Sloan Shoemaker never guessed that getting hitched would be such a headache. All he wanted was to give his fiancee the fairy-tale wedding of her dreams; he even backed his vow with a down payment--$6,700, to be exact.
In January, the groom-to-be called the stately Redstone Castle, where he wanted to hold his wedding. Nestled in the Crystal River Valley twelve miles west of Aspen, the 20,000-square-foot inn was built in 1900 by steel and coal baron John Cleveland Osgood. It is fit for a princess. Shoemaker scheduled the wedding for August 14, signed a contract and put down half the cost of the rehearsal dinner, the wedding ceremony and the reception. He also booked all sixteen bedrooms for family members.
But when Shoemaker's mother called the Redstone Castle in early April to arrange the details for the rehearsal dinner, all she got was an answering machine; no one ever called her back.
For 24 years, a company called Redstone Investments ran and owned the upscale bed-and-breakfast. But last year it sold the operation to Jeff Woolsten, head of a Canadian investment firm, who planned to operate it. Woolsten couldn't pay his mortgage, however, so he offered the property to Louis Feher-Peiker, a Denver resident who dreamed of turning the inn into a spa.
Feher-Peiker, the husband of Melissa Feher-Peiker, whose parents own the Castle Marne bed-and-breakfast at 1572 Race Street in Denver, ran the castle while he waited for a group of venture capitalists from Asia to loan him the money to buy the $3.5 million mansion. Unfortunately, his ship never came in.
Instead of keeping wedding deposits--like Shoemaker's--in a holding account, Feher-Peiker and his company, Castle Consulting LLC, spent it, according to Ken Johnson, who oversees the inn for Redstone Investments. After repeated unfulfilled promises from Feher-Peiker, Redstone Investments finally foreclosed on the inn and then resumed ownership of it in April.
But it was too late for Shoemaker. Redstone Investments told him what had happened and explained that there was nothing they could do: His money, and Feher-Peiker, were gone. "The records had been cleared out, and their bank account was down to zero," says Shoemaker, who works for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, a nonprofit environmental-preservation organization. "I sent a letter to Castle Consulting telling them I need to be refunded, but they didn't respond in a timely fashion. And when they did, they said they couldn't assure me I'd get my money back. Now I'm S.O.L., because in order to sue them, it would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and I can't afford that. I called the Pitkin County sheriff, and he said my paltry claim doesn't meet the criteria for a criminal case, only a civil case. But I think it's fraud and embezzlement."
Shoemaker has hired a Denver lawyer to recoup his losses, but he's not confident that will happen. As for his wedding, Shoemaker spent several weeks scrambling to find a new location, new accommodations for his out-of-town guests and a new caterer, since Feher-Peiker's wedding planner had promised to provide that. He also had to reschedule the florist and photographer.
But even before Feher-Peiker backed out with his money, Shoemaker was getting suspicious. The castle's wedding planner failed to provide Shoemaker with price lists for beer, wine and liquor and didn't get back to him with other details. The planner told Shoemaker he would reserve rooms at a nearby hotel for many of the 200 expected attendees, but when Shoemaker called to confirm this, he was told the wedding planner was on vacation. When Shoemaker's fiancee, Beth Hahn, called the hotel, she found out that they had never been asked to reserve rooms--in fact, the entire place was already booked for the weekend of their wedding.
"The son of a bitch was being dishonest with me the whole time," Shoemaker says. "He didn't follow through with anything, because he knew they were going under. It had been a wrestling match with them since the outset, and the only reason we stayed with them was because the venue is so extraordinary. I suspect they used my money to pay their gas bill or something."
Actually, it seems Feher-Peiker's group spent the money on salaries, according to Ken Johnson. Castle Consulting amassed $40,000 in deposits from eighteen couples who had planned to get married there over the summer, but the inn's monthly payroll--about $25,000 when Redstone ran it--was $71,000, he says. Neither Feher-Peiker nor his wife returned phone calls from Westword. Feher-Peiker's attorney, John Powell, had no comment.
On April 20, after Redstone Investments recovered the property, Johnson went back to the inn to meet with Feher-Peiker so he could make the transition official. But when he arrived, no one was there. "I haven't seen any of them, but I sure have seen the aftermath," says Johnson, who's frustrated because he can't do anything to appease the irate customers who want their money back. "The problem is between [Castle Consulting] and the people from whom they took the money," he says. "We are legally outside the loop. Louis had a commitment for funding from abroad, but strange circumstances prevented the loan from being funded. I hope he gets his boatload of money so he can pay these people back."
Feher-Peiker's most recent promise of payment came just last week, but Johnson says he hasn't seen any money, and he points to a message on Castle Consulting's answering machine as the explanation. The message informs callers that "information is being collected for reorganization purposes." To Johnson, that means Feher-Peiker's business is preparing to go bankrupt. (Ironically, Melissa Feher-Peiker has worked as a distress manager to help bankrupt hotels become profitable.)
Last week the Redstone Castle closed--probably for good. And anyone trying to call the hotel is out of luck: According to Johnson, after Castle Consulting failed to pay a $3,500 phone bill, US West shut off the inn's phone service.
On August 29, the castle, which is on the state and national Register of Historic Places, will go on the auction block, where it will sell as a private residence rather than a hotel. The only reason it stayed open this long was because Feher-Peiker kept insisting that his loan was coming, Johnson says. "They're victims of circumstance, but they're running and hiding instead of dealing honestly with the situation."
Despite the missing $6,700, Shoemaker's tale has a happy ending. He arranged to have his ceremony at the Elk Mountain Lodge just miles outside of Aspen, on August 15--the day after his original wedding date. Others who had planned to wed at the Redstone, however, might want to consider eloping.
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