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Photographer to cease business

Attorney General rules in complaints of missing wedding photos

Attorney General rules in complaints of missing wedding photos

July 29, 2005|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN

heatherk@herald-mail.com

Michael and Donna Schemm look back on their wedding as a fairytale-come-true.

He wore a hand-crafted doublet and pants from the Maryland Renaissance Festival, she wore a one-of-a-kind dress, the groomsmen had swords and the couple exchanged vows at Cloister's Castle, an 18th-century English castle in Baltimore.

But a year and a half later, there was one thing missing from their happily ever after: the wedding portraits they'd paid $3,500 for to remember the event.

The Schemms of Frederick, Md., are one of at least 13 customers who complained to the Maryland Attorney General that Hagerstown photographer Gary L. Knode Jr. had taken their money and their pictures but never provided them with prints.

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As a result, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division issued a cease and desist order against Knode on Wednesday, barring him from further photography business. The division charged Knode with taking money from consumers for photography goods and services, but failing to provide consumers with the goods and services or refunds, said Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the Attorney General.

The order also requires Knode to pay restitution to the customers who did not receive prints in the form of refunds and the negatives from the photos. He will lose the copyright to those images, Enright said.

"The failure of this company to provide wedding photographs robbed consumers of something that is irreplaceable," Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said in a statement.

Knode, who operates Firefly Fotografic at 625 Potomac Ave. in Hagerstown and formerly operated under the name Picket Fence Fine Portraiture, did not return two phone calls asking for comment for this story.

No one was at his studio on Thursday afternoon.

"It was nice to hear that it's finally coming to a closure and that something was actually done about it," said Eileen Darr, 27, of Rhode Island Avenue in Hagerstown. Eileen was married to her husband Eric on April 17, 2004, and paid Knode $1,600 for portraits, but still has not received any.

"It was one of the most special days of our lives, and, yes, we have the memories, but it's also nice to look back at pictures and reminisce and to show our daughter down the road, 'This is Mommy and Daddy getting married,'" she said.

The Darrs' story is similar to that of several other of Knode's customers. They hired Knode on a recommendation from recently married friends and were instantly taken with his friendly personality and photography talent. He collected their money in advance, took the photos, and provided them with an album of thumbnails and a DVD slide show with the portraits set to music. But as the months passed and the prints hadn't arrived, Eileen Darr said Knode became hard to reach and offered excuse after excuse for the delay.

"He would say he had to go to another album company, that that's what the holdup was," Eileen Darr said. "We've written letters to him saying 'we're going to give you another month.' He would say, 'I'm doing the best I can.'"

Jennifer Dyer, 30, of Robin's Glen in Hagerstown, who was married to her husband, Tony, on May 3, 2002, and paid Knode $2,000 in advance, said she went through a similar ordeal.

"I called him probably a thousand times," Jennifer Dyer said. "I've had arguments with him, he told me that that wasn't true, that people were lying, that he'd have my pictures to me in no time."

"You could tell he was really enthusiastic about what he did," Eileen Darr said. "He loves taking pictures, it's just the whole business aspect he's not really good with."

She said she's looking forward to getting the negatives and having prints made of the pictures, particularly one Knode shot of her and her husband in Hagerstown's City Park in front of a flowering tree.

"We will be very happy to show our family the album and display the pictures in our home," she said. "We even bought picture frames specifically for our wedding photos. They're still sitting in the boxes."

Knode was ordered to pay about $34,600 to the 13 consumers who complained, Enright said. He could also face penalties up to $1,000 per violation after a hearing set for Sept. 20.

The Consumer Protection Division asks that consumers who have had problems with Knode or one of his businesses call them at 410-576-6569.

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