NEW PORT RICHEY — The dress was ivory with champagne-colored lace and sequined straps. Lora Vaughan spotted it and knew it was the one.
So she gave the bridal shop owner a $250 deposit.
The day before the dress was scheduled to arrive, Vaughan, 50, called Regina Porritt at I Do Bridal to set up a pickup time.
The line was disconnected.
That's when Vaughan realized: "I'm screwed."
UPS stickers for undeliverable packages now paper the door at I Do Bridal. A handwritten note, dated April 11, is taped on the inside of the door:
"Sorry for the inconvince but will be closed on Sat — Family Emergency Out of Town — will be back on Monday. Thanks, Gigi."
Porritt's landlord and customers haven't seen or heard from her since.
Left behind is a trail of angry brides who are out hundreds of dollars and scrambling to find another dress for their big day.
"I'm confused, because I don't know if she ordered my dress or what," said Kristen McHugh, 20, who paid a deposit to Porritt. "I feel lost here."
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Porritt opened her shop six months ago in Green Key Plaza, just north of Main Street in New Port Richey.
Mannequins in tuxedos and flower girl dresses are perched in the window at 6621 U.S. 19.
Jamie Mick, owner of Tampa Bay Property Management, said her office has been trying to reach Porritt for weeks. Porritt is facing eviction, although Mick declined to say how far behind she is on her rent.
Records also show the state Department of Revenue placed a $3,766 lien on Porritt's shop May 14 for unpaid sales tax.
The voice mailbox on Porritt's cell phone is full. The Times' efforts to reach her last week were unsuccessful.
"She's been gone for quite a while," Mick said. "We're in the final step of the eviction process. We want to consult with an attorney to see how we can go ahead and take care of the inventory."
And what are they telling the brides-to-be?
"We're referring them to a bridal shop on Grand (Boulevard)."
A few months ago, Vaughan found the dress she wanted in a bridal magazine. Only a few stores in the Tampa area carried California-based Eden Bridals.
Porritt was one.
In February, Vaughan, of Land O'Lakes, gave Porritt a $250 deposit for the $590 dress. In April, she paid Porritt another $125. The remainder was due May 20, when the dress was scheduled to arrive.
But when Porritt disappeared, Vaughan went to Sue Horan's Bride To Be Boutique, a shop on Grand Boulevard that has helped a number of Porritt's former customers. Vaughan asked Horan to call the company in California where she ordered her dress.
"She called (Eden), and someone went to the warehouse," Vaughan said, "and they found the dress."
Vaughan was elated. She paid $40 for priority shipping to have the dress sent to Horan's shop. When she told her credit card company what happened, they removed the $250 deposit. Still, she is out $125.
"It's basically stealing if you just close your doors," Horan said. "It's unconscionable to do that to a bride. Who wants this type of memory attached to their wedding?"
Vaughan, whose wedding is Saturday, picked up her dress on May 23.
"I took her (Horan) a bottle of wine and a thank-you note," she said. "I got a happy ending."
A mother's help
Others weren't so lucky.
About three months ago, Jeri Cantie paid Porritt $300 toward a $575 dress. It was strapless, with beading on the bottom. She bought it off the rack.
A few weeks later, she paid the balance.
Cantie, 31, of Holiday called Porritt's cell phone May 8 to set up a time for her final fitting. But Porritt's voice mailbox was full. Cantie started to get upset.
Cantie's mother stopped by the shop and found the note on the door. "I was freaking out," Cantie said.
They eventually went to David's Bridal, where her mother paid $450 for another dress. Cantie got married on May 24.
"If I wouldn't have had my mother, (Porritt) would have ruined my entire wedding," Cantie said.
A lawyer's advice
So far the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has not opened an investigation, spokesman Kevin Doll said. But a criminal case could be made if enough women come forward with proof that Porritt owes them money, he said.
Because the dispute involves a business arrangement, however, Doll said the dispute may belong in small claims court.
"If a ruling was found that she has to pay and doesn't, the court can have us issue a warrant," Doll said. "It could end up being fraud."
But attorney Randall Love said the brides may have to cut their losses.
"With the court filing fees and aggravations," Love said, taking the matter to court "will cost them more than what they've already paid."
A fiancee's tears
McHugh, of Dunedin, paid Porritt a $250 deposit for a dress. It was a full gown, ivory with sheer sleeves. The $150 balance was due July 25, the day her dress was to arrive.
She hadn't heard from Porritt, so she stopped by the shop May 25.
What she saw made her sick to her stomach: Porritt's letter. The UPS notes. She even spotted a sample of her dress in the window.
She told her fiance, who was sitting in the car, to come to the window.
"He said, 'Kristen, she's gone,' " McHugh said.
Later, she called Jasmine Bridal in Illinois, the dress manufacturer. They told her the problem was between her and Porritt.
McHugh said she isn't sure if her dress was even ordered.
"I trusted this lady, and I don't know if she's hurt somewhere or something," she said.
"I just don't know what to think."
Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.