North Dakota photo studio facing scathing lawsuit began as a high school dream
By late 2021, possible solutions for keeping the studio afloat had run out, and Glasser Images closed its doors in Bismarck after financing didn't materialize, according to Jack Glasser.
BISMARCK — Jack Glasser says that right up to the moment he closed his Bismarck photography studio in October 2021, he believed he could still make a go of the business he first imagined as a 16-year-old kid in high school.
The now 33-year-old said that is because ever since his company, Glasser Images, leased its first studio space in 2009, he was able to sustain and grow the business.
That is, he says, until the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring of 2020.
By October of 2020, Glasser said he had to cut his employee numbers in half — from 26 to 13 — and adopt a new business model that focused on subcontracting to cover weddings and other photo and video work.
By late 2021, possible solutions for keeping the studio afloat had run out, and Glasser Images closed its doors after hoped-for financing didn't materialize, according to Glasser.
Other businesses met a similar end because of the pandemic, said Tim O'Keeffe, an attorney who is defending Glasser, Glasser Images, and Jace Schacher, an employee of Glasser Images, against a lawsuit filed by North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.
The suit claims Jack Glasser and others knowingly entered into a deceptive scheme to violate North Dakota law and that company policy was created consistent with that scheme.
The complaint alleges the defendants defrauded consumers and subcontractors in multiple states, including the Dakotas, Minnesota and Colorado.
The North Dakota Attorney General's Office initiated a consumer fraud investigation in October 2021, after Glasser Images abrubtly closed its doors and posted notice that it would not provide refunds.
All told, the Attorney General's Office has received more than 530 complaints alleging claims of more than $1.4 million.
Glasser and Schacher recently filed an answer to the lawsuit in which they claim that any injuries and/or wrongdoings "may in whole or in part" be the result of the acts or fault of other parties.
Around the time the court answer was filed, Glasser and Schacher reached out to The Forum and offered to provide more insight into the history of the business and what it meant to them.
According to O'Keeffe, the state's lawsuit mischaracterizes a business failure as intentional fraud.
Wrigley said in a statement announcing the lawsuit that the Consumer Protection Division of his office found substantial evidence supporting the allegations in the complaint, including the claim Glasser Images had been experiencing serious financial problems for years but falsely blamed the business closure on the pandemic.
"Despite the business’s serious undercapitalization, Jack Glasser continued to borrow from banks, the government, friends, and family, while simultaneously enjoying a lifestyle of high-end dining, travel, and luxury vehicles, all at the expense of his business customers," Wrigley said.
According to the lawsuit, Glasser Images continued to take advance payments from clients for a year knowing it likely would not be able to provide what it promised.
O'Keeffe disputed claims made in the suit, stating the lawsuit looked at "snippets of time" in Glasser Images' financial situation in order to "sweep" to a conclusion that paints an inaccurate picture of the company's story.
O'Keeffe added that the lifestyles of Glasser and Schacher had no impact on the company's bottom line, asserting that the two are now "cutting out all expenses in their life" as they continue to work at making sure former clients get the images they are due.
The number of customers who are still out images isn't known, O'Keeffe said, adding that he believes it is possible that in some cases subcontractors have held images hostage.
O'Keeffe said much of the $1.4 million in client claims has been paid to customers through their credit card companies, and he said Glasser and Schacher must now deal with civil actions arising from that situation.
Glasser and Schacher maintain that because the company had been able to overcome so much over the years, they both believed — right up to the end — that it would recover.
"I feel awful," Schacher said.
Glasser said he has apologized in the past and continues to apologize for how things ended with his business, an enterprise he said began as a passion for photography that started when he picked up his father's film camera as a boy and continued with his first digital camera, which his parents bought him.
Glasser acknowledged, however, that in the eyes of many, apologies will likely "do little to make up for the mistakes we made."
After Glasser Images closed, a Facebook group originally titled "GlasserImagesSucks" and renamed "GlasserImagesGroup," formed with the stated purpose of determining legal action against the business. The group quickly garnered more than 1,000 followers.
V. Keagan McGarvey, a 25-year-old who posted on the Facebook group, told The Forum days after Glasser Images closed that she and her fiancé paid the company about $3,000 in May 2021 to shoot their wedding, accepting a discount in exchange for paying the full cost up front.
A former photographer, McGarvey said photos are one of the most important parts of the wedding day for her, and she said she was anxious about putting down money with someone else after getting burned.
"The fact that we trusted this company to do this is really devastating," she said. "We're already kind of struggling because we want the day to be really special."