Trashing wedding photographer could cost newlyweds $1M

An autumn affair at the Petroleum Club in downtown Dallas, the union of a full-time beauty blogger and the love of her life, appeared to be a gorgeous thing — marred by one misfortune.

Three months after the ceremony, in front of a local television crew, Andrew and Neely Moldovan showed off a box of glum, empty picture frames.

Their photographer was withholding the images, they told NBC affiliate KXAS in January 2015, and was demanding an extra $150 when they’d already paid thousands.

“It’s heartbreaking, because, you know, these are our memories,” Neely Moldovan said.

And many agreed.

“Wedding photographer holds couple’s pictures hostage,” blared the Daily Mail a few days later.

The Moldovans’ sympathizers descended on photographer Andrea Polito’s review pages, calling her a scam artist, or worse.

Her reputation was ruined; her business dried up; and she closed her studio.

And then the story changed.

Polito sued the Moldovans, claiming all they ever had to do to get their glossies was fill out a form, choose options for their wedding album, and pay a small charge they had long known about.

The photographer showed the court emails in which she and her employees tried to appease the couple — even as the Moldovans were calling reporters, whipping up a furor on social media, and plugging their newfound fame to fans of Neely Moldovan’s beauty blog, Polito said.

On Friday, a jury in Dallas decided that the tale of the ransomed wedding photos was not heartbreaking, and not even true.

In fact, the jurors concluded, the accusations amounted to malicious defamation for which the Moldovans should pay the photographer more than $1 million in damages.

The Moldovans haven’t commented on the verdict, which they can still challenge. Neely Moldovan did not mention it to her thousands of followers in her latest blog post, which concerned post-pregnancy pore troubles.

But Polito, who hopes the jury’s decision will help her rebuild a ruined career, was happy to share her version of the saga.

After more than a decade in the wedding photography business, she said, her studio was booked every weekend, months in advance, with couples from the poshest parts of Dallas and its suburbs.

When the future Mrs. Moldovan opened an order in early 2014, she struck Polito as a friendly, fairly typical client — “A 30 Something Dallas Lifestyle and Beauty Blogger,” as Moldovan describes herself on her website.

She and Polito worked out a schedule for engagement, rehearsal and wedding shoots in the months ahead.

Afterward, Polito said, she warned her studio manager: “She’s a blogger. Make sure everything looks perfect.”

Photographers from the studio shot the wedding ceremony that October, and the studio sent the couple proofs the next month, according to court records.

“She posted those all over social media,” Polito said.

And then Neely Moldovan began asking when she could have high-resolution versions of the photos.

Polito said her studio, like many, withholds high-res images until the entire wedding package is completed, culminating in the delivery of a custom wedding album, usually months after the wedding.

Otherwise, Polito said, “photographers will hand over the images and the bride disappears.”

Her studio explained as much to Neely Moldovan, she said, and asked her to fill out a form with her album options.

But November and December went by. Then New Year’s.

One week into 2015, the newlywed told her Twitter followers about the travails of choosing her photos.

She tweeted, “broke down and chose our wedding album photos…80 out of 4000 yeah that was like sophies choice.”

“I’m finally getting around to filling this out,” she wrote to the studio the same day. “Do we pay extra for a cover?”

Yes, she did. Having already paid the studio thousands, Moldovan was not happy about this.

“She basically didn’t read her paperwork or contract,” Polito said. “She just couldn’t understand why she couldn’t have her high-res images. It’s in bold in our contract.”

A string of explanatory emails between the couple and the studio unfolded over the following days.

In the midst of this, Polito’s lawyers argued in court, Andrew and Neely Moldovan began emailing reporters across Dallas and beyond — promoting a looming news story to their friends and fans.

“I’m going apes- on our photographer,” Andrew Moldovan texted a friend on Jan. 12, 2015, according to transcripts Polito’s lawyer shared with The Post. “We want our f— wedding album, which we already paid for.”

“We are hoping that our story makes the news and completely ruins her business,” Neely Moldovan wrote to someone the same day, according to court records.

Polito knew nothing about this, she said, until her studio manager texted her a screenshot of Neely Moldovan’s latest Instagram post: “No big deal NBC in our apt.”

Though she declined to appear on camera, Polito sent the local NBC reporter a page-long email: about albums and album covers, contracts, schedules and “a-la-carte items” the Moldovans had yet to pay for.

Almost none of that email appeared in the station’s first January broadcast, which focused on the Moldovans, their empty picture frames and memories held “hostage,” as the reporter put it, over a $150 album cover fee, which he said “the contract doesn’t mention anything about.”

Then, the station released a follow-up report a few days later, with many more details and a story not nearly so simple.

The NBC affiliate described months of conversation between the Moldovans and the studio. The minimum cost of an album cover was actually $125, and a wedding expert who had blasted Polito in the station’s first segment was now defending her, after learning more about the case.

But it didn’t make much difference. “The damage had already been done,” Polito told The Post.

The Moldovans’ story was picked up across the United States and overseas.

Meanwhile, court records show, Neely and Andrew Moldovan were busy on social media, advancing the “hostage” narrative.

“Blatantly steals money from you all while holding your pictures ransom,” a user named Andrew wrote in a review of the Moldovans’ wedding shoot. The couple told the NBC station that people were impersonating them online, though Polito’s lawyers would argue otherwise in court.

“She’s done this to over 22 brides that have come forward,” Neely Moldovan wrote, according to a screenshot shared by Polito’s lawyer.

And in another message: “Pretty sure her business is done.”

So it was, Polito said.

The photographer had built her business — including a 300,000 square foot studio in downtown Dallas, with employees and contractors — largely on word of mouth, she told The Post.

“They can’t refer a bride when this is going on,” she said.

She told the court that only two clients were willing to sign with her after news stories ran, and she had to shut her studio down and start living off savings.

Her lawyers hired an analyst who estimated that she had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit by the time her 2015 lawsuit went to trial last week in Dallas County district court.

The trial had been long delayed. Accused of conspiracy, defamation and disparagement, the Moldovans tried to have the suit tossed, and argued that Polito could not cite a single case of lost business, let alone prove that the couple had lied.

A lawyer for the Moldovans declined to comment on the case.

But a judge let the case go forward. And on Friday, the jury sided with Polito, whose complaint described the couple as “dead set in their pursuit of publicity and public shaming.”

After an afternoon of deliberation, a majority of jurors agreed that the Moldovans had defamed and disparaged Polito and her studio, and conspired to do so. The total price to make good was just over $1 million.

It’s not certain that Polito will ever see the money. Her lawyer, Dave Wishnew, said he expects the couple to challenge the verdict before a judge orders them to pay.

But for Polito, who said she hasn’t shot an event in years and has drained her savings and retirement alike since the Moldovans’ took their complaints international, the verdict is vindication enough.

“For two and half years I walked around my daughter’s school feeling ashamed and embarrassed,” she said. “They know I’ve won now.”

News
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing