Engaged couples who paid to get married at the Winery at Elk Manor in Cecil County received a surprise email Wednesday.
The venue's “ability to continue operations has been adversely impacted due to circumstances beyond our control,” the email read, and it ceased operations on Tuesday.
It was a shock to Jay Brockson and Jennifer Murray, who had already paid for their wedding in full and had been counting down to their nuptials on Oct. 15.
“We looked online and saw that their Facebook was shut down, they weren't answering the phone. So, we went into kind of panic mode,” Brockson said.
They weren’t alone. ABC2 News received multiple emails from couples in the same situation. Brockson’s cousin, Troy Betts, was also scheduled to be married at the same location a month later.
In a statement, Betts’ fiancée wrote: “I truly am devastated. You spend months planning your wedding and for this to happen is every bride’s worst nightmare. ... My heart goes out to the brides whose weddings were in these next couple weeks, I couldn't imagine what they're going through,” Chelsie Coleman said.
Murray added that the wedding coordinator at the site told her at one point that they had around 45 events scheduled through the months of September and October.
In addition, many are unsure if they’ll be refunded. According to the email, anyone who had previously purchased event cancelation insurance can file a claim. They also offered to host events for those who had already paid in full, however it’d be for an additional fee of $500 per staff member, with a two staff-member minimum, which goes for any site visit.
Murray and Brockson said they refuse to pay the venue any more money and because of how much they already spent they’re unsure if they’ll still be able to marry on their set date.
“We actually at this point don't even know when we're going to get married, if we're even going to afford to get married at this point,” Murray said.
Online records list Simon Tusha as the owner of The Winery at Elk Manor. In May, Tusha pleaded guilty to tax fraud in federal court. He was accused of accepting nearly $3 million in kickbacks when he worked for Google back in 2008.
Several brides saw reports on the case earlier this summer and were concerned about what would happen to the wedding venue. In July, a Facebook account with Tusha's name reassured brides saying “Elk Manor is fine and growing not to worry.”
ABC2 News tried to reach Tusha for comment, but emails were unanswered and his property was blocked off.
With little information and not a lot of time, many local vendors are now offering to host the weddings of the couples affected.
“We started receiving lots of phone calls,” said Kimberly Barth with La Banque de Fleuve and La Banque at the Seaplane Base, two wedding venues in Havre de Grace. “Fifty some brides that I've spoken to already.”
Barth said she’s already taken in about a dozen brides and has helped refer others to different vendors. She added that the bridal community has really come together to keep those couple’s special day from unraveling.
“I just want these girls to hold on to hope and that it's not lost and that it's going to work out,” Barth said.