A North Texas wedding planner's Thursday morning date at the Collin County Courthouse is one she neither planned for nor expected.
Last month, Tina Pope was arrested after 14 couples say they were jilted – not by their spouse-to-be – but by their wedding planner. All say she took money and literally left them at the altar with no one to provide day-of wedding coordination services.
Police say Pope pilfered more than $20,000 from the 14 couples.
"Our detectives were able to determine there was theft. There were promises that there would be services that were never delivered, never any intention to deliver services," said McKinney Assistant Police Chief Randy Roland.
The NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit uncovered this case in July 2014 when two brides said Pope promised a discount on her services if they paid up-front, but they said she didn't show up for meetings.
When we talked to Pope last July, she had lots of reasons for the missed appointments. Among those reasons: she was on vacation, her daughter had a tumor and she had a tumor, as well.
After our story aired, she sent an email to couples saying she was "forced to go out of business for personal reasons" and their money would "be paid back 100 percent."
"It's just shock, disbelief," said Kat Bley, a bride who hired Pope before her wedding. "I mean, you always hear stories, but you never think it's going to happen to you."
Kat and Tim Bley got the email from Pope weeks before their wedding, notifying them that she was "going out of business." They had paid Pope $1,300.
"For us to lose $1,300 and really triple that, because we had to spend another $2,000 on a new [wedding] coordinator, that's a $3,000 hit to our budget," said Tim Bley. "That was almost a quarter of a budget right there."
The young couple paid for their wedding themselves. And like the other brides and grooms-to-be, they had found Pope at the Cotton Mill, a popular wedding venue in McKinney, where Pope primarily worked with couples. Police said because Pope is accused of defrauding couples at one location, police were able to build a case against her.
"We were fortunate that the suspect did not use a number of area wedding chapels or wedding reception areas because then it gets into other jurisdictions, and it's harder to connect the dots," said McKinney Police Assistant Chief Randy Roland.
Now, Pope faces a third-degree felony theft charge, and couples who say she took their money want justice.
"I think for somebody like this who has defrauded as many people as blatantly as she has, that she should have to do some time," said Tim Bley.
But Pope, who now has a job as a bartender, believes no one is served by sending her to jail. She said she genuinely wants to pay everyone back. Her face reddened and she fought back tears as she said Thursday, "I am a good person. I have a strong faith, a strong belief in God, and I never intended to hurt anyone. I never – God strike me dead – intended this to happen."
Pope's court appearance was procedural. If found guilty at trial, she could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.