Customers out thousands after banquet halls shuts down

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PHOENIX - The invitations are ready and the decorations are done and all Olivia Alvarado needed was a place to party.

She was planning on having her daughter's quinceanera next month at a place called Elegante Banquet Hall in Phoenix.

She'd paid the owner, Maria Nieves, $7,000 to have the celebration there, but then in late December, the hall was shut down, and Maria had apparently disappeared, leaving customers with only a voicemail message to go on.

The message says, in part:

“…please know we are not avoiding your calls, we are working on a solution to help refund all money paid to Elegante, we will be contacting you so please do not leave a message...”

But Olivia claims she was never contacted, and with the celebration just weeks away, had to break the news to her daughter that her quinceanera was cancelled.

“I sat her down and said, I’m sorry and she's like well, did she just take our money or other people, and I told her I'm pretty sure she took other people's money, and she's like well, you know, that's okay,” Olivia recalled as she wiped away her tears.

In fact, over the past few weeks, 3 On Your Side has been looking into several complaints involving Elegante Banquet Hall.

Christina Valencia showed us receipts for $7,000 for her daughter's quinceanera, which was supposed to be in March.

Gilberto Chaves paid $2,000 to have his wedding reception at Elegante in two weeks.

Both say they've left countless messages for Maria Nieves, asking for an explanation, but say they haven't heard a word from her since the property owners shut down the place last month.

“I feel like I want to cry,” Christina said.

After leaving several messages and trying to track down her home address, a 3 On Your Side producer was finally able to make contact with Maria on the phone.

She told us she's stressed about the situation and admitted to using some of the money on rent and bills at Elegante.

As for paying people back, it appears Maria is making good on at least part of that promise.

“I would like to see her refund my money, I would like to see her apologize to my daughter,” Olivia said.

During our first interview, Olivia Alvarado was in tears, having to call off her daughter's quinceanera, and over the loss of her $7,000.

But she was all smiles when we revisited her recently with a cashier's check that had been delivered to her home from Maria worth $7,000.

“The party's back on and we just can’t wait, it's going to turn out great thanks to you guys we're so thankful, thank you very much,” Olivia said.

Although the outcome gives other customers some optimism, for now, all they're left with is the hope they'll soon get their money back too.

3 On Your Side will continue to follow this story and bring you any new updates.