BOSTON – A Pittsburgh woman was arrested Tuesday for allegedly cheating advertisers and exhibitors out of thousands of dollars for a fake bridal show in Boston, and the FBI said she conducted similar scams in five other states.
Karen Tucker and an uncharged co-conspirator allegedly posed as representatives of a business known as The Boston 411, then led the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to believe they would hold an extravagant home and bridal show at the Hynes Convention Center over three days in March.
The heavily promoted show promised exhibitors face time with thousands of pre-registered brides-to-be, though few were actually lined up, authorities said. Prosecutors said Tucker and the other person collected fees in advance from exhibitors, but used most of the money for personal expenses, including rent, restaurants and shopping trips to Wal-Mart.
Tucker's business even promised some money would be used to help victims of the Haiti earthquake, though the bridal show was never held, authorities said.
Tucker also allegedly conducted scams against wedding businesses in Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the scheme cost many small businesses thousands of dollars and had "a large impact, with victims that spanned across the country."
Tucker, 47, is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
The FBI said Tucker and her co-conspirator are "in the ongoing business" of defrauding exhibitors at bridal shows and advertisers in bridal magazines.
"They focus on an event or magazine in a geographic area, reap their profits, and when they are discovered, they move on," FBI special agent Scott Durivage wrote in an affidavit filed in court.
Authorities said Tucker ran a scheme in Miami between March and July of 2009, when an online version of "South Beach Bride" magazine was created with the promise that a printed magazine with ads from paid advertisers would be published and distributed. No printed magazine was published and the advertisers were not refunded their money, authorities said.
Durivage said authorities believe Tucker and her coconspirator have, "with varying degrees of success," run similar schemes in Columbus, Ohio, Las Vegas, Baltimore and Dallas.
Tucker made a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. She will be held without bail until a detention hearing can be held in Boston.
Her lawyer, federal public defender Michael Novara, did not comment. After the hearing, as she was led away in shackles, Tucker declined to comment.
Authorities said Tucker, using the name Jamie Edwards, told the Boston convention center authority in September 2009 that The Boston 411 would rent the Hynes center for a large bridal show.
Over the next few months, the convention center asked Tucker to complete the reservation by sending money, contracts and other information, but she never did. Authorities allege she intentionally misled the booking agency so that it would tell exhibitors that the event was still scheduled.
"Tucker and (the co-conspirator) intended to collect fees for a bridal convention that would never take place and to make it appear that the convention would still be held after its cancellation, in order to postpone complaints and make off with the money," Durivage wrote in the affidavit.
Authorities said Tucker heavily promoted the bridal show and hundreds of exhibitors bought floor space through a Web site that promised elegant wedding displays, demonstrations and samples.
The Boston 411's Twitter account advertised the show as the "Northeast's biggest home & bridal show," and said there were thousands of pre-registered brides-to-be. Also advertised were special donation tickets where money would be sent to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.
The claim on the number of attendees was fraudulent, authorities said.
"The investigation found no evidence that the convention had registered more than a few attendees," Durivage wrote in the affidavit. "The main losses were borne by the exhibitors, who paid money to rent space for display booths at a convention that was never held and never was going to be held."
Boston wedding photographer Aram Orchanian said he paid $750 through the PayPal online money transfer service to rent a corner booth at the Boston show and spent $3,000 more to produce promotional materials for it.
"I don't understand how somebody can do this," Orchanian said after learning of Tucker's arrest Tuesday. "It's just money to her, but to the people she did this to, it is their business."
Associated Press writer Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.