Charleston event planner arrested for fraud - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Charleston event planner arrested for fraud

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Robert Lawson Smith (provided) Robert Lawson Smith (provided)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Charleston police arrested a local wedding planner Monday and charged him with using a client's credit card to pay off personal debts.

Robert Lawson Smith, also known as Lawson Roberts, is charged with financial transaction card theft.

According to the incident report, the victim told police that she hired Smith under the business name White Tuxedo Productions to plan her wedding. She said she paid Smith a $2,500 "retainer fee to secure his services" and was told "all charges would have to be approved by them (the clients)."

The victim then claims that they authorized charges totaling $63,000 to pay for the wedding.

"He used our money that he said he was paying our vendors with, to pay a past debts that he had in Charleston from two to three years prior to us meeting him," said a former client of Roberts', Wendy Shearer.

Shearer says she and her then-fiancé Adam Shearer had a $50,000 budget for their May 2011 wedding. Shearer said a total of $69,000 showed up on their American Express and Visa credit cards days after their honeymoon. Shearer said after months of research she discovered only $19,000 was supposed to be used to pay the vendors and Roberts pocketed $50,000.

"We called every single vendor ourselves; we have documents, interviews and had them send us invoices that they had. We also have conversations that they had with Lawson about our wedding," said Shearer. 

The report states the victim was contacted by the Visa Fraud Department that additional charges were showing up on their card totaling another $28,000. The report says Smith used the clients' credit card to pay off vendors that he failed to pay with the initial $63,000.

Roberts was arrested Monday for the fraud charge but said he has documents proving it's not fraud, including an email from the American Express fraud department. It said, in short, they will not be handling the case as a fraud claim.

"That claim is 150 percent incorrect because if we had doubly charged them, the fraud department from either credit card would have red flagged it," said Roberts. 

Roberts said it's an industry standard for the wedding planner to charge the clients credit card on the clients behalf to pay the vendors. He said the Shearer's signed a contract authorizing the payment. He also said he was not aware of a change the credit card companies recently issued.

"They don't just allow you to sign one master credit card authorization. Now, what they require is for every charge to have a separate credit card authorization form," said Roberts. 

Smith's website, LawsonRoberts.com, claims Smith worked with celebrity clients including "Ryan Gosling, Gena Rowlands, Nick Nolte, B.B. King, Michelle Branch, Randy Jones, The Dave Matthews Band, Heath Ledger, Reese Witherspoon, Elizabeth Taylor, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Tom Hanks, Patrick Swayze, Barbara Streisand and many others."

This isn't the first time Smith has run into trouble with the law.

According to the State Law Enforcement Division, he was arrested in 2006 for crimes against a federally chartered financial institution, which constitutes a felony.  He was also charged with check fraud in 2009 and 2012.

According to court records, Smith posted a $10,000 personal recognizance bond Monday.

Roberts said the Shearer's only filled out one authorization form. He said he will take legal action if necessary to clear his name. 

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