Business, Photography

When clients go too far – the Andrea Polito story

Sometimes, things happen in the wedding photography business that not only immediately grab your attention but will make you scream at the top of your lungs, possibly give you a cold sweat and definitely question why anyone would choose to be a wedding photographer. Adverse client altercations that get publicized happen to be one of those things that not only can totally defeat your creative sensibilities, but attract the most negative online publicity and unsolicited “expert opinions” that can completely damage your reputation. You may remember hearing about one of these widely publicized situations last year – the photographer who got absolutely torched online because she charged the clients for an album cover and held their images hostage until they paid. You may be surprised to hear this story is still ongoing and has been working its way thru the court system. You may be even more surprised to learn none of what was publicized was actually factual and it seems that it was manufactured to garner attention to the clients. If you haven’t heard or don’t remember, let me say it’s now a very important story to pay attention t0. Regardless of your occupation, the overwhelming damage caused to a well known and highly respected photographer and the potential penalties the clients now face as a result of their defamatory actions are something every business should be aware of.

The backstory

In January 2015, an online firestorm erupted between wedding clients Neely & Andrew Moldovan and wedding photographer Andrea Polito with Andrea Polito Photography (APP) based in Dallas Texas. To summarize what happened, the Moldovans took a basic misunderstanding of a deliverable item (specifically their wedding album cover which they had been informed, multiple times, had to be purchased afterwards) and instead of talking with the photographer, used social media and local news channels to not only demonize Andrea, but to relish in the ashes of her demise – all over $125. However, they didn’t stop there. To sensationalize the story even more, they made numerous false accusations over social media and utilized local news channel (DFW NBC 5) to further spread their story. To name a few of the false statements made: APP sent two photographers the client had never met (and never mentioning they had knowingly contracted for two associate photographers, not Andrea herself), that APP refused to give them their wedding images (which was clearly stated in the contract and numerous times over email the photos would be released upon completion of the album), Andrea never responded to their emails (both Andrea and her studio manager were in constant contact) and many other outright falsities. What happened as a result of the the Moldovan’s public disparagement was nothing short of disturbing for any small business owner; not only the overwhelming emotional & financial distress this type of widespread smear campaign can wreak on a small business, but the threat to the existence of the business itself. The end result of their actions was Andrea and APP suffering an insurmountable level of online backlash, threats, lost business and left her with a reputation that was all but impossible to repair. The story, which was actively driven and publicized by the Moldovans, appeared in the UK’s Daily Mail, DFW NBC 5 and so many online blogs & websites it’s impossible to list them here.

You can find the original report from the NBC DFW news channel here and their follow up to the story here. Andrea Polito responded with an open letter you can read on her website.

The facts

Let’s look at a few key issues first:

  • APP stated several times in emails to the Moldovans and during the initial consultation the album cover would be purchased separately.
  • Per the APP contract and several emails to the clients, the Moldovans were told the digital images will be delivered to them once the album process had been completed.
  • Neely & Andrew Moldovan reached out to several local news stations to “shop their story” via twitter despite having constant communication with APP.
  • DFW NBC 5 news station reporter, Scott Gordon, paraphrased a statement from the Moldovans during their interview and then used it as fact in a future interview (specifically that APP was “holding the images hostage”) when interviewing a local wedding planner about the issue.
  • The DFW NBC news story withheld an email statement given by APP in response to the story, omitting crucial details (showing APP was adhering to the contract which the Moldovans signed) and only showing the very last sentence from her email “we strive to give the best customer service” which falsely portrayed APP as an antagonist because it supported the angle on their story.
  • The DFW NBC reporter Scott Gordon, chose to ignore evidence sent by APP that showed she was acting in full compliance of her contract in his news segments.
  • The Moldovans publicly made several false statements: “cheated,” “scammed,” and “blatantly stole money while holding pictures ransom and then adding on extra fees that weren’t in [the] original contract”and APP wanted them to “to pay several hundred dollars more before [she would] provide [the Moldovans’] album or give [them their] pictures on a DVD.” which further damaged the reputation of APP through social media as well as posted a screenshot of the NBC interview with text saying “justice is served”.
  • Neely Moldovan spoke with her wedding venue, a business where APP had a very strong referral base, and blatantly accused APP of withholding their images and demanding more money to produce the wedding album. All of these statements being only partially accurate and absolutely damaging. The end result was APP was removed from the vendor list of the venue causing a great financial loss to APP.
  • On January 14th. 2015, Andrea emailed the Moldovans with an offer to go ahead with the order of the album, once they picked an album cover. She had also previously emailed them with an offer to release to digital images once they approved their album (advancing the delivery date from the contractually agreed to album delivery date). Ironically, the NBC News channel had just finished taping their piece on that day. Regardless, Neely Moldovan responded by asking for clarification if the cover was now free but there was no mention of the TV news station interview because they “preferred the surprise”. Andrea later found out that Neely had already posted a photo to Instagram of the news crew with the caption “no big deal, NBC in our apartment”.

One very troubling fact of this case that wasn’t widely reported is the bride is a “professional blogger” and compensated based on traffic statistics to her website. As you can imagine, when this story went viral, the traffic to her blog exploded. So while it remains to be seen if there was a monetary incentive for the defamation of APP, it’s concerning once you hear the facts of how everything happened and how even once their demands were met (in Andrea’s email stating she would go ahead with the album order, even though it was outside of the contractually agreed to stipulations), they continued with pursuing the news story. In other words, this all smells like a couple of fame seekers looking to cash in on their 5 minutes of fame.

After facing enormous backlash online and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential business due to the bad press and online reviews, APP filed a disparagement lawsuit against the Moldovans on March 18th, 2015. Specifically, the lawsuit stipulates Defamation, Defamation per se (statements which are defamatory on their face), Business Disparagement, Tortuious Interference with Prospective Contracts and civil conspiracy. That’s right, conspiracy. What happened here goes far, FAR beyond what any reasonable person or people would do to solve a disagreement over a $125 album cover. Here are a few screenshots from what Andrea faced online:

Polito-screenshot-1 polito-screenshot-2 Polito-screenshot-3 Polito-screenshot-4


Where Andrea Polito is now

The defendants (Moldovans) attorney filed a motion to dismiss the claims in the lower court for the above lawsuit which AP and APP won. The Moldovans then took their case to the Appellate court in an effort to get it overturned. On August 2nd, 2016, Andrea Polito won a huge opinion from the 5th District Appellate Court in Dallas. The appeals court found that, in short, the Moldovans willfully and falsely disparaged Andrea Polito both by their statements and re-publishing of false statements made by others. They also committed tortious contractual interference of potential contracts by defaming her to the venue where their wedding was held and defaming her business. The appeals court issued a very strongly worded judgement against the actions of the Moldovans. Not only did they deny the motion from the Moldovans attorney to dismiss the case, but ruled their actions do not offer safe harbor under the anti-SLAPP laws in Texas (which are some of the strongest in the country). This clears the road for APP to sue for per se defamation case in court (which is a higher level of defamation then per quod and allows for her to seek not only actual damages, but punitive damages as well) in the lower court.

I implore you to read the full appeals court ruling here: http://law.justia.com/cases/texas/fifth-court-of-appeals/2016/05-15-01052-cv.html

At this point Andrea and APP are waiting for a new court date to be set as the Appellate court decision to throw out the motion to dismiss has cleared the way for the lawsuit to proceed. The original cap of $1 million dollars no longer applies and the court can choose to award any monetary amount for punitive damages.

Why you should care

So, what’s so important about this and why should you care? Having been through a few similar challenges over the years with both difficult clients and employees myself, the appeals court decision serves as a sound reminder that while free speech is protected, making false or even partially true statements, or re-publishing statements you know to be false can land you in some serious legal hot water with serious financial repercussions. While most photographers (and any business for that matter) will likely have an unhappy client at some point, that does not mean the client can try to “destroy” your business by making false claims or accusations. As her attorney stated, “freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences”.

The sheer enormity of the financial and emotional toll this has inflicted on APP is not only difficult to put into words, it shakes me to the core considering it seems this entire scenario was perpetuated by the apparent greed of the Moldovans in a chase for fame and glory. Sadly, no lawsuit or legal team can repair the damage to her business or her personal reputation. So a business that took over a decade to build and gave both employment and paychecks to 10 people, was literally destroyed in a matter of days. While there will always be clients or even potential clients who feel slighted and want to “settle the score” through the ever elusive “viral” story, it’s difficult to watch this happen and it should leave you absolutely gutted that over a misunderstanding of $125, the clients and media felt it was okay to absolutely torch a business. The problem with “viral” is that normal, or even “frustrating” events will never go viral. It’s only the extraordinary, over the top actions of people or businesses that can ring that special bell to make a story go ’round the world. With our headline driven society, the actual story almost always gets lost in the details because, let’s face it, they involve normal and boring facts which hold little interest to the masses. Had DFW NBC’s Scott Gordon chosen to tell both sides of the story, this would have never been news. In fact, I believe that it wouldn’t have even aired because the actual events that are coming to light in court documents wouldn’t have merited a story. It’s a mere misunderstanding or, at worst, an unhappy client. However, add “wedding” into it and it stirs emotion, then pour in a dash of “heartbroken newlyweds” and a business who wants to bilk their clients of every dollar, now you are getting somewhere. Finally stir in a couple who wants the media attention and now you have something worth promoting. I remember when I first watched this story, the one from DFW NBC, I was upset at APP because, as it was told, APP was a completely shady company with divisive billing practices. However, as I’ve done research for this story and learned how APP handled themselves, I became ashamed of myself for believing the hype and realized that APP did what most businesses do, they structured their business in a way that works for them and they followed their contract. So what we have here is a client who didn’t like what they signed then tried to use the media to get their way.

While the Moldovans may have gotten their wish for fame, they are now facing the very real threat of being on the wrong end of a lawsuit that has a potential of ending with at least 6 zeros.

A new beginning

As you can imagine, booking weddings after this type of exposure is impossible. However Andrea, as you may imagine, is not one to just roll over. These days she’s shooting and working with high profile commercial clients on their branding and image and has left the wedding industry far behind. She’s in the final stages of finalizing a book which not only talks about what happened and how she dealt with the social shaming, but how she not only kept her head above water during a very difficult time. If that wasn’t enough she also has a few speaking engagements lined up to discuss how social shaming has affected her and how to move forward.

Her goal, through all of this, is to finish the lawsuit which will hopefully set both a precedent and case law which will benefit every small business in how they can handle defamatory actions, social shaming and out of control clients. Having accumulated over 100K in legal fees so far (it’s not over yet), the emotional and financial toll of this entire case cannot be overstated and we should all pay attention to not only the deplorable actions of the Moldovans, but the damage it caused to a successful business. My understanding is that Andrea will be updating her photography website with the latest news now that the appellate court ruling is public. I for one will be following these updates because it will likely shape the future of how clients and businesses interact publicly, especially when it comes to misunderstandings or disagreements.


Brian Mullins is an award winning Wedding & Commercial photographer based in Raleigh, NC. He has photographed over 500 weddings along with numerous commercial shoots ranging from architecture to food. He has spoken to numerous groups on the east coast covering topics from business to lighting. His commercial clients include Amazon, Better Homes & Gardens, Southern Bride & Groom magazine, Westcott, WNCN-TV, WRAL-TV & hacker conventions. His photography and writing have been featured in Huffington Post, Buzzfeed & Petapixel.

  • Jenn Lindberg

    I applaud Andrea Polito for holding this couple accountable for defamation and business disparagement. The extreme viral bullying she has endured is heartbreaking. I think of her, her family and her 10 employees that no longer have work. I also went to court after being defamed by a competitor. The jury recognized the extreme damage that had been done and a judge sanctioned this person for his actions against us. It was incredibly difficult but important to let people know that just because they may disagree with your business practices and/or contract, it is against the law to retaliate by defaming and disparaging your business. May Andrea get justice, and please, let’s all work to end this on-line culture of bullying.

    • Brian Mullins

      Im glad to hear you got justice Jenn. This type of behavior is simply not acceptable of anyone, even disgruntled clients. Im glad the court system sees the absolute damage that can be done to a small business when defamation is involved.

  • Silverstream

    I would advise any photographer seeking to avoid issues to include the cover for the album you are providing as part of the package. Of course charging for upgrades is fine but include a cover. Also, make sure that the provided album not actually coming with a cover is specified in the contract you have them sign. Saying you told them that during a meeting doesn’t work with contracts. Also, when a client has a problem like this, address it. The photographer claims she offered them the cover for free but that offer was never spelled out in the emails. Finally, when a news station contacts you for your side of the story, don’t refuse to talk with them and just send an email about the situation.

    • I thought photographers didn’t include a cover so that you had the option of choosing your own

      • Brian Mullins

        There is no “one” way to do it. Some photographers include it in the package price, others don’t. This isn’t a regulated business so everyone is free to do it in the way that works best for them. There is also no “correct” way so you’ll see all different variations from business to business. I can understand why she doesn’t offer a cover until it’s time to order – album companies change their covers all the time (based on availability) .

        • Yes, me too and honestly when I have ordered them it was the same. The photographer gave me a lot of options to choose from and I picked one (they all ranged in price as well). I am glad you are giving this coverage because it is really dangerous with social media for customers to systematically make false statements about a business.

        • heartprivacy

          I don’t understand why you would not include the cover in the price of the album. That seems like a great way to make the client feel nickel-and-dimed.

          • Preston Survata

            Because the price of the cover varies greatly. Do you want a $50 cover or a $500 one? Will that cover still be in stock, in the size you want, when your wedding is over? How do you choose a cover that will match the theme of your photos when your photos haven’t been taken yet? Will you want your cover to be solid, or did you find a perfect photo to serve as the cover, and it will be more a window? None of these things can be figured out before photos are taken, all of them cost money. That’s why if Neely and her husband had bothered to read their contract, they’d know all of this.

          • Silverstream

            One, you need to specify that in the contract and in your packages online. This information WAS NOT in APPs contract. Two, a book should always include a cover. If you want to offer upgrades, awesome. I think we all do.

      • Silverstream

        You typically include a standard cover but offer upgrades.

        • I didn’t know this. The person I used didn’t include a standard cover. she basically gave me an ala cart list and I choose one. it worked out fine for me because I never would’ve chosen the standard cover anyway.

          • Silverstream

            Its a way of getting extra money out of the customer. Instead of paying for an upgrade, you are paying the full cover price. Clients have a tendency to focus on the package price and assume that it is complete. Once a job is done, the photographer has them over a barrel until they release the full resolution unwatermarked images. Its why APP specified that the images are not delivered till after the album is ordered in order to maximize sales. The images were actually finished some weeks after the wedding when they sent the gallery for Neely to choose the images for the album. Some photographers deliberately delay releasing the images as long as possible so people are required to buy prints from them until they do. There is a segment of the industry called “in person sales” that is all about figuring out how to maximize income from clients and get people to spend as much as possible. Some photographer may offer other justifications but the real reason is…. money.

          • Yeah $147 out of you that sounds like a real scam . I don’t know about you but $147 is life or death to me . I am totally being sarcastic by the way. these people are just looking to get attention

          • Silverstream

            Do you think that was the only little extra? It all adds up particularly for those businesses doing 50-100 or more weddings a year. Its all about getting more money out of the clients for some and relies on people not eager for confrontation or not willing to go public with their drama for it to be an ongoing viable segment of the wedding industry. My nephew did not receive his full digital images for almost a year. During that year, anyone who signed up to view the images had multiple emails trying to encourage people to buy prints from them. Why? Treat people the way you want to be treated is my mantra. Its a little thing but it would infuriate me if I was asked to pay for a standard cover for a book that was included in my package and it was NOT in my contract.

          • I’m just saying somebody who charges thousands of dollars for their services not trying to nickel and dime you out of $147. if she really wanted $147 she can just charge more. I think this whole thing was just a misunderstanding and they overreacted

  • Sarah

    Since when did it become okay in this society to bully our way around? I guess we don’t have to work for anything anymore, we can just bully people around and when that doesn’t work we can pitch a fit on a national level to get our way. Good for Andrea Polito! She fought for herself, other business owners and anyone in a customer service position who has ever been attacked for following “procedure”.

  • Erik Stenbakken

    Important story indeed. Not only from the business perspective, but the social side too. How many times have we seen the outrage of the Internet focused on someone without every seeing/hearing the other side of the story? Dead lion, anyone? Zoo tragedy? Daily it seems like we’re becoming more and more knee-jerk reactionary and less willing to look for facts. Hope this reminds all of us (including me) to take it easy with the digital torches and pitchforks.

  • Doolittle

    Neely & Andrew Moldovan deserve nothing else except to lose everything. On behalf of everyone who has been a victim of unfair harassment of any kind, kudos to Andrea Polito for fighting back.

  • heartprivacy

    Am I understanding this right that the couple thought the album cover was included in the price while the photographer was charging an extra $125 for the cover and would not release the images to the client until this fee had been paid?

    • dot dotdot

      The first in the list of facts says:
      “APP stated several times in emails to the Moldovans and during the
      initial consultation the album cover would be purchased separately.”
      Assuming this is true, it is irrelevant whether the clients truly misunderstood, or were pretending to have misunderstood for the purpose of generating publicity. Either way, the fact that they chose to press it so far and cause so much damage to APP puts them squarely in the wrong. They deserve to be ruined by the lawsuit that they brought on themselves.

      • heartprivacy

        So you’re saying that yes, I understood that correctly.

        This seems like poor business practice to me and I understand why the Moldovans felt like they were being ripped off. You pay for the album, but have to pay extra for the cover (but you can’t purchase it without the cover)?

        If they lied about what was and wasn’t in the contract, then that is wrong, but I can see why they were upset.

        • Jenn Lindberg

          Heartprivacy, Even if they and you strongly disagree with her business practices, your disagreement, or feeling of their being nickel and dimed, still does not ever justify a brutal public smear campaign. Business defamation and disparagement is illegal and those that do it need to be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

          • Silverstream

            So you are saying it is illegal to leave a truthful bad review on a business? Because that would constitute a smear campaign? So every person who complains publicly about getting ripped off can be sued?

          • Jenn Lindberg

            Silverstream, not at all! It might help to google definitions of business disparagement and defamation. There are strict legal definitions that the court and jury will be working with. An honest negative yelp review is not a smear campaign. What the couple did to Andrea Politio? THAT was a smear campaign.

        • Preston Survata

          The court documents, from the judge’s own opinion, show Neely and Andrew Moldovan lied. The decision is linked in the article you’re responding to.

          Based on your comments throughout this article’s comment section, it’s almost as if you are attempting to be contrary to diffuse the Moldovan’s libel and slander. Andrea didn’t break the contract, the Moldovans did. Andrea didn’t break the law, the Moldovans did. Andrea isn’t being slapped down in the courts as a result, the Moldovans are.

        • Ehh the Moldovans were not ripped off. They are just not smart. They didn’t understand the contract or that the cover availability and pricing changes so you get a list with the available options before the book is made and you pick one. Despite this when they reached out to Andrea she even offered them the cover free to appease them and they still went on the news to badmouth her. At the point when they went on television they had a $147.00 cover for free and they still chose to misrepresent the situation.

          • Silverstream

            Again, the issue that the cover for the included album was not included was NOT in the contract. Andrea claims she offered a free cover but the emails sent at the time do NOT say this.

          • I believe her.

          • Silverstream

            If you want to investigate her claims, there is evidence out there.

          • I read the appellate ruling

      • Silverstream

        The article in incorrect on this. APP claims she told them this verbally but it was not in the client’s contract. If this were so, we could tell someone anything, then have them sign a contract in which all the extra charges we told them were not specified and then hold them responsible for paying them? There is a reason we have contracts. So everything is spelled out clearly.

  • Inevitable_whitey

    I think given the potential for near-term divorce with this dynamic duo, Andrea should have got the money up front.

  • bannedonotheraccount

    Would love to see the contract but in reading all the reports open letters and published email on a dreary sick day , it was fascinating and i can see where the customer confusion comes into play,

    The customer paid for an album, google album and you see something with a cover. The photographer states in her email to the reporter(iirc) that the album is on the a la carte list…and describes that list as things that MAY be purchased at any time…. Fast forward amd the office manager is quoted as emailing you MUST buy a cover[from the supposed optional a la carte] to get the album[they feel they paid for]. This as a matter of fact response doesnt mesh with the customers understanding so it seems obtuse or they are holding photgraphs “hostage” that other wedding photographer seemed to agree that it didnt seem right until he realized he was talkong about his friend or perhaps a collaborating colleague.

    Would love to see this order form or contract as this may be just poor contract writing, she does state that she didnt go to business school so maybe its a nuance that got overlooked. Given the cost of wedding services money seems to be not a major concern(at least if its what they want) for many couples so rates will follow what is eilling to be paid…note walmart leather albums on sale for 17$.

    If the line item that quoted the album cost wasnt qualified with a post script or note to state x dollars additional required on selection of the album cover but relying on what was verbally stated presumably to clarify the contract….well a contract should be able to stand on its own.

    So her business practices aside….its unfortunate it went this far. Though one should note in the web that stories can grow a life of their own and that statements are unfiltered as to the lack of face to face interaction. Ive read enough reviews that i can filter out the angry/petty customers and false reviews from the simply dissatisfied ones.

  • Jason Wester

    As an owner of a very small business, in a very small town, this is infuriating! I had a fake Google review from a fired employee; that caused enough heartache. I can’t imagine going through this. I hope that she is able to win her future civil suit against this couple.

  • Just_a_man

    I too applaud Andrea Polito for holding this couple accountable for defamation and business disparagement. This was close to hateful crime!

  • Martial

    Simple common sense would dictate not publicly humiliating any private citizen for any reason. For one thing, it is morally wrong to spread lies or even to spread truths that harm another without very good reason. For a second thing, if there exist problems with a licensed professional (photography may not be in that situation, although it is a profession to be sure), there are agencies within Texas to which reports of misconduct and professional incompetence can be made. For a third thing, the legal consequences listed above are readily available to all.
    Most important, such acts when followed by similarly awful responses can lead to property damage, violence against the person, & even murder. Nothing on earth is worth that. Any who doubt arguments can lead to death should speak with a police officer.

  • SuperTroll

    I hope the Moldovans have deep pockets and get hit with a huge judgment that forces them into bankruptcy. Then maybe they won’t do this again to someone else.

  • Jenn Lindberg

    Also, for those who want to help Andrea in some way, there is this: https://www.gofundme.com/andreapolito

  • Kel

    These two are screwed. Let’s see how smug these two narcissistic, attention-desperate, worthless posers are after they pay for what they did.