An Angelina County grand jury indicted a 50-year-old wedding planner in connection to allegations that he took more than $15,000 for services and items that he never provided.
Aleck Kim Bridwell, of Lufkin, was indicted on a state-jail felony theft charge. His bail was set at $5,000, according to the grand jury indictment list the East Texas News obtained earlier this week.
Bridwell was arrested and charged with state-jail felony theft back in August.
According to a previous East Texas news story, the investigation started in May, when Lindsey Rae Syler, 31, filed a report with the Lufkin Police Department that accused her wedding planner of taking more than $15,000 for services and items that were not provided. The report listed the offense as misappropriation of fiduciary or financial property between $1,500 and $20,000, which is a state-jail felony.
"Her big day was ruined," Syler's attorney, Jimmy Cassels said in a previous story.
According to the narrative of the police report, Syler hired Bridwell to be her wedding planner on Oct. 30, 2013. She told the Lufkin Police Department that she signed a contract with Bridwell in which he estimated his part in the planning the wedding to be $4,000. He also charged her an additional $1,200 for the clean up after the ceremony.
The wedding was scheduled for May 3, 2014, at Winston 8 Ranch, and Syler estimated the total cost of the ceremony to be $40,000.
"Syler said she has been paying [the suspect] for items and contractors with checks and cash," the narrative stated. "On the day of the wedding, Bridwell called her mother, Linda Syler, and told her his wallet had been stolen, and $6,000 of Lindsey's money was in it, and without it, there would be no wedding. Syler's mother paid him $3,000, and the wedding was performed on time."
Syler told the Lufkin Police Department that many of the items and services that they paid for were not provided. According to the narrative, Bridwell contracted with The Outback Steakhouse in Lufkin for approximately $6,300 worth of steaks for the wedding. However, Syler learned that Outback had not been paid, according to the narrative.
The owner and operator of The Outback Steakhouse, who declined to give his name, told the East Texas News that his restaurant and employees had been paid in full for catering Syler's wedding.
In addition, Bridwell was allegedly given a check to pay for breakfast for the wedding party at Hole in One. Syler said she later learned that bill was also not paid. The narrative also said Bridwell accepted and cashed a check for "Porta Johns," but they were never delivered to the wedding location.
Syler told the Lufkin Police officer that she and her husband checked the wedding location the day after the ceremony, and that it had not been cleaned up as Bridwell had promised.
According to the narrative, Syler tried to set up a meeting with Bridwell on May 8. However, she was allegedly texted by a third-party subject that said the suspect "was having problems and would not be able to attend the meeting." Later that day, Bridwell texted Syler and told her he was sorry and that he expected to be punished for doing wrong, the narrative stated.
Syler told the Lufkin Police Department that she continued texting Bridwell over the course of the next few days in an effort to set up a meeting. However, Bridwell never contacted her back.
The narrative stated that Syler told the LPD officer she estimated that she paid more than $15,000 in cash and checks to the wedding planner for services and items that were not provided
"Nothing is going to make it right again; she can't get back her wedding day, and she can't get back the memories she missed. What she can do is hopefully get back some of the money she paid for an event she didn't get," Cassels said. "Her preferred outcome would be that he be convicted and that he pay back the money he owes her in restitution."
In addition to the possible criminal charge against the wedding planner, there is a pending lawsuit against him in small claims court that alleges he misappropriated funds in a similar manner when he was contracted as a wedding planner for another wedding.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Carroll Lewing, states Bridwell contracted with Lewing to plan their wedding for the agreed price of $3,000. In addition, the family agreed to pay another $15,000 to the suspect to distribute to various vendors and businesses for wedding-related services and items.
According to the lawsuit's petition, Lewing is seeking a judgment of $15,000, along with at least $5,000 to cover the cost of her legal fees.
Cassels said if you don't want to end up like his client, it might be a good idea to lay out the ground work with your wedding planner and make sure you have a concrete contract in place.
"You should have a very detailed contract. I think, if possible, you should pay directly to the supplier and know what that supplier is going to do for you in your wedding situation," Cassels said.