Charleston wedding planner pleads no contest to fraud charges, gets probation

Robert Lawson Smith, a Charleston wedding and events planner, received probation after pleading no contest to two charges related to a May 2011 wedding.

Charleston wedding planner Robert Lawson Smith has been sentenced to two years probation after pleading no contest to a pair of fraud charges related to a Miami couple's nuptials in the Holy City in May 2011.

Smith, who goes by the name "Lawson Roberts," had already paid about $16,000 in restitution before entering his plea Thursday to one count of financial transaction card fraud and one for breach of trust, his attorney, David Aylor said. Of that amount, $650 went to the couple and the rest to vendors, he said.

Aylor said Smith, 38, is guilty of poor record-keeping, but he maintains he did nothing illegal. He couldn't find the paperwork to support his actions, however, leaving him with no choice but to plead no contest to the charges, he said.

"He's completely guilty of keeping sloppy books," Aylor said. "But the bottom line is: If you can't produce the documents, you're stuck."

Authorities took a dimmer view of Smith's actions, prompting them to file seven fraud charges against the planner last year. The remaining counts were dismissed in connection with the plea.

Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston sentenced Smith to three years in prison, but suspended that term to two years on probation. That means Smith will avoid time behind bars if he stays out of trouble.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and Charleston police did not respond to requests for comment on the matter Friday.

Smith, who owns White Tuxedo Production on Barre Street, was accused of improperly using the credit cards of Adam Shearer, a Miami man who hired Smith to plan his wedding to his bride Wendy. Smith allegedly used the cards to pay off more than $26,000 in previous debts to vendors unrelated to Shearer's wedding, according to arrest affidavits.

Smith insisted he did nothing wrong. He has said the couple authorized him to spend $63,000 on their nuptials and gave him permission to use their credit cards to stage the affair.

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 couple 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.

Aylor said American Express investigated the allegations and found no evidence of fraud in the use of Shearer's card,

He said the episode resulted in Smith taking a $50,000 loss and the couple getting an entire wedding for free as Smith's reputation suffered. The credit card companies refunded the Shearers for the expenditures they questioned, he said.

"The Shearers got paid back every single penny they spent, and Lawson paid every single vendor himself," he said.

Aylor said Smith is now contemplating filing a civil lawsuit over the damage done to his reputation.

Wendy Shearer disputed Aylor's account, saying she and her husband paid the vendors. She also questioned the "sloppy books" defense for Smith's actions.

"I find it hard to believe that someone would plead guilty to felony charges if they are truly innocent," she said.

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