original photographer.
She said she and her husband also paid Smith more than $4,000 for a band from Atlanta to perform at their reception. But, according to Shearer, Smith hired local musicians who received $1,800 to attend.
Smith denied misleading the couple and said they got everything they paid for. He also insisted he has paperwork to document the decisions made during the planning process and the expenditures that were made.
Check back with postandcourier.com for updates as they become available.
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