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Photographer pleads to taking cash for wedding shots she didn't take

WILLMAR -- A 36-year-old Pennock woman pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser, gross misdemeanor charge of theft for accepting money for taking three couples' wedding photographs and then not showing up or taking photos of the ceremonies.

As part of a plea agreement reached in Kandiyohi County District Court, the charge ag-ainst Laura Anissa Johnson was re-duced from a felony. She also agreed to pay full restitution, $1,477, by the time of her sentencing on March 31. According to court documents, she is also known as Laura Doiel or Laura Herold. The charge was filed after Willmar police received information on June 10 from a man who had contracted with Johnson to take wedding photos. The wedding was on June 9 and no photographer was present. The man said he gave Johnson two checks, totaling $642, and that she was doing business as Studio J Photography in Willmar.

According to an amended complaint filed Nov. 17, two women reported they or their daughter had paid Johnson $300 and $535 in advance for wedding photos. The first complainant said she was unable to reach Johnson. A detective contacted Johnson, who said an associate would take the photos. However, she then e-mailed the woman, said she wouldn't honor the contract and that she was insulted that they had contacted the police. She also said she wouldn't return their money.

The second complainant said her daughter had engaged Johnson to take wedding photos and that Johnson had assured her that she would be at the wedding. However, she didn't show up at the event and didn't returned calls and voice mails.

When interviewed about the original complaint, Johnson told officers she was no longer in business, but that her business information was still available on the Internet.

She told investigators she didn't remember the man and that the wedding was handled by an assistant. She gave a name for the assistant, but didn't know where the woman lived or how police could get in touch with her.

Investigators showed Johnson a letter relating information that the man had paid in full for photography services, to which she replied that she never got the letter and always uses e-mail.