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Two Couples Report Being Denied Refunds After Spending Tens Of Thousands For Weddings That Were Canceled Due To Coronavirus

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cancellations are taking a toll on the wedding industry, but what about couples who prepaid - only to be told they won't be getting a single penny back?

In some cases, they used their life savings.

Despite contracts requiring refunds in situations like the coronavirus pandemic, they still got stiffed. So where do they go for help? There's no federal bailout for them.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini accepted their invite to investigate.

Iris Grossman and her fiancé, Brendan Minot, prepaid in full for the perfect wedding day. But the coronavirus pandemic had other plans.

"Even to this day, I still feel like it's a dagger to my heart," Grossman said.

It brought pain to them and to countless other couples as wedding cancellations soar.

"Everybody is getting impacted now - especially as this continues," Minot said.

Every month that goes by its a domino effect.

Grossman and Minot spent over $22,000 just for the reception alone. It was supposed to be held in the atrium of Pazzo's at Three-Eleven in the 311 S. Wacker Dr. building.

"I had been planning my wedding for over two years, and the cancellation of it was devastating," Grossman said.

Grossman said she gave Pazzo's the final payment - a check for more than $10,000, on Friday, March 13. Two days later on Sunday, March 15, Gov. JB Pritzker announced the closure of all restaurants.

Then the next day on Monday, the funds were withdrawn from Grossman's account. She said she called Pazzo's and was promised her money would be returned.

"They then backtracked and said they were not only not going to pay us, that they had never actually offered us a refund," Grossman said.

The week leading up to what was supposed to be the couple's March 22 wedding and the weeks since have been frustratingly spent trying to get their money back. Grossman said no one at Pazzo's will return her messages.

"I'm not sure where our money went," she said.

"What does it do to lose not only your wedding day, but all the money you saved up for it?" Savini asked.

"Losing both of those on the same day was absolutely devastating to me," Grossman sad. "I not only lost the happiest day of my life, but I also lost on significant almost all of our savings."

The couple understands restaurants are having a tough time too. They just don't understand how this one could keep all their money.

The CBS 2 Investigators found Pazzo's owner Rocky Aiyash has had plenty of financial troubles - more than $300,000 in past liens for state and federal taxes he's owed, and several lawsuit judgments for other unpaid bills, along multiple bankruptcies during the last two decades.

Grossman: "It's emotionally and financially draining for everyone," Grossman said.

Savini: "And in addition to the cancellation, the salt on the wound was not getting the money back."

Grossman: "Correct."

Savini: "And you had a contract?"

Grossman: "Right."

Savini: "And that contract required them to pay you back for that wedding if it was cancelled because of a state of emergency?"

Grossman: "Correct."

Shane Soto and Kelly Lynch are in a similar situation. When asked what's going to happen, they said they did not have an answer.

Soto and Lynch were also supposed to get married in March, and they prepaid The Estate by Gene & Georgetti in Rosemont.

They said they are out $21,000 now.

Soto and Lynch also understand the struggles faced by restaurants. But they are struggling too – both of their salaries have been cut.

"We do have to still live our lives, pay our bills, you know, move forward with whatever is coming next," Lynch said. "At least we can have some sort of financial security so that we can at least keep our house."

"I mean, we're sympathetic to everyone who is going through the coronavirus – sick, loved ones that are sick," Soto said. "What is weighing on us is we had a contract with a business."

They say their contract also protected the two of them if Gene & Georgetti canceled because of an act of God or state of emergency.

The company told the CBS 2 Investigators in a statement back in March they offered "rescheduling", "with no penalties" as well as a refund after the immediate and devastating "financial impact of this crisis has passed."

"That's a lot of money to be out for the next six to eight months," Lynch said. "There's no idea what my job is going to look like; what his job will look like."

It has now been six weeks since their canceled wedding, and still, there has been no refund from Gene & Georgetti for Lynch and Soto. There has been no refund from Pazzo's for Grossman and Minot either.

The two couples are out a combined $44,000. Both have filed complaints with the Illinois Attorney General's office.

"I feel absolutely horrible for all families that are going through this," Grossman said. "That hurts a lot."

Pazzo's owner Aiyash contacted Savini late Thursday, and said he has no insurance to cover this kind of thing. He also said he offered to reschedule the wedding for Grossman and Minot and offered them an extra hour of open bar at a later date, but said he will offer no refund.

He claims his contract with them does not require a refund during a pandemic.

Savini also reached out again to Gene & Georgetti for an update on Soto and Lynch's wedding. They offered no further comment.

An attorney representing The Estate claims in a May 19 letter to CBS that the reception charges for the Soto/Lynch wedding have been the subject of a credit card dispute and have since been reversed.  According to attorney Adrian Mendoza: "March 26, 2020 - The Estate's credit card processor reversed the $21,514 in charges in favor of the couple's credit card companies."

The couple says as of May 18 they still  haven't seen the refund reflected on their credit card statement and are awaiting an official letter from the credit card company about the status of their dispute.

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