To her clients, Juli Armitage was a wedding photographer with style. The Santa Monica photographer, with a background in fashion shoots and glossy magazines, catered to upscale nuptials and commanded fees as high as $3,600 per wedding.
Armitage's promotional material said she was all about "capturing the moment." But authorities allege that she actually defrauded some newlyweds and deprived them of those captured moments on film.
The Santa Monica city attorney's office charged Armitage with misdemeanor counts of grand theft, saying she took money from 17 couples without ever giving them their photographs.
In some cases, she didn't even show up for the weddings, officials claim.
Armitage has pleaded not guilty.
A warrant for her arrest was issued after she failed to appear at an April 16 hearing. Authorities said they located her a few weeks later. She is now being held in the Los Angeles County Jail.
She could not be reached for comment. Paul J. Cohen, her bankruptcy attorney, said Armitage had no criminal history and had no intention of defrauding the couples.
"In a nutshell, it's business mismanagement. There was never anything sinister going on," Cohen said.
Tracy and Danielle Baum of West Los Angeles are among those who said they were victims. They hired Armitage for their July 15, 2001, wedding, but never received photos.
"We took her for her word," said Tracy Baum, 44, a philanthropy executive. "All we have are our vivid memories of it."
The Baums said they liked Armitage because of her photography style and laid-back personality. "I thought she was hip and cool," said Danielle Baum, 31. "I identified with her. She was fun and young."
The Baums said Armitage was great at the wedding and called her the next day to thank her.
But when they attempted to get their pictures, the Baums said, Armitage stalled, made excuses and finally stopped responding.
"That day is gone," said Tracy of the wedding. "We have no photos to share with friends, family and future generations."
After the Baums filed a complaint with the city attorney's office last summer, an investigation uncovered other unhappy couples, said Deputy City Atty. Adam Radinsky.
He declined to elaborate or to provide further comment about the case. But in an April 23 letter to victims, Radinsky said there was an effort to settle cases with Armitage if she would hand over the photographs. No agreement, he wrote, has been reached.
Since last fall, Armitage has been evicted from her Santa Monica apartment, has filed for bankruptcy and has lost all of her photographic equipment, which was seized as evidence for the criminal case.
"Everything went downhill for her," said Cohen, her attorney.
"She's got talent," said Terence Burnham, a college professor. Burnham and his wife, Barbara Smith, a graduate student, hired Armitage for their Las Vegas wedding last spring.
But when Armitage stopped responding to their repeated requests for their pictures, Smith said, she was so upset that she literally stalked Armitage until the photographer handed over 17 of the 19 rolls of film shot at the wedding. They loved the pictures. "She really captured the moment," Burnham said.