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They said yes to the dress -- but got nothing

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A group of outraged Arizona women are targeting a downtown Medford bridal boutique owned by a woman who they say abruptly left them without wedding dresses last year.

Mobilized through Facebook, dozens of women have poured on the negative reviews for the new XOXO Bridal in hopes of sparing local brides the ordeals they said they endured from the shop’s owner, Erica Kristine Mote, who shuttered Pearl Bridal in Phoenix, Arizona, last spring while allegedly leaving numerous dress orders unfilled and deposits not refunded.

“It was all a complete scam,” said Emily Waldron of Tucson, Arizona, in a 1-star Google review of XOXO Bridal Gallery, in which she recounts spending more than $1,000 at Pearl Bridal. “The store closed and did not call me.”

Waldron is among 286 women who claim they didn’t get wedding dresses they’d purchased, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, and one of 373 members of the “Victims of Pearl Bridal” private Facebook group. Waldron said she’s “livid” to see Pearl Bridal’s owner is back in the same business after leaving her without a wedding dress.

As of Friday afternoon, 25 of XOXO Bridal’s 28 Google reviews were 1-star. Among the three 5-star reviews was Leilani Aki, who said she was affected by the closure, but “sometimes you have to learn to forgive.”

Aki provided a receipt to the Mail Tribune showing she paid $949 for a dress she says she never got.

Waldron said that even XOXO Bridal shop’s promotions are similar to what she remembered at Pearl Bridal. When Waldron bought her wedding dress with a group of family members the day after Thanksgiving 2017, they were having a “Black Friday” sale, marking down every dress to about $900, plus free alterations if she bought accessories.

XOXO’s website is currently offering a “Huge Dress Sale” offering $300 off any dress, plus a free veil with purchase, according to the website Friday afternoon.

“It’s just so shady, this whole thing,” Waldron said.

Waldron said she and her extended family were served champagne and staff treated her and her family to a party-like atmosphere, but the store staff glossed over details. She said after she paid for her dress in full, the store told her they’d call her for a fitting in April.

Waldron, who lives two hours away from Phoenix, Arizona, said she called the store in April, but calls went unanswered.

By late May, Waldron’s mother resorted to looking up Mote’s home address — where she found the home distressed and vacant.

“They obviously left in a hurry,” Waldron said.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office estimates that Pearl Bridal never delivered on hundreds of dress orders when it abruptly closed its doors on May 16, 2018, according to the AG’s complaint filed last September.

“At the time of closing, the Defendants had accepted at least $277,000 in prepayments for at least 286 orders that were never delivered to consumers,” the Arizona complaint filed Sept. 19, 2018, states.

Mote — who legally changed her name from Erica Miltenberger last month because of “constant harassment” — disputes the AG’s amount, and insists that the number of customers who neither got their dress nor a refund was less than a 10th of the estimate.

Mote bristles at claims she defrauded customers, saying she filed bankruptcy and lost her home and vehicles.

“You can’t claim bankruptcy if you have, like, money,” Mote said.

Mote said she’s currently negotiating a settlement with Arizona’s AG in which she intends to admit only that she and her husband inflated their Yelp page with five-star reviews under their own names and will pay the state a $100,000 fine.

An AG’s office spokeswoman said consumer fraud investigations are confidential under Arizona law.

Less than a year ago, Lia Halt of Phoenix, Arizona, said she remembers tears of joy and hugging her mother in the heady moment of “I found my dress I’m going to get married in.”

Halt provided the Mail Tribune photos and video of the dress she picked out in March 2018 courtesy of her mother. Halt said she had to delete her own photos and video because the reminders upset her.

The shop closed May 16, but the weekend prior Halt said Pearl Bridal had attended a bridal event, then the shop was “literally chained closed.”

In addition to losing the $1,054 Halt paid Pearl Bridal in March 2018, Halt had to reschedule her wedding from October to November, had to forfeit a roughly $900 deposit for a limo rental, had to pick out a new dress and was forced to rush alterations. The roughly $2,000 in added expenses ended up amounting to roughly a third of her $6,000 wedding costs.

“It was a really stressful time,” Halt said.

In response, Mote said, “we feel horrible,” and said it was never her intention to close.

Mote said a pregnancy complicated by eclampsia forced her to step away from the business last year, when her business of “redesigning dresses” — taking pieces from different factory-made dresses and reassembling them to a customer’s specifications — derailed. Reasons included confusion reading her staff’s instructions in the months she was away from the shop, a hired manager’s departure and delays from the factory where she sourced her dresses.

Halt and Waldron both said they never got their money back. Waldron paid with a debit card in November 2017. Halt paid by credit card in March 2018 and attempted a chargeback the following May, but it was denied.

“When I filed a chargeback with my bank, she fought the chargeback, so I didn’t get any of my money back,” Halt said.

Mote said she never intended to deny anyone’s chargebacks, describing what she believes was a “generic bank letter” after the bankruptcy and insisting, “that was not us.”

“I just don’t even know what bank to contact,” Mote said.

Mote said she used Bank of America and processed all of her transactions through Square.

Mote said the success rate of small businesses is “very low,” and notes that even major wedding gown retailer David’s Bridal Inc. has filed for Chapter 11.

“It could happen to any of the other bridal shops,” Mote said.

David’s Bridal insisted that customers’ dress orders were safe in November while the company reorganized, according to previous AP news reports. Retail trade magazines show that David’s Bridal completed its reorganization last month.

Records show that Mote and her husband, Tyson Miltenberger, have had a string of failed business ventures.

In June 2016, the city of Astoria denied Mote and Miltenberger a liquor license in part because they had not “demonstrated financial responsibility” for their business Workmans Irish Pub.

The document cites nearly $30,000 in court judgments in the names of Mote and her ex-husband Chris Gerlach, and property management disputes in small claims courts in 2011 and 2012. Court records now show them as unsatisfied, but no longer owing.

Mote told Astoria city staff that she’d claimed bankruptcy in 2012, and that the debts were related to a failed business known as Portland Bagel Co.

In 2014, Mote and Miltenberger attempted to film a reality series called “Milty’s Millions” in the Portland area about Tyson Miltenberger’s attempts to make his first million dollars by launching his business Selinus Insurance, a company tailored to insuring bars and taverns, according to a report from the Centralia Daily Chronicle and old Facebook and Twitter pages still up about the project.

Inside her business at the New Hotel Medford building on West Main Street, Mote said she believes her new business will be successful because she’s starting small. She said the business is largely decorated with shabby chic furniture taken from her home and rustic elements such as tree branches from her backyard.

Mote said that despite prior bankruptcies, she’s owned successful businesses before.

“We’ve been more successful than not,” Mote says.

Mote insists her new business will be different because she’s “keeping it on a lower scale” by operating the business without employees and making all alterations herself. Mote said that Medford is her “home town,” and she has the support of local friends and family.

Similar to Pearl Bridal, XOXO’s dress orders will be delivered to the boutique, rather than to the customer.

“I’ll be here personally to make sure everyone gets their dress,” Mote said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Waldron described a "party-like" atmosphere that was light on details when she spent $1,000 for a dress she never got.
Leilani Aki wearing the dress she bought at Pearl Bridal for $949, but never received. Submitted photo.