COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Just a few weeks ago, on a beach in Florida, Autumn Alston tied the knot.
"It was a beautiful day, and it was so nice," she said as she scrolled through wedding pictures on her phone.
Neither Autumn nor her husband has family in Cocoa Beach. They didn't meet there. They don't have friends there either. They decided to wed there for just one reason. The newlyweds planned to hop on a cruise ship in nearby Port Canaveral just hours after the ceremony. Their destinations: Belize and Mexico.
"Oh, my Gosh, that water. The water is just so beautiful," Alston said. "I was waiting and thinking about this vacation all year long."
In fact, she said she started planning for it in January when her friends recommended a travel agent named Kisha Morgan Chaplin.
"Well, friends of ours that were actually going on the cruise with us – he had a friend who apparently went through Kisha before – apparently didn't have any problems with it," said Alston, who lives in Hopkins.
Alston said, at first, as she made payments, she didn't have any problems either.
"But I will say though that the entire time of trying to deal with her, as far as even making payments, it was like – it was so difficult to get in contact with her," she recalled.
Alston said it became even harder to reach her after she finished paying: no boarding passes, no confirmation number and her wedding and cruise were
quickly approaching. Her anxiety reached its peak the day before the wedding.
"When I really started getting concerned is when we actually left that Friday – which was September 29th – heading down to Florida, and all day we were trying to get in contact with her," she said. "Our friends were like, 'Do we even pack as much as we're supposed to? Because we might just be staying down for the weekend and coming back.' I went ahead and packed for a whole week's worth – just in case – because I was still trying to be optimistic thinking, 'Well, maybe she'll come through for us.'"
Alston said Chaplin did not.
"Well, we officially actually found out at midnight, because that's when she emailed me when we were at the resort. She emailed me and said she canceled our cruise because she said she couldn't stand to be in detainment because she has children she has to take care of and she has a fulltime job," Alston said. "The reason is that she said that was because, at that point, we had emailed her and texted her and said, 'Listen, it's getting down to the wire now. We need our boarding passes, or we're going to get the law involved.'"
That next day, her smile, captured in wedding pictures, concealed feelings of anger, betrayal, and defeat.
Denise and David Vincent are living the same nightmare.
"To find out that same money that you put in somebody's hand, that you worked hard for, nothing's going to come from it – it's a slap in the face," said Denise, who lives in Irmo.
The two were hoping to cruise on October 28th. Now that the trip is paid, they said Chaplin is almost impossible to reach. They have no boarding passes – no proof their trip was even booked.
The couple did some detective work. They soon discovered Chaplin was terminated back in May by a host agency that contracts travel agents. WIS verified that claim directly with the agency.
Then, the couple found out the problem was more widespread when they logged on to Facebook and created a growing secret group: Prosecute Kisha Morgan Chaplin.
Meanwhile, an Excel spreadsheet was sent to WIS that includes hundreds of names with addresses in South Carolina and beyond. A cruise customer told WIS the list is comprised of many other people who either booked cruises or thought about booking cruises, with Chaplin. Due to the incredible size of the list, WIS hasn't yet contacted everyone on it. However, of the dozens of people we've talked to, only two had good things to say about their experiences. Many others voiced disappointment in Chaplin. Some of them feel they're owed refunds.
Now, multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating some of the complaints: at least Lexington, Richland, and Fairfield. Customers like the Vincents, Alston, and others hope it'll produce more than justice. They want refunds and an explanation.
"I mean, what is the reason for what you've been doing?" asked Alston.
Last week, WIS tried to find out and tracked Chaplin down to a home in Fairfield County where the door was shut on us.
Fairfield County Sheriff's Office had better luck this week. Deputies arrested Chaplin on Tuesday. She's charged with Breach of Trust with Fraudulent Intent.
Many of Chaplin's customers hope more charges will soon be brought against her in other counties.
Coming up tonight, we've got more on those potential charges. And some of the law enforcement agencies that have arrested Chaplin want other victims to come forward if they have dealt with her.
"We are continuing to develop this investigation while working with surrounding law enforcement agencies who are investigating similar incidents," Fairfield Co. Sheriff Will Montgomery said. "We encourage anyone who has information about this investigation, or who has, themselves, possibly been a victim of a similar incident, to contact their local law enforcement immediately."