EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 14, 2013

Lawyers battle over how much is owed bilked couples

By Doug Ireland

---- — BRENTWOOD — It’s been more than a decade since Darlene and Michael Perrotta photographed some couples’ weddings and then bilked them.

Some of those customers — no longer newlyweds and, in some cases, even divorced — are still waiting to be reimbursed for the money they paid the Perrottas for wedding albums they never received.

Attorneys representing Darlene Perrotta and the 227 couples appeared in Rockingham Superior Court yesterday for a hearing to determine how much they are owed.

The former Atkinson couple, who now are divorced, owned Forever in Time photography studio in Salem. They pleaded guilty in February 2011 to accepting money from the couples without providing their wedding photographs.

The Perrottas were spared from spending time behind bars after they agreed to provide DVDs of the wedding photos or negatives to the couples within 45 days and pay $436,788 in restitution.

But less than 10 percent — just $40,000 — in restitution has been paid, according to Senior Assistant Attorney General Connie Stratton.

The Perrottas each received one-year suspended jail sentences. Darlene Perrotta ended up spending three days in jail last year for violating her probation when she skipped a court hearing.

The focus of yesterday’s two-hour hearing were the methods for calculating how much is owed the couples, some of whom were married as long ago as 2001. At least one couple has since divorced, public defender Debra DuPont said. Meanwhile, hearing after hearing continues in the case.

Stratton and Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti have said in the past the restitution case would have been resolved a long time ago if the Perrottas had cooperated with investigators.

The Perrottas have claimed some of their work was destroyed in a fire at their studio. Stratton struggled to hold back her anger and frustration when she repeated that claim at yesterday’s hearing before Judge Marguerite Wageling.

“Why should these consumers be penalized?” Stratton said. “The story has been, since day one, ‘Oh, the fire destroyed everything. We don’t have any photos.’”

Work the couple claimed was destroyed in the fire later appeared when the Perrottas learned they could be incarcerated, she said.

The attorney general’s office had determined the restitution was roughly $436,788, but knew that wasn’t a realistic figure because it would be difficult to determine the true value of what the couples were owed, Boffetti said.

Certified public accountant Kevin Kennedy of Maloney & Kennedy testified yesterday about a report he compiled for the defense detailing how much he believes is owed.

Kennedy said the report shows the Perrottas only owe $137,375, a number disputed by Stratton.

“We disagree with the figure that was presented,” she said.

Stratton also asked that the bilked couples be allowed testify to show what they have gone through because of the Perrottas.

“These consumers need to have a way to voice that,” she said.

Darlene Perrotta remained silent throughout the hearing. Michael Perrotta, who has his own attorney, did not attend. Boffetti has said Michael Perrotta has been much more cooperative than his ex-wife. The Perrottas also faced three civil lawsuits in the case.

Wageling took the case under advisement and is not expected to issue a ruling for at least 30 days.