Flower shop victims may not be employee’s first

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – It appears a man working at a West Seneca flower shop has left dozens of brides-to-be in the lurch after taking their money and not delivering on his promises – and it doesn’t appear to be the first time.

Katie DiLeo thought she was saving over $1,000 on flowers for her upcoming wedding in September. But as it turns out, she’s now out $700 after dealing with a man going by the name of “Russell Pannell,” who was operating The Plaid Petunia.

She says Pannell offered her a deal on the flowers and claimed he knew someone who could be her wedding photographer.

“And talking him down, like, I need the ‘Russell Special.’ Like, what can you do for me? You remember what I did for you?” DiLeo said.

But now Pannell has dropped from sight and the flower shop has closed its doors. Owner Sean Tober closed the shop after learning things were going bad and told News 4 he was not making offers with any brides-to-be. A voicemail left on the business’s answering machine said Russell Pannell is not affiliated with The Plaid Petunia.

The Buffalo Bridal Association estimates between 30 and 40 brides-to-be have lost money, including Kara Bystrzak.

She said, “We were dealing with Russell Pannell. He told me he was a master designer; he had been working with The Plaid Petunia awhile.”

News 4 has learned this isn’t the first time the man known as Russell Pannell has left a florist in shambles.

Last year, Pannell hooked up with Chris Psoras, the long-time and highly respected owner of “Flowers by Chris” in Baltimore. Psoras knew Pannell as “Billy Russell Tomlinson.”

“He did great arrangements. He was personable, he could sell, he had great ideas,” Psoras said.

Just as Pannell’s talent in West Seneca was bridal arrangements, Psoras says Tomlinson was dealing with funeral directors in Baltimore and talked her into sending thousands of dollars to a wholesaler in Miami, but she never got the flowers.

“So that was another lie, and another way that he was able to finagle money out of me, to direct a deposit into someone else’s account, and never get the merchandise,” she said.

Psora says shortly after she confronted Tomlinson about the missing money, he fled Baltimore and went back home to West Seneca. Police have assigned a detective to this case.

If you placed an order with The Plaid Petunia, contact the New York Attorney General through the consumer hotline at 853-8404.

Tober has promised to return money brides-to-be gave to the flower shop before he abruptly closed the business.

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