Charge dismissed against Charleston wedding planner, but prosecutors say case not over
Charleston wedding planner Robert Lawson Smith had a criminal fraud charge against him dismissed on Wednesday, but a prosecutor indicated his reprieve may be short-lived.
Magistrate David Coker tossed a credit card fraud charge against Smith after the wedding planner’s attorney challenged inconsistencies in the dates and dollar amounts listed in an arrest affidavit during a preliminary hearing in the case.
Prosecutor Larry Todd told the judge he was OK with the charge being dismissed. But he said Smith should be prepared to be served with new warrants based on each and every bogus expenditure investigators have uncovered.
“Have him stand by to be rearrested,” Todd told Smith’s lawyer, David Aylor.
Smith, who also goes by the name “Lawson Roberts,” was accused of defrauding a Miami couple out of $28,000 after they hired him to plan their May 2011 wedding. He faced a count of financial transaction card theft, and Wednesday’s hearing was to determine if there was sufficient probable cause to take the case to trial.
Aylor 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 the 35-year-old planner to spend $63,000 on their wedding and gave him permission to use their credit cards to stage the affair, he said.
The couple may now be suffering from “buyer’s remorse” but that would be a matter for the civil courts, not a criminal prosecution, Aylor said.
“The bottom line is: My client had their permission and authority to make these charges,” he said.
Charleston Police Sgt. Don Daquigan, a veteran fraud investigator, disputed that contention in an appearance on the witness standing during the brief court hearing.
Daquigan testified that Smith made unauthorized charges on the couple’s credit card on at least two occasions to pay off previous debts. Wendy and Adam Shearer were on their honeymoon when their credit card company contacted them about the charges, he said.
Smith was authorized to use the cards to pay for wedding costs but at least two charges came after the couple were married, Daquigan said.
Aylor countered that the arrest warrant only discussed charges made up until the May 2011 wedding and that the amount in the document didn’t square with the numbers Daquigan mentioned on the witness stand. He said the arrest warrant also lacked specific dollar amounts and details for each of the contested expenditures.
That’s about the point when Todd cut the proceeding short with his offer to let the charge go in favor of going after Smith on another day.
Daquigan declined to comment after the hearing.
Smith, who did not attend the hearing, also declined to comment when reached later in the day. He has insisted he is innocent and that he has the paperwork to prove it.
Smith has said he consulted with the couple on choosing vendors and all the charges incurred came from vendors who provided services for their wedding, though he acknowledged marking up the costs on some items, which he said is standard practice in the industry.
The Shearers have disagreed with Smith’s interpretation of their contract 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.Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.