A bride says she paid $1,600 to a venue owner who disappeared the week of her 200-person wedding, with all her money.
Diadria Woods, 38, and Christopher Barringer are getting married on Saturday at Faith Community Church in Toledo, Ohio, and will be holding their reception at a venue formerly called Garden Lake Hall. The couple paid then-owner Michael Huggins monthly installments for the rental, covering the hall, kitchen space, electricity, table linens, cutlery, glasses and chair covers for the big day.
But on Monday, they learned that Huggins pocketed their money and ran, after receiving a phone call from Alicia Owens of Over the Top Occasions, who just took over the business from Huggins.
Woods tells Yahoo Lifestyle she questioned Huggins soon after hiring him in December. “We paid a $500 deposit and $200 each month with the remaining balance due 30 days before the wedding,” she says. “But Michael got pressed for money.”
Huggins allegedly started ringing Woods and Barringer at their respective jobs, even coming by unannounced to collect payment. “In March, I had a noon appointment to pay him, but he came to my office two hours early,” Woods tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “In April, he drove to my Christopher’s job site — where he operates heavy machinery — and demanded $100 in cash. My fiancé had to borrow it from his boss.”
According to Woods, Huggins found excuses to additionally charge them $50— for a DJ, extra napkins, and a bathroom attendant, none of which their contract specified.
The couple decided to keep their agreement with Huggins with their ceremony so close and having already invested so much money.
On Monday, after paying off their balance in full, Woods received a phone call from Owens.
“She introduced herself and said I had a balance of $300 for my ‘birthday party’ on Saturday,” says Woods. “I told her it was a wedding and I have receipts.”
Woods, a data entry clerk at the University of Toledo Medical Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Owens agreed to hold the event for free. “She is doing everything in her power to help me,” she says. The bride-to-be has contacted Huggins many times, unable to connect.
Owens declined an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle. On Monday, she told Toledo, Ohio, news station, WTVG that she’s responsible for graduation parties and weddings totaling $20,000 — money that Huggins stole. “There was an agreement not to take any more bookings or any more money but the opposite thing happened,” she said.
Owens is reportedly allowing many customers to hold their scheduled functions, without DJs and photo booths promised by Huggins. And Woods tells Yahoo Lifestyle that 30 additional women called the venue on Tuesday to confirm their supposed events.
Woods said she plans to file a police report on Wednesday. A spokesperson from the Toledo Police Department didn’t return a request from Yahoo Lifestyle as to whether any of Huggins’s alleged victims have filed complaints.
The couple’s honeymoon to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is now postponed for financial reasons. “I’m angry. Michael did wrong and as a new business owner, Alicia is stuck funding all these events,” says Woods.
A few local businesses have offered to cover tableware and linens for Woods and Barringer’s wedding. “It’s exhausting but I’m excited,” says Woods. “So many people have sent their blessings and help.”
Tyler Naud Jechura, an attorney for Huggins, tells Yahoo Lifestyle:
“On May 1st, 2019 Michael Huggins transferred management of Garden Lakes Banquet Hall to Alicia Owens. Alicia Owens is a former business partner of Mr. Huggins at Garden Lakes and has been involved in management since January of 2019. These management duties made her fully aware of all scheduled events at Garden Lakes. The transfer of full control to Alicia Owens by Mr. Huggins was made on the condition that she would honor all events scheduled by Mr. Huggins. Since May 1st, 2019, Mr. Huggins has not scheduled an event nor has he taken money from any individual expecting to hold an event at the hall. Any allegations made by Alicia Owens to the contrary are baseless and false. Mr. Huggins is a well-respected community leader and activist and deeply regrets the situation and the events that have transpired. Unfortunately, Mr. Huggins cannot comment further on these events as he cannot comment on pending litigation.”
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