Alleged scam turns Derby couple's wedding into nightmare
DERBY, Kan. (KAKE) - It's wedding season. Springtime and love is in the air. But one local couple is calling their special day a wedding nightmare.
They say they want their photographer stopped after they say she scammed them, leaving them with just a few good pictures from their special day. And this isn’t the first time her name has come up in a theft-by-deception scheme.
It was supposed to be the best day of their lives. Nick and Kirstie Steffen’s wedding. February 18, 2023.
Everything was in place. Until just hours before the event.
"Caitlin’s bawling, hysterical. She goes my daughter just got into a severe car accident. I have to be there for her. I can't be at your wedding," said Nick Steffen.
Caitlin Payne. She was the wedding photographer from CP Family Photography the couple had hired her months before. Nick Steffen says she called in a panic saying her daughter was in a car crash and she wasn't going to be able to shoot their ceremony that afternoon.
“We are hoping everything is alright with her daughter," said Steffen.
We have a text exchange between Kirstie Steffen and Payne at 12:48 p.m. on Saturday, February 18, the day of the wedding.
Payne: “I'm sorry I can't be there."
Kirstie: “It's no worries, you need to be there for your daughter."
Payne did send a backup photographer, who showed up a little late. He was there just in time for pictures. But then there was another problem.
“He tells me right away, ‘I’m inexperienced with weddings. I've only done one other wedding. I don't know what I'm doing," said Steffen.
The Steffens were devastated when they did get their money back. It's been 10 years since all his brothers had been together and there is only one photo of his stepfather.
The picture of Steffen and his stepfather is blurry.
“That's the most disappointing thing,” said Steffen. “Because these are memories you can't recreate."
And they say that disappointment became magnified when they found a post on Facebook. It shows Caitlin Payne wasn't at the hospital with her daughter who she claimed was in a terrible accident. The pictures posted by the Derby Drama Club dated February 18 seem to show Payne was at her daughter's musical at Derby High School at the same time as Steffen’s wedding. And then it appears she attended a retirement party that she helped to organize after the play.
"She definitely made my wife cry,” said Steffen. “She made me angry when I saw the Facebook posts pop up she made me angrier."
Nick Steffen took to Facebook to alert other couples. The post went viral with more than 900 comments and 400 shares. Dozens of people complained about Payne and CP Family photography. Other couples say Payne was either a no-show, left their ceremony early, or didn't get them the pictures in a timely matter or at all. And in several cases, they say Payne claimed a family member was in a car crash, there was a family emergency, or in one case, Payne said she had to leave early because her mother died.
We tried to get in touch with Payne. She texts back saying “Due to the violence that has occurred from this situation I will be leery about disclosing too much information. We've had multiple death threats, someone shows up to my house armed with a gun, and pictures of my underaged daughter manipulated into something sexual. Not to mention an assault."
Payne said she filed police reports in the cases.
KAKE News Investigates contacted Derby police, the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office, and The Wichita Police Department. No one has any records of her reporting any crime.
“My focus in consumer protection is the Kansas Consumer Protection Act,” said Assistant District Attorney in charge of the Consumer Protection Division Jason Roach. “And that really focuses on deceptive and unconscionable acts.”
Roach says to do your homework when hiring anyone, especially wedding photographers, DJs, or other people who aren't required to have a license.
“The best way to protect yourself from deceptive acts is to get everything in writing, get the promises with someone you're hiring in writing signed by you and the vendor,” said Roach.
He says you should always get references and talk to them personally, see prior work, and compare prices.
“In our office, what we would look at would be, were the excuses given true or were they false? Because if they're covering up for something that's untrue and they're misleading you, again, that could be a consumer protection violation that we would look at,” said Roach.
Payne declined our repeated requests for an interview, but said in a text, “I will only tell you I hope that you have your 'proof' that I told the Steffens my daughter was in an accident and not just because they regurgitated information. I have no desire to help you any further so please don't contact me anymore."
KAKE News Investigates also found a case in Butler County District Court, where Payne pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was ordered to pay back more than $42-thousand dollars. The case involved the use of a company credit card for everything from tv to a washer and dryer and even her wedding in Las Vegas.
The Steffens are just hoping this never happens to anyone ever again after the heartache they've been through.
"We can't bring our family back. We can't recreate,” said Steffen. “So we lost tons of memories, just because of her."
KAKE News did a story about Caitlin Payne, then Caitlin Hershberger, in 2011, 12 years ago. Then several couples claimed she was taking money from her as a wedding planner and then she wouldn't fulfill her duties.
KAKE wants to point out there were several people who posted on Facebook that they did have a good experience with Caitlin Payne when they hired her to take pictures. In the meantime, the Steffens did finally get a full refund from Payne.
Below is some advice from a legal expert about what you can do to protect yourself when hiring someone for your wedding.