A theft of something personal that can never be replaced is one of the worst types of crimes, especially when it is done for greed.
For more than a decade a photographer named Derek Fincham has been accused by young couples of stealing their wedding photos and leaving them with almost no photo memories of their special wedding day. As one bride said, ” he has stolen my memories and you can’t have another wedding. All we have are some pictures taken by wedding guests. I am so angry.”
I was called back in 1991 by a young bride who alleged she and her husband had paid Fincham a down payment of about $850 for a wedding package deal with a photo album. She said this was the best price they had found. They visited Fincham in his store front office in Long Beach, Ca. He showed them sample albums he said he had shot at other weddings. The photographs look good. |
Here is what the young couple said happed. Fincham came to their wedding and appeared to shoot lots of pictures. He took orders for pictures of family members with the new bride and groom. He charged them cash on the spot for those pictures, with a promise they would get them in three weeks. He set up pictures like cutting the wedding cake.
But then reality set in when the young bridge starting calling the photographer and asking where her pictures and album were. He had excuses about the lab was backed up and then he just didn’t answer the phone anymore. The couple went to his storefront studio and found it empty except for a sample wedding photo album. The landlord said he never paid his rent and left in the middle of the night.
My photographer took pictures of the store and I did an interview with the couple. After the story was on the evening news on CBS-2 in Los Angeles I received several phone calls from other brides that told me the same story about how they were ripped off and never got their wedding photographs.
I began an investigation into Fincham’s operation and found a fellow photographer who knew him and had borrowed a piece of equipment from him. This photographer agreed to help me and the brides find Fincham. He called him and left a message that he wanted to return the piece of photo equipment. Fincham gave him his new address and set up a meeting with him at 11 on a weekday morning.
My photographer and I were there to confront Fincham about these allegations and try and get the brides their wedding photos if they existed. I took two of the brides with me so they could identify Fincham and be there for my confrontation. Apparently the word got out to some other brides who had been ripped off and there were about six women waiting with me to catch Fincham.
We waited three doors up from his house on a residential street in Long Beach, Ca. My photographer and I were hiding behind a large tree and the six women were standing beside the neighbor’s house. The photographer who was helping us with this sting operation was three houses down waiting in Fincham’s driveway. He was in a red pickup truck with the piece of borrowed equipment in it.
Fincham was right on time and parked in front of the house and walked up to the other photographer and started taking the equipment out of his truck. My photographer and I ran from our hiding place behind the big tree and confronted Fincham. Behind me came six new brides running up to the driveway yelling, “that’s him” and “where are my wedding pictures?” Fincham was totally surprised. He looked at the other photographer and said you did this.
The other photographer said, “No man you owe them pictures.” As I interviewed Fincham about the brides’ allegations several of the women got on their cell phones and called other victims and in about 15 to 20 minutes there were husbands and other women arriving at the home to get their wedding pictures.
Fincham tried to hide in his house, but the women and their husbands or brothers just pushed their way in. He said the pictures were in the lab and he did not have the money to get them out. He said I am not a crook; I am just a bad businessman. They demanded that he give them the name of the lab. He refused and said he was going to call the police. Almost in unison the women and their husbands said, “go ahead and call the police and we will file fraud charges against you.”
I call Fincham aside and told him with all these complaints he would probably go to jail. I suggested he give them the name of the lab. He did and I called for the women. The lab said that since the pictures were under Fincham’s name he would have to release them and someone would have to pay for them. I talked Fincham into releasing all the wedding photos he said he could not afford to pay for and the women agreed to pay the lab for the negatives.
After about 15 minutes on the phone we found out that the lab didn’t have that many negatives under Fincham’s name. They said he had pickup a large number of printed photographs. The woman demanded to know where he was hiding these wedding photos. He kept saying there were no more photos. Then one of the women went outside and decided to look in his old broken down garage behind the house. She yelled, ” There are pictures out here in this garage.” The house quickly empted and everyone but Fitcham headed for the garage.
The old yellow-gray one-car garage was packed with boxes of wedding photographs. Pictures of brides and grooms were falling out and the floor. The brides started a massive search for each other’s wedding photos. Two women started collecting pictures and names of brides that no one knew. They said these women would want their wedding photos also.
One of the brides got a phone number off a picture and called the woman from the garage. While all this was going on and my TV photographer was catching it on video Fincham started to wonder to his car. He was stopped by two large guys who said, “you stay until we get out pictures.” He stayed and more women began to arrived. I interviewed some of the victims and got their reactions to all these wedding pictures stored in the garage.
The news producer for the CBS-2 evening news wanted to story on the show that night, so my photographer and I had to dash from Long Beach back to the Hollywood studio. After my story on the news Derek Fincham disappeared and I could no longer find him. I got calls from other couples who said he also allegedly ripped them off.
Update: Fincham apparently went to Oregon and then on to Colorado to continue his alleged wedding pictures scams. He has been charged in Golden, Colorado by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office with theft. Fincham pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced later in July of 2003.
The D-A’s Economic Crimes Unit plans to show that he is not just a poor businessman but a criminal who has a pattern of this type of theft by fraud with many victims in several states over a 16 year period.