FARGO — A Bismarck photography and video company that abruptly closed its doors for good last week is working to get wedding photographs and other images to the couples who paid for them.
That's according to the company's attorney, Tim O'Keeffe of Fargo, who held a virtual news conference Wednesday, Oct. 13, to talk about the closing of Glasser Images of Bismarck and what the defunct business is trying to do to accommodate customers left stunned by the news of Glasser's closing.
O'Keeffe declined to talk about the question of refunds at this stage, saying the focus is on assisting subcontractors in getting electronic images to customers, an effort he said will possibly take weeks.
O'Keeffe said Glasser Images was a large operation that used about 150 subcontractors to shoot wedding events across North Dakota and in other states.
He said hundreds if not thousands of emails are being processed in an effort to get photos and videos to couples who had their weddings shot by Glasser. The attorney said it will take time to simply get in touch with those couples, as Glasser Images no longer has employees.
O'Keeffe said a number of companies, including information technology firms have stepped forward to help with the effort, though he declined to identify those companies.
He said that at this point Glasser Images has not filed for bankruptcy.
When asked about loans Glasser Images received through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, a government initiative aimed at supporting struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, O'Keeffe said the company used those loans for payroll purposes and the loans have since been forgiven.
A search of a U.S. Small Business Administration database shows that Glasser Images received two loans totaling more than $500,000.
On the question of whether couples who paid for wedding images will receive what they paid for, O'Keeffe said: "They will be delivered what they expected to get."
O'Keeffe said any Glasser Images customers who have not yet reached out to the company can contact his office through his own email address: Tim@okeeffeattorneys.com.
The North Dakota Attorney General's Office, which opened an investigation into the company's closing after receiving hundreds of complaints, had a representative listening in on Wednesday's news conference. Parrell Grossman, a lawyer with the consumer and antitrust division of the attorney general's office, said he was at the news conference only as an observer and declined to answer questions at that time.
In a phone interview, Grossman told The Forum the attorney general's office had received 458 complaints regarding Glasser Images as of Wednesday morning. That ranks among the highest number of consumer complaints the office had ever received regarding a single business, he said.
The complaints include one from a consumer who said Glasser Images took an advance deposit perhaps a day before the business announced it was closing. "That's a violation. Absolutely, you can't take money when you know your business is closing, or when it's imminent," Grossman said.
"That doesn't mean that every payment raises the same level of concern. But, technically, when a business sells a product or service and takes an advance deposit and promises to deliver the product or service and then fails to do so, it's a misrepresentation," Grossman said, adding that the attorney general's office will also be looking into claims the business had been offering discounts for early payment shortly before it shut down.
Grossman expects the investigation could take months to complete. If the agency does take action, it will be in the form of a civil enforcement action, he said.
Grossman said the company's announcement Wednesday of a plan to get images to customers who paid for them was a very positive thing. He said it was something he asked O'Keeffe about in an email he sent the attorney earlier this week.
Less positive, Grossman said, was the company's silence Wednesday on the question of whether refunds may be offered, adding that he was aware of at least one social media post in which the company's owner indicated refunds would not be forthcoming.
"We will do a very thorough investigation to determine whether there was fraudulent conduct and then whether there are any assets or monies available for refunds," Grossman said.
"You can't just close your doors and then walk away and say it was a failed business. We don't believe that's an accurate reflection of the consumer fraud law. We think it's a more complicated picture, like, 'When did you take the money and what did you do with the money?''' Grossman added.
O'Keeffe said Glasser Images will cooperate with the investigation.