A wedding chapel accused of bullying its competitors to the point of assault had its license yanked Monday by the Las Vegas City Council.
In a unanimous vote, council members declared the Las Vegas Garden of Love chapel a public nuisance and upheld a decision by city staff not to renew the chapel’s business license.
The council could hear more about the wedding industry, however, because people on both sides of the case renewed calls for tighter regulation.
Chapel owner Cheryl Luell sobbed as she left the city council chambers with her husband, Craig, her attorney, Stephen Stein, and others.
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” she protested.
Stein said he didn’t know whether his client would appeal the council’s decision to district court.
“Ask me tomorrow,” he said as he escorted the Luells out of the building. “Now is not the time.”
The vote wrapped up two days of sprawling testimony accusing the Luells and their employees of harassing, intimidating and attacking employees of competing chapels in an effort to control the local wedding industry.
“This is not a garden of love. This is a garden of shame,” city attorney Brad Jerbic said.
In the chapel’s defense, Stein argued that those making the allegations weren’t credible, and that the entire case had been cooked up by other chapels because they couldn’t compete with the Garden of Love.
In the end, Mayor Pro Tem Gary Reese picked a few incidents that rose above the level of “he said, she said” and used those to support removing the chapel’s license.
“I think that Mrs. Luell created a nuisance in the operation of her business by instructing her handbillers … to engage in aggressive tactics against her competitors,” he said.
Lt. George Glasper, who works at the Regional Justice Center, told the council that about 90 percent of the complaints he receives about handbillers at the wedding bureau concern Garden of Love employees.
The Luells were also cited by the Nevada Transportation Services Commission for violating the rules governing limousine service.
Reese also noted two fights that were documented in court files — one in which a Garden of Love employee was convicted of battery for kicking a rival chapel worker in the head, and another in which Craig Luell and two others allegedly tussled at the courthouse with a competitor.
“This is all Garden of Love,” Jerbic said. “Beating people, threatening people, using tactics no other chapel uses. You don’t hear chapel vs. chapel. It’s chapel vs. Garden of Love.”
Stein said the structure of the industry, not his clients, are to blame, and said the complaints were “led by two or three major competitors who wish to put them out of business.”
“These problems began in this industry way before the Luells were present,” he said. “The problems are with the handbillers.
“What need be done is that you do away with the handbilling, and then you won’t have a problem.”
Many chapels employ people who wait outside the marriage bureau for couples who’ve just received their licenses, hoping to win the business of as many brides and grooms as possible.
Since the council upheld the denial of the Luells’ license, they cannot legally conduct business at their chapel, said Jim DiFiore, manager of the city’s business services division.
If they appeal, a judge could allow them to reopen while the case proceeds.
“We’ve been fighting this battle for five years,” said Cliff Evarts, owner of the Vegas Wedding Chapel and one of the Luells’ most dedicated critics.
Evarts was the subject of possibly the most bizarre accusation in the hearing — that he gave Tory Manvilla, Cheryl Luell’s uncle, a hotel room, $500 and crack cocaine so that Manvilla would seek a restraining order against Luell.
Manvilla did file a report with Las Vegas police alleging that his niece threatened him, but the case was closed because of insufficient evidence.
Evarts said he once met with Manvilla, gave him a ride to Child Protective Services and arranged a hotel room for him because he was moved by Manvilla’s hard-luck story.
But he dismissed the other two claims, especially the one involving drugs, which drew laughter from the audience when Manvilla said it.
While Evarts agreed with Stein that handbilling needs to be reformed, he said it wasn’t the root of the problem.
“There was handbilling long before the Garden of Love arrived,” he said. “But there were never any serious issues like there are now.”
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 229-6435.