Two North Texas brides, who hired the same wedding planner to help on the day of their wedding, said they paid for her help but once they sent her the money, she didn't deliver.
"You hire a wedding planner to make your life less stressful and instead it just did the opposite. It added a lot more stress," said Christine Bortnyck.
Bortnyck was a bride on a budget. She was looking for a wedding planner who could help her with day-of details only without spending too much money. She ultimately hired Tina Pope, who runs weddingsbytina.net, after hearing her sales pitch. Bortnyck said Pope told her that if she booked within the first week of contacting her she’d cut her fee in half from $1,000 to $500.
"I looked at other wedding planners and comparatively that seemed like a really awesome deal," she said.
Pope's website promises "to bring your dreams of a beautiful, stress-free wedding to life." So Bortnyck sent her a check, without seeing or signing the full contract, which she later admitted was a mistake.
Bortnyck said the trouble began when she tried repeatedly to set up an initial meeting to go over what she needed for her big day.
"A week goes by, don't hear anything. Another week passes. I said, 'hey, I thought we were going to meet. Oh I'm so sorry, I've had the flu. I haven't been feeling well.' Or 'I had to go visit my daughter.' There was always one excuse after the other as to why we couldn't meet," Bortnyck said.
Finally she had enough and grew increasingly worried that Pope would be a no-show on her big day.
"That's when I asked for my money back because I thought 'I can't count on this person. I don't know if she's going to show for the day of the wedding,'" she said.
Bortynck's story echoes that of her friend Jessica Dunne, who hired Pope, spending $1,000 for her help coordinating on the day of her wedding and for the use of Pope's wedding decorations too.
"I'm disappointed," Dunne said.
She said Pope failed to answer questions and wouldn’t commit to attending her rehearsal dinner saying her assistant may go instead. Finally, after hearing about Bortnyck's ordeal, she too wanted a refund.
"She told me she would return the money and obviously she never did," Dunne said
Neither Dunn nor Bortnyck ever got a refund.
NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit reached out to Pope.
Pope told NBC 5 she tried to set up meetings with Bortnyck but had extenuating circumstances. Pope said she was "on vacation." She also said her daughter had a tumor and that she had a tumor as well. As for Dunne, Pope says she thought things were going well until she canceled.
According to Pope's contract, if it "is broken" by anyone other than her, no refund will be given unless she can "rebook" the date.
But Pope insisted, "I want to be able to pay these people back."
She also said, "I'm in the process of filing bankruptcy."
It's not the first time Pope has had money trouble. Public records show she filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and was convicted of a misdemeanor theft charge in 2006.
"I had a bounced check," she explained.
She told NBC 5 her past has no bearing on how she runs her business. She also insisted she would have fulfilled her promises to Dunne and Bortnyck were it not for personal circumstances.
But celebrity wedding planner Donnie Brown says brides should expect a certain level of commitment.
"If a wedding planner's not calling you back after you've paid them money, there's a problem," Brown said.
But Brown stresses planners need cancellation policies to protect their businesses, especially when weddings are canceled after a planner has already done a great deal of work.
The Association of Bridal Consultants, a global organization, as well as the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners, which is locally based, both said when hiring a planner ask about training and experience. Ask for references from people who used the planner from beginning to end. And ask whether he or she carries business insurance. Brides also need to read contracts carefully and review the cancellation policy. They should ask questions and remember a relationship with a planner can be as long as 18 months so they need to choose someone they trust.
In the end, Dunne spent more money to hire another day-of planner.
"We were able to replace her with a wonderful planner," said Dunne, who got married in February. "And it worked out perfectly."
Bortnyck did not hire another planner, relying on her mother's friend to help her with her May wedding instead.
But both women said they wanted to share their story because no bride wants anyone or anything to put a damper on her big day.
"There are things that I should have done differently," said Bortnyck. "And I hope that other brides will see this and realize what steps they need to take to make sure they don't have the same situation happen to them."