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ND Attorney General investigating Bismarck's Glasser Images after sudden closure

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Alexis Christianson
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Alexis and Kendall Christianson

Hundreds of clients claim they are out thousands of dollars - and even more priceless wedding photos.

The North Dakota Attorney General’s Office is investigating dozens of complaints against a photography service based in Bismarck that has suddenly closed.

In an email to a client, Glasser Images said they would not be able to work with customers this October, and that any money paid could not be refunded. That email has since gathered traction on social media.

This has left many other clients like Alexis Christianson wondering what will become of their wedding photos. She says her family has used Glasser on several other occasions, and she felt good about booking them for her September 17th nuptials.

"Our photographers were great, and we connected with them really well. After the wedding, we got an email saying we'd get our sneak peak a month after the wedding and the full album with all the photos three months after the wedding."

Christianson says she was contacted by her photographer yesterday, who told her Glasser would be filing for bankruptcy and permanently close. The photographer is an independent subcontractor, who said she still had all the photos. Christianson hopes the photographer will still be able to edit the photos.

Subcontractor photographers who have worked with Glasser say they aren’t surprised of today’s news. Morgen Hagerott has worked with Glasser since 2017, and says invoices for work were rarely paid on time – often going three months past the agreed upon payment date. He says the issue only got worse as the business expanded.

Stephen Martin worked for Glasser for a year, shooting weddings in South Dakota, Minneapolis, and the Bismarck area. He says subcontractors were routinely paid late, even pre-pandemic. At the end of 2020, he started talking to other subcontractors about exposing the issue and even spoke to one media outlet. But he says nothing came of those efforts.

"Finally, coming into the beginning of 2021, everybody got paid because they started offering 'pay in full now for your wedding in 2021 and 2022 and get a discount,' so they could bring in a lot of cash really quickly and pay everybody off. Then myself and a lot of other people left the business. So just seeing a year later that it just happened again and they finally filed for bankruptcy, and seeing all this happening - it just frustrates me because I tried to do something about it last year, and it just never got the headway that it should have."

Yet another subcontractor who started working with Glasser this past July, Josh Bryant, says business owner Jack Glasser seemed a little cavalier with business expenses.

"It seemed like he would just spend money where it didn't need to be spent. We had a lot of photographers that would come in to shoot weddings, flying in from Colorado. That just seemed ridiculous; they could have found people here in North Dakota and avoided that huge fee of getting on a plane."

Steven Warkel worked as a full time videographer for Glasser between 2019 and 2020, and then as a subcontractor until 2021. He says he eventually left because he didn’t feel safe shooting weddings during the pandemic, as Glasser didn’t seem concerned about covid measures. He also said the pandemic was blamed for a lot of issues surrounding late invoice payments.

"I am not surprised to see it closed down, and to be honest, I'm kind of happy its in the spotlight because as subcontractors dealing with those issues, there wasn't really a lot of great avenues to take to ensure you were going to see your money. We didn't really legally know what to do - I mean, you can report it to the state and whatnot. Any time you're working freelance, you're kind of always dealing with needing someone to pay up at some point. With Glasser, it was never fun to a certain degree, and I stopped recommending that my friends subcontract with them, or at least telling them up front that they probably wouldn't be paid on time as an up front."

According to ProPublica.org, Glasser Images was paid more than half a million dollars in paycheck protection loans earlier this year.

As is the case with Christianson’s wedding photos, many independent subcontractors are still in possession of the images taken at weddings. But Hagerott is concerned about who actually has legal ownership of those images. He says Glasser’s copyright and intellectual property ownership of the images may prevent photographers from distributing the photos.

"I just wish that Glasser would come out and release any of that liability to the subcontractors, so we could at least help some of the people in the situation."

Hagerott also stated he had called the North Dakota Bankruptcy Court. He says they told him as of Friday afternoon, Glasser Images had yet to officially file for bankruptcy.

Christianson says they are trying to dispute the charges on their credit card paid to Glasser, and hopes the company can eventually pay the clients back. She says what felt the worst for her was how Glasser tried to bring in money until the last possible moment.

"I actually do have a friend, who, their friend just booked with Glasser a few days ago and paid in full. And now they're out that money. For Glasser to know that that was going to happen, and still be accepting that money from clients - it's pretty bad."

In the email to October clients, Glasser said anyone could contact Bismarck attorney Jonathan Sanstead with further questions. This morning, Sanstead stated he no longer represented Glasser Images.