CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Katy Negroni just needs one.
"Heartbroken," she said.
Negroni says you would never know her wedding day in 2013 was picture perfect.
"It was the best day of my life," said Negroni. "But, after the fact, it was a nightmare."
A dozen women tell FOX 46 that Charlotte wedding photographer Eben Patten stole their money and their memories. All describe being ignored and having to fight for months to get photos they paid for until they threatened to go to court.
"A lot of them were duplicates," said Negroni, who said she had to fight for at least six months to get a series of blurry photos, that didn't include any family portraits.
"Just things that were not necessary like pictures of the floor," she said, of the photos she eventually received.
Patten, who also goes by Eben Adrian and Eben Adrian Productions, showcases quality work online. She also brags about working with celebrities like Kathy Ireland. Last year, Patten appeared on FOX 46 with blogger Tessa Machen.
Machen, who runs a lifestyle blog, says she no longer works with Patten. She describes her as unprofessional and says she didn't turn over approximately 150 photos from a photo shoot in Miami.
"We really don't have a plan," Patten told FOX 46 last year. "We wing it. That's what's fun about photo shoots."
But Negroni says there's nothing fun about the blurry photos she received. According to her contract, she paid nearly $2000 for photos and videos of her wedding. After waiting six months she took Patten to court. A judge ordered a full refund. Five years later, she's still waiting for the money along with the wedding video, which she says she never received.
'We could have one of our friends or family members take better pictures on their cell phones," said Negroni.
Angel Mercado, a surgical nurse, says she only received raw video clips from her engagement shoot last year even though she paid for, and was promised, an edited video.
She had to pay someone else to do that.
"Those memories are tainted now," said Mercado.
Text messages show her frustration after four months of receiving no response and no photos.
"Eben, it's been 4 months. This is out of control," she wrote on Dec. 11.
"Do you still even have the pictures? If not, please just say so," she wrote on Dec. 17.
"Any progress or update on the pictures/video?," she wrote again on Dec. 26.
"Hello?," she said on Dec. 29, after getting no response.
Mercado sas she only got her pictures after threatening to sue. When she finally did get them she says only a few, including one she has framed, came out good.
"I told her I'm only asking for what you promised," said Mercado. "And she couldn't even give me that."
Online, Patten has at least a dozen complaints and an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau. One woman tells FOX 46 she paid Patten $200 to do a photo shoot for her baby shower. Patten took the money, never showed up and never refunded her money, she said.
Another woman accused Patten of getting drunk at her wedding.
And one family says they're still waiting for photos of their daughter's funeral after two years.
At the Heirloom Salon, owner Heather Paulavage says she has heard similar complaints from five of her clients. She used to refer people to Patten but no longer.
"When I have clients calling me on the phone crying because they haven't received wedding pictures," said Paulave, "it's extremely upsetting."
She says her customers tell her similar stories of photos returned "unfinished and unedited" or "never receiving any of their pictures."
So what does Patten have to say?
FOX 46 has tried repeatedly to get her side of the story. For a week, investigator Matt Grant left voicemails, e-mails, business cards at her home and messages on social media. Patten responded on Instagram and praised the "stunning image quality" of her work. She called any complaint against her "untrue and slanderous" before knowing the details of what was alleged. And she said she would "love to interview."
She never responded to subsequent follow-up messages and then blocked Grant from attempting to contact her.
"This is what she delivered to the client?," attorney Walter Bowers said, laughing. "That's terrible. It's not funny. Oh my goodness."
FOX 46 showed the contract attorney photos Patten is alleged to have taken at Negroni's wedding.
"It certainly could be fraud," said Bowers.
Bowers says victims could recoup three times what they paid if Patten is found guilty in civil court. He says Negroni could go back to court to force Patten to comply with the judge's order to refund her money.
"The business owner could certainly be liable for what we call unfair and deceptive trade practices," said Bowers.
FOX 46 is getting results by helping you avoid a similar photo flap. The Better Business Bureau recommends the following when dealing with a photographer:
- Have a budget in mind before contacting photographers.
- Contact at least three potential photographers to get bids/pricing
- How much experience do they have? Ask for the names fo the last three weddings they shot. If you just ask for references they can cherry pick. Check BBB as well as general Google search for reports from past customers.
- Make sure they offer a contract and the contract contains specific info on dates: the wedding day, any work to be done at the rehearsal and reception, delivery of proofs and delivery of final product.
"She just never responded," said Mercado. "It was months and months of chasing her down. And, in the end, it wasn't worth it.
For this couple, they'll have to carry the memories of their big day in their hearts.
"She does great work," said Mercado. "But if you never see the work, and you don't get your final product, then what's the point?"