By Samantha Joseph
PALM CITY - A local church has stepped forward to help victims of a wedding planner now charged with fraud.
Immanuel Lutheran Church is offering its Palm City reception hall to former clients of Marc Bergeron, who say he unexpectedly left town with thousands in deposits.
"We're basically opening our facility to wedding parties," said administrator Alphenia Shine. "The church is community-minded, and when we saw this need, we wanted to assist in any way that we could. We know it's a benefit to the community if we all help."
The hall is located at 2655 S.W. Immanuel Drive, between Mapp Road and Matheson Avenue. It has a sound system, stage, commercial kitchen and can seat 250.
It usually rents for $125 per hour, with a price tag of about $400 for most weddings.
"We decided to step up to the plate and right the wrong that had been done," Ms. Shine said. "We'll open to anyone who was affected by this situation and try to book whatever dates they had planned for their wedding."
Church leaders made the decision during a monthly council meeting after news broke of Mr. Bergeron's alleged theft.
More than a dozen couples and other clients have come forward, accusing the Stuart resident of abruptly shutting down his business while holding deposits for weddings, birthday celebrations and other parties.
Authorities said Mr. Bergeron left town with about $17,000 in deposits for unfulfilled contracts.
The party planner operated the Crystal Reception Hall, located at 4195 S.W. High Meadows Ave. in Palm City.
He remains at the Martin County Jail, following his extradition from Texas, where Arlington authorities arrested him after a routine traffic stop that led to the discovery of outstanding warrants in Florida.
He faces charges of committing an organized scheme to defraud of less than $20,000, as well as an unrelated count of violation of probation for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Bond has been set at $80,000 for the 52-year-old Stuart man, of 2740 S.W. Martin Downs Blvd.
Immanuel Lutheran board members voted unanimously to offer the church's reception hall free of charge.
They are the latest group to offer assistance to Mr. Bergeron's former clients.
Members of the Wedding Professionals of the Treasure Coast, a network of licensed and bonded service providers, have provided thousands in free services.
Traxx Entertainment, Michael & Josephine Photography, Cakes by Elena, Silver Platter Entrées and Country Club Florists are among those who contributed.
Another company, A Paradise Wedding, has also donated an arch, linen, centerpieces and other items for a local wedding.
Sam Hager is the Immanuel Lutheran Church board member who suggested offering its reception hall.
"To have one of the happiest moments in a couple's life spoiled by the greed of one man was upsetting to me," he said.
The church's goal, its members said, was to ensure that "one of the most memorable moments in married couples' lives was memorable for a positive reason."
For more information, call (772) 287-8188.