Online reviews for James Stern — who billed himself as a non-denominational minister and wedding officiant in New England — were positively glowing.
“James Stern’s business ‘An Amazing Day’ was highly recommended on the Knot and WeddingWire,” said Ashley Veilleux, who hired Stern for her Sept. 15 wedding in Massachusetts, Yahoo reports. “It stated on their sites that he had won multiple awards and had excellent reviews by others.”
Leading up to the wedding, Stern was helpful, Veilleux said. But that changed when Veilleux and her husband-to-be, David Mellen, paid Stern for his services as the wedding day approached, NBC 10 News reports.
“He pretty much fell off the grid,” Veilleux said, according to the TV station. “It was very hard to get a hold of him.”
The situation got even worse just before the big day, with Stern arriving at the wedding rehearsal with his appearance “unkempt,” Yahoo reports.
The wedding day itself wasn’t any better: Following the ceremony at a resort in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, Stern kicked off his shoes and took a nap on a bench nearby, Boston.com reports.
“I was shocked,” Veilleux said, according to Boston.com. “I couldn’t believe it.”
And then bridesmaids noticed their credit card information had been stolen and misused during the ceremony, according to the Yarmouth Police Department.
Veilleux reported the credit card misuse from the wedding day to authorities on Oct. 5, police said.
When police started investigating and looking into Stern’s background, they found he had a checkered criminal past, including 51 entries in Massachusetts alone for crimes such as identity fraud, fraudulent credit card use and other instances of larceny as far back as 1994, police said. Stern had a burglary warrant for his arrest in New Jersey, where he also had a “lengthy criminal history,” according to police. Stern had run-ins with the law in Rhode Island and Connecticut, too.
Not only that, but Stern wasn’t a licensed minister in Massachusetts at all, meaning the couple’s marriage was invalid, police said. Stern had also failed to submit the couple’s license to Massachusetts following the wedding.
“It’s devastating,” Veilleux said, according to NBC. “Honestly, to get a phone call to be told that you’re not married is difficult.”
Stern, a 39-year-old from Portsmouth, Rhode Island, has now been arrested and faces charges in Massachusetts of impersonating a public official and larceny of $1,200 by false pretense, Yarmouth police said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
Stern is being held at the Adult Correctional Institute in Rhode Island, and is set to appear in court on Oct. 31 in Wakefield to face charges in that state. He’ll be arraigned later in Massachusetts, police said.
Veilleux said her friends and family have been incredibly supportive of the shocked couple following their wedding fiasco, Yahoo reports.
“I feel like we have turned a negative situation into a positive one,” she said, according to Yahoo. “This man is forever in our photos and videos, we can’t change that, but we can share with others and have been making a difference.”
Veilleux’s bridesmaids weren’t Stern’s first wedding ceremony victims, either: Stern was arrested last month (just days before Veilleux’s wedding) after he was accused of stealing a Rhode Island wedding guest’s purse and using her credit card during a ceremony he officiated, WPRI reports.