WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The wedding bell blues are all over for several brides-to-be that were jilted by a Southtowns florist.
They are all getting their money back, even though the man who stole thousands of dollars from the women got away.
The brides’ nightmare was unleashed when the co-owners of the now defunct Plaid Petunia in West Seneca turned the keys over to a man they knew as Russell Pannell. His actual name is Billy Russell Tomlinson and he has a long history of flimflamming florists.
“The owner of the company was taken unaware, so certainly the consumers were taken unaware,” is how Assistant Attorney General Jim Morrissey explained the brides’ predicament.
Morrissey was lead attorney in the state’s investigation, which led to the Plaid Petunia’s owner, Sean Tober, signing an agreement called an “Assurance of Continuance.” In it Tober agreed to pay back all the money Tomlinson took from the 20 victims, amounting to more than $68,000.
Morrissey said investigators felt Tober was also duped.
“We didn’t have any sense that he had any knowledge that the person that he had permitted to manage the store was, in essence, stealing money from consumers.”
Tomlinson skipped town with the money, angering Sarah Radin and the other brides-to-be.
“This man has no soul, and he can just do this to somebody and just laugh about it. It’s a joke.”
Radin was one of the last victims to get her money back–deposits worth $2,500 for flowers and the reception. She has now moved to Florida with her fiance, and has found a new job.
“We can actually move on with our lives now and not have to constantly stress about, ‘When are we going to get our money back? When are we going to be able to pay this person, when are we going to be able to do that?’ So it is a great feeling right now.”
Sarah’s mom, Karen Radin, is also happy and relieved after living the nightmare with her daughter and future son-in-law
She said, “Now that they’ve got their money back, they were able to go and get their flowers, their cake, their photographer, and move to Florida to pursue her dreams.”
Where is Tomlinson now? He was arrested in Georgia last month, not on fraud or theft charges, but for traffic violations. He is now out on bail.
Morrissey says the victims could have saved themselves some grief if they had used credit or debit cards for their deposits, which might have made it easier to get their money back.