NewsTeam 10 Investigates


San Diego photographer accused of taking clients' money faces new accusations

The women say they hired photographer Lexie Cruz.
Posted at 6:34 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 21:34:16-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — There are more accusations against a San Diego photographer accused of taking clients’ money without providing photos. Since Team 10’s story aired in July, multiple women say they still have not received refunds, and more people are coming forward.

Dannica Smelter is one of those women. She said her wedding was beautiful with gorgeous pictures and video to prove it. However, the photographer she initially hired was not the one who showed up on the day of her wedding.

Smelter said during wedding planning, she tried to find a photographer online as she did with all her other vendors. She said Lexie Cruz reached out to her after her post on a Minnesota wedding Facebook page.

Smelter said at first Cruz was “super nice” and “everything was fine.”

It wasn’t unusual for Smelter to communicate with vendors online.

“Because of COVID, a lot of the vendors… I never met with until the actual wedding day. So most of my communications with vendors and different things for the wedding were all done through either Facebook Marketplace or email, or a combination of both,” she said.

RELATED: SD photographer accused of taking clients’ money and not providing photos

Two weeks before her wedding, Smelter checked in on Cruz, who told her something she never expected.

“She sent me emails like, ‘Hey girl. I’m so sorry. I mixed up the year. I thought I was supposed to come in 2022,’” Smelter told Team 10.

Despite the 2021 date highlighted in the contract, that was Cruz’s excuse.

“I was immediately in shock. I felt like my stomach fell to my feet,” Smelter said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

In an email, Cruz said she would refund her. Smelter said that hadn’t happened yet. She has lost roughly $1,800.

Tegan, who wanted to use only her first name for privacy concerns, is in the same boat. She hired Cruz for her wedding and checked in a week before the ceremony to ensure everything was on track.

“She comes back saying I didn’t receive a deposit,” said Tegan.

Tegan showed Cruz the completed payment of $450. In their online messages, Tegan said Cruz claimed she didn’t put the wedding in her calendar. Tegan said Cruz told her she would receive a refund in August.

“She still has not sent me money,” said Tegan.

The two women from Minnesota are the latest in a list of customers accusing Cruz of taking their money. So far, Team 10 has spoken to seven women in three different states. Lisa from San Diego County spoke to Team 10 earlier this year about Cruz.

“Notice some of the red flags because initially, she was sending me a link to every cash payment app there is available,” Lisa said in a Team 10 story that aired in July.

Cruz has not agreed to do an on-camera interview. In July, she sent a 14-minute video as part of her explanation.

“Yes, there’s been cancellations. There’s been no deposit back, and I take responsibility for the things that I have done,” Cruz said in part of the video. “But I also can’t say that I’ve done a lot of the stuff that people are making me out to be. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to… lose a whole bunch of clients and a whole bunch of family friends due to this problem.”

After Team 10’s first story aired, Cruz sent text messages claiming people were making fake accounts and acting like her. She provided no proof to Team 10.

Cruz also said she is done with her business, “paid everyone back,” and “will make it right.”

That is something multiple women is also said is not true.

“I have not heard from her and I have not received a dime,” Smelter said.

Even though she claimed her business was done, a records search showed Lexie Cruz filed for a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) for her company LL Media at the end of June. Her company’s website and social media are still active.

A legal expert told Team 10 said filing an LLC does not necessarily protect someone from personal civil or criminal action.

Cruz has ignored Team 10’s latest attempts to reach her by phone, email, and social media.

Smelter said she has ignored her customers too. “For someone who said that she’s going to refund me, it didn’t seem very promising when I was blocked on everything,” she said.

The Better Business Bureau always recommends getting references for photographers, getting all details in the contract, do not pay the total upfront, and pay with a credit card if possible.

Cruz is not facing any criminal charges at this point. San Diego police confirmed there is an ongoing investigation.

“I was embarrassed quite frankly, and then I was pissed… It needs to stop now because it’s ridiculous, and people shouldn’t be able to do that,” Tegan said of Cruz.

An online Facebook group where people have shared stories of their experiences with Cruz has nearly 900 members. Smelter has filed a police report. A spokesperson for the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office said the case is still active.