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Villa Toscana's closure trips up couples’ walk down the aisle

Now that the Villa Toscana has closed indefinitely, brides- and grooms-to-be who were planning to have their weddings there — and others who had booked overnight stays as hotel guests — are wondering if they’re going to get their deposits or other advance payments back.

One client, Aruna Apte of Monterey, scheduled a one-night stay at Villa Toscana on Sunday for a birthday.

When she arrived at the hotel, it was “awfully quiet” with a “closed” sign on the door, she said. Just a few days earlier, the hotel had confirmed her reservation — and charged $278 to her credit card, she said.

“We were aghast,” Apte said.

When she returned home, she found the following e-mail from the hotel: “We apologize for the inconvenience, but Villa Toscana has closed it’s (sic) doors for an undetermined amount of time.“We will not be able to honor your reservation on Sunday, January 31, 2010.”

Apte put a stop payment on her credit card, but has not been reimbursed, she said.

Wedding planners and their clients have also been caught in the snarl. Even though the hotel has closed, Weyrich has refused to officially cancel scheduled weddings, said Mary Allegretta, Villa Toscana’s former wedding coordinator.

“I let all the brides know we’re closed,” Allegretta said. “We haven’t cancelled the weddings — we definitely did not cancel them — but we can’t keep brides waiting, either.” Allegretta said she was the last remaining employee at the hotel, but on Friday was told she no longer had a job.

Couples who learned of the impending foreclosure had already started asking Allegretta what would happen to their deposits if the hotel closed. They said they were given a range of answers, none of which was satisfactory.

“All I want is my money back,” wrote Michael Swan of Los Angeles in a recent e-mail to The Tribune. Swan had given the Villa Toscana a $10,000 deposit for his June wedding.

“I’m really just concerned about who might have access to the money I invested into this place and how will it get back to me. I just need some sort of direction about who has the reins here so that I start contacting insurance and developing legal action if the case necessitates it.”

According to four wedding customers who e-mailed The Tribune asking for help in finding answers, Weyrich or Allegretta gave various answers: the deposits have been “frozen”; they should talk to accountant Thomas Cook, who is holding the money on behalf of Heritage Oaks Bank; they can have their deposits credited toward a stay at The Carlton hotel in Atascadero; they’ll get their money back, but the Villa did not know when.

Couples typically rented the entire hotel, made up of eight suites and at least one guest cottage, for a wedding weekend. When “the economy was good,” the cost for the weekend was about $15,000, Allegretta added. In the last several months, the price had gone down to “about half” that, she said.

Swan said the total cost was going to be about $25,000, including food, vendors and other expenses.

He and his fiancee are now contacting other wedding sites in the county.

“They’ve been flexible with payment options and have given us discounts on fees,” he added, “but still, we were planning this dream wedding that is clearly not going to happen because we’re operating with roughly half of what we originally budgeted for the event.”

Calls to Allegretta regarding how much the Villa is holding in deposits or other advance payments — and any guidance for former customers — were unreturned.

The situation raises the question of whether Weyrich has defrauded the customers.

“Definitely you would think, if someone is going to close their doors, they would know that, and accepting money when they’re not prepared to return it, there is that appearance of fraud and theft,” said Debbie Vallely, director of the economic crime unit for the District Attorney’s Office. “It does have to be investigated, and that investigation would start with the police department. People can call us, too, if they have any questions.”

Due to privacy restrictions, Vallely would not say whether anyone has contacted their office with complaints.

Tribune staff writer Nick Wilson contributed to this report.

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