KFOX14Investigates: Brides say local wedding photographer stole their memories

Local photographer accused of cheating people out of their pictures.

Clients say a local photographer is stealing precious moments by not delivering the photos she promises.

Two different brides told KFOX14Investigates one of the happiest days of their lives was ruined by the same woman, whom they hired to capture the special day.

A wedding is supposed to be one of the most magical moments in life.

“It really was a magical night but she was not a magical part of it,” said Kim Hermes.

Hermes doesn’t have any photos on her wall to look back on.

“To look at them brings us worse memories,” Hermes said, referring to what she considers substandard photos.

Hermes said she hired local photographer April Melton of El Paso Portraits to take photos of their backyard wedding in July 2015.

But on the wedding day, Melton didn't show up for Hermes hair or makeup.

“She showed up very late right when the ceremony was about to start,” said Hermes.

In August, Hermes said Melton brought the picture proofs over to their home so the couple to pick out which ones they liked.

They paid her $800 for digital photos and an album.

“We actually asked her not to order quite a few because we didn’t care for them. She told us, 'Don't worry, they will all be edited.' And we trusted her,” said Melton.

Hermes said Melton told the couple it would take about two weeks for editing.

After four months of not hearing from her, the couple filed against Melton in small claims court.

“When she received the small claims court summons is when she immediately sent everything over. She even ordered an album that we didn't request,” said Hermes.

Hermes said the album was full of photos they did not want.

In court, the couple agreed to keep the digital files and asked for a refund on the album they did not want.

Hermes said photos her friends and family took on their phones were better than the photos Melton took.

The judge ordered Melton to return $400 to the couple.

“At this point, $400 isn't what matters to us, its the principle. We don't want her to continue to do this to other people in the community,” said Hermes.

Hermes says when they began to have problems with Melton, she looked up her reviews online and found dozens of people with the same problems.

“She continues to do this over and over to people,” said Hermes.

In fact, Melton’s business has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau. The bad reviews brought her in contact with Marie Gurany, another bride who hired April to photograph her wedding last October.

“Its pretty heartbreaking,” said Gurany. “We were very disappointed in the quality of the photos,” she explained.

Gurany’s husband is also in the military and the El Paso couple moved shortly after their wedding.

KFOX14Investigates spoke to Gurany by phone.

According to their contract, they paid Melton $1,600 for digital images, 60 prints and a leather album.

The contract states they will receive the photos in two weeks and the album in three to four weeks. But months later, they still had nothing to show for it.

“That’s stealing,” said Gurany.

In January, the couple filed a report with the El Paso Police Department.

“To take peoples' money without providing a service or a product that was paid for is stealing,” said Gurany.

In April 2017, Gurany said the detective she was working with contacted Melton and prepared to send the case to the district attorney’s office.

Shortly after that, Melton mailed the prints to Gurany’s mother in El Paso.

“There should only be happy emotions associated with that type of an event and those types of memories. But unfortunately, the one person who was supposed to capture those moments is the one person who had a big hand in ruining that moment,” said Gurany.

In fact, dozens of clients have complained about the same thing, alleging April Melton captured their special moments and kept the snapshots.

“They're all, engagement photos, wedding photos, newborn photos, maternity photos and deployment photos ... And sometimes, those people don't come back and then you're destroying that memory,” said Gurany.

Hermes says she contacted KFOX14 Investigates after seeing another local post on ‘915 On Blast’ about a kids basketball team Melton photographed but didn't give the pictures to.

“Shame on you,” Hermes said.

KFOX14 Investigates went down to Melton’s central El Paso studio to speak with her. She told us she is aware of negative online reviews.

“Even if I go and say something nice on that Google response, who's going to believe me anyway? Nobody -- and that is what makes me so angry,” she said.

The Facebook group ‘915 On Blast’ put her on blast for the basketball team photos.

“I believe they are worse than ISIS,” said Melton.

Melton refused to speak to KFOX14Investigates about the situation with Gurany.

“I’m not going to discuss her at this time,” said Melton.

KFOX14 chief investigative reporter Genevieve Curtis asked, “Because of the police report?”

“No one would ever discuss a legal situation,” said Melton.

But she had plenty to say about Hermes’ case.

She believes the digital prints she gave Hermes were a gift.

“It was mine to decide when to give them a gift,” said Melton.

She also couldn't say whether she's going to refund Hermes and her husband.

Curtis asked Melton, “The judge has ordered that you pay them $400. Do you intend to pay that?”

“At this point I haven't decided,” said Melton.

KFOX14 Investigates asked her about her F rating with the BBB.

“They said it was going to take four-seven years to have my record clear; why would I go through all the hassle?” said Melton.

Curtis, “That’s because there are 10 complaints.”

Melton, “They fall off every three years.”

Curtis, “Right. Those are the ones that are current right now.”

That’s when Melton pointed at the camera and told KFOX14 to “pause.”

“I service over 120 clients a year, every year I get three crazy people. It doesn't matter who they are or what kind of pictures I take, they are narcissists, that’s how it is,” she said.

Melton showed KFOX14 Investigates the samples in her studio.

Almost all of her samples are returns from unhappy customers. But she has an explanation for each case.

KFOX14Investigates than asked Melton why she constantly finds herself in a position where people are unhappy with her photos and complain that she doesn’t finish the job.

“Because I'm desperate so I will photograph anybody,” said Melton.

Even still, Hermes said this story is not about the money.

Her wedding can never be photographed again. Neither can Gurany’s.

Both brides hope other families get the picture and avoid their heartbreak.

“She steals precious moments,” said Hermes.

Melton has more than six different Facebook pages and websites for her six different photography businesses.

She also sent KFOX14 Investigates a screen shot of a positive review.

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