TRENTON – The owner of Celebration Studios, a now defunct Chester-based wedding photograph company, pleaded guilty today to a theft charge for failing to pay photographers he hired, Attorney General Anne Milgram announced. In addition, the company pleaded guilty to theft for failing to deliver photographs, photo albums and videos to thousands of customers.
Marc S. Schwartz, 47, of Randolph, pleaded guilty to fourth-degree theft of services before Superior Court Judge Salem Vincent Ahto in Morris County. The charge was contained in an accusation filed by Deputy Attorney General Marysol Rosero of the Division of Criminal Justice Major Crimes Bureau.
Under the plea agreement, Schwartz must pay $75,000 in restitution to eight photographers, and the state will recommend that Schwartz be sentenced to one year of probation. In pleading guilty, Schwartz admitted that he hired the photographers to take photos and videos for Celebration Studios and failed to pay them in accordance with their agreements.
In addition, a plea was entered today on behalf of the corporate defendant, Celebration Studios, to a third-degree charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of property. The company, through its attorney, admitted that it engaged in theft and fraudulent business practices by entering into contracts with customers and receiving money for wedding photography services and products that were paid for, but not delivered.
“We took swift legal action through the Division of Consumer Affairs to ensure that any photos and videos that were in the possession of Celebration Studios were secured for the affected couples,” said Milgram. “With today’s pleas, we hold the company and its owner accountable under our criminal code for the way that they conducted business.”
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs obtained a Final Judgment and Order on July 17, 2009 against Schwartz and Celebration Studios that provides for $855,618 in consumer restitution, $1,836,000 in civil penalties, and $383,684 for reimbursement of the state’s attorneys’ fees and investigative costs. Under its plea agreement, the company must execute a Consent Judgment for the same amount of restitution. At present, neither defendant has any assets to satisfy the judgments.
The Division of Consumer Affairs filed suit against the defendants in January 2008 and obtained a court order to impound all photographs, videos and other merchandise in the company’s warehouse. The Division of Consumer Affairs has been working to distribute the merchandise to more than 2,000 customers.
Ahto scheduled sentencing for Schwartz and Celebration Studios for Dec. 18.
Detective Cheryl Smith and Deputy Attorney General Rosero conducted and coordinated the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Major Crimes Bureau.
Former customers of Celebration Studios have until Jan. 13, 2010 to claim their merchandise from the Division of Consumer Affairs, under the terms of the July 17 Final Judgment and Order. Customers who contracted with Celebration Studios and have not yet received their photographs or videos should contact the Division by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free within N.J.) or 1-973-504-6200 or by emailing email@example.com to arrange for the pickup or delivery of their merchandise.
In the July 17 Final Judgment and Order, Superior Court Judge Catherine M. Langlois found that Celebration Studios and Schwartz engaged in conduct that comprised 1,821 violations of the Consumer Fraud Act and three violations of the Regulations Governing General Advertising. In addition, Schwartz is permanently enjoined from owning and/or operating any business in the state through which merchandise is sold, unless he posts a bond in the amount of the greater of $250,000 or 10 percent of his prior year’s income.
Deputy Attorney General Lorraine K. Rak, Chief of the Consumer Fraud Protection Section, and Deputy Attorney General Alina Wells represented the Division of Consumer Affairs in the civil action.
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