Brian Antonelli met his wife, Kathryn, at a friend’s party in 1999. The two crossed paths several times, and something stuck. They worked jobs together. They shared college together.
In March 2008, they married.
“Our wedding was wonderful,” said Brian, 30. “We had no idea at the time that getting albums to remember our day would be such a long and awful process.”
That process began on July 31, 2007, when the Livingston couple signed two contracts with Event Galleria (of Parsippany at the time the couple signed contracts). One was for the services of a photographer and for three wedding albums: one for the bride and groom and one for each set of parents. The other contract was for a DJ.
The pair said they delivered three payments totaling $3,846.65, each paid by check and hand-delivered to Jim DeRosa, a principal of the company.
A few weeks after their wedding, the Antonellis received a box of photo proofs. They were very happy with the pictures and eager to create the albums they paid for.
But a complex dispute between DeRosa and Noel and Jim Michalski — married photographers who did business with DeRosa as Noel Marie Photography — left the newlyweds without their wedding albums.
Through the fall of 2008, the couple said they contacted DeRosa and Noel Michalski about their albums several times via e-mail and voice mail, but they didn’t receive much response. Finally in October, they reached DeRosa.
“Jim DeRosa verbally promised to follow up on the disc of proofs and album status updates,” Brian said.
On Nov. 3, they received an e-mail from Noel Michalski, saying she had received their album specifics, but their albums were No. 30 in a line of waiting customers. Completion wasn’t expected until 2009.
A week later, the couple received a generic e-mail from Event Galleria stating that Noel Marie Photography — the Michalskis — would be fulfilling the contracts for Event Galleria, and Jim DeRosa would no longer be running the photography part of Event Galleria’s business.
The Antonellis received a few e-mail messages in 2009, but still no details. In March, an e-mail said the couple’s albums had moved up to No. 12 on the list. Brian Antonelli said they sent several more e-mails to the Michalskis and DeRosa, but no one responded to their concerns.
By June, the couple was running out of patience.
“June 11, 2009, we received another generic e-mail from Jim DeRosa stating that Noel Marie Photography has ceased production on all albums and although not obligated, Event Galleria would work to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” he said.
But nothing more.
GOING TO COURT
The Antonellis filed a small claims case against DeRosa, Event Galleria, Noel Marie Photography and Entertainment Concepts, another company name under which DeRosa did business.
“We received unsolicited calls from Jim DeRosa at home and at work trying to cancel the court date so he could come up with the money because he was no longer in the business and had a regular job and couldn’t get out of work for court,” Brian Antonelli said.
The end-of-July court date was rescheduled, and on Aug. 21, the Antonellis said they received another generic e-mail addressed to “Former Clients.” It said Event Galleria was working with an attorney and denying allegations that its owes Noel Marie Photography money.
It requested all future communications be addressed to DeRosa’s attorney.
The parties met in small claims court on Aug. 27, 2009.
“We agreed to a consent judgment against Event Galleria for the amount of $2,407.50, and to receive a certified or bank check to be paid within 30 days and delivered via certified mail,” Brian Antonelli said. “Needless to say, we didn’t receive the check.”
Future calls to DeRosa’s lawyer were not returned, he said, until October, when the lawyer called and told Antonelli that DeRosa sold the business, so Event Galleria’s contracts were the responsibility of the Michalskis.
SORTING IT OUT
The Antonellis filed a complaint with the N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs, which has heard plenty about this business.
About 30 complaints were received against Event Galleria and the involved parties between August 2009 and January 2010, said spokesman Jeff Lamm.
“The basic allegations include services that just were not delivered or were delivered in an unsatisfactory manner,” Lamm said. “We are and have been actively pursuing this matter to ensure that the consumers involved get what they have contracted and have paid for.”
Bamboozled made a few phone calls to see if DeRosa or the Michalskis would step up to help the couple.
And boy, what a maze they’ve created.
Each side is pointing fingers at the other. DeRosa’s attorney, Nabil Kassem, said the Event Galleria contracts were part of the business Jim and Noel Michalski purchased from DeRosa.
Plus, he said, DeRosa was dropped from the small claims case and only Event Galleria, which DeRosa no longer owned, had a judgment against it.
The actual ownership of the company is in dispute. The two parties entered into an agreement Nov. 25, 2008, in which DeRosa was going to promote Noel Marie Photography to all Event Galleria clients, and by January 2010, if certain conditions were met, Event Galleria would cease to exist and Noel Marie Photography would take over production and all contracts, said the Michalski’s lawyer Jordan Rickards. Those conditions were not met, he said, hence the dispute.
Rickards said DeRosa owed the couple money, and without it, they were unable to fulfill contracts or hire the Italy-based subcontractor who creates the albums.
“What happened with that money?” Rickards said. “Did [DeRosa] take it as the owner of Event Galleria, and then the victims are the Antonellis. Or did he take it as an agent of Event Galleria, in which case my clients are the victims? At the end of the day, (DeRosa) took the money and my clients never saw it.”
The Michalskis have since filed for personal bankruptcy, and they filed bankruptcy for Noel Marie Photography too.
They are now doing business in Naples, Fla., as Sugar Magnolia Event Services, according to Rickards.
DeRosa’s attorney said because the Michalskis owned Event Galleria at the time of the small claims judgment, DeRosa is not legally responsible.
“It’s not a shade of gray. It’s black and white,” Kassem said. “(The Michalskis) sought the protection of the bankruptcy court, which they can do, but they’ve left these people in the cold.”
The Antonellis say they’re lucky. At least they have their proofs. They hope Consumer Affairs can get them a refund.
“Jim needs to make it right. Even if he is not legally responsible, he is morally,” Brian Antonelli said.
We’ll let you know how they make out.