Irony is, in some cases, a dish best served frothy white.
Before being arrested for embezzling $5.1 million from a D.C. non-profit to keep her unprofitable Upper Marlboro bridal boutique afloat, Ephonia Green prided herself on donating ensembles to military brides. Green is now serving a 46-month prison term, but on Wednesday two U.S. Marines bought a couple of her wedding dresses at cut-rate prices.
The dresses were among 2,400 items from her inventory that federal marshals seized and the U.S. General Services Administration is selling through the end of the week at a fraction of their retail value. If it all sells, it will bring in $600,000 to $800,000, which will be given to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the organization that was the target of Green’s embezzlement. Green, the owner of Couture Miss Bridal & Formal, was a $56,000-a-year administrative assistant at the AAMC, which represents medical schools and teaching hospitals and administers the MCAT, a test used in medical school admissions.
The sale, held at the Embassy Suites Baltimore Hotel at BWI airport, included tiaras, shoes, veils, and flower girl dresses, in addition to other formal evening wear.
Throughout the morning, a steady stream of prospective brides perused the racks.
“Today the plan is to find the wedding dress and then hopefully the reception dress and then after that I have some more formal events, so I’ll keep looking,” said Sakeitha Crowder, a physician in her 30s who flew up from her home outside Raleigh, N.C. to attend the sale. She and her aunt, who flew in from Atlanta to meet her, are staying at a hotel across the street for easy access.
They riffled through silk, gauze, and pearly numbers, including some by designers like Christina Wu and David Tutera. “This has a long train that I love, and the detail is there, but the quality is not what I’m looking for,” Crowder said, holding up a white beaded gown. “Ooh!” she said, turning to another, “this could work for a reception dress – but I think it’s too small.”
It is common practice for seized property to be auctioned or sold to the public.
“One of the Department of Justice’s main initiatives is victims compensation, so as often as we can compensate the victims of white collar crime, we do,” said Jason Martinez, assistant program manager with the asset forfeiture division of the U.S. Marshals Service. “Like with Bernie Madoff, we’re still paying victims of that scheme. They’ll never recoup the full amount, but we’re trying to make them whole as much as possible.”
The goods are usually less exquisite – cars, office furniture. There has been only one other bridal sale, held in Atlanta, for wedding attire seized in Alaska. “We tried to sell it up there, but the market wasn’t very good,” he said. No surprise – Alaska has one of the country’s highest male- to-female ratios.
Trying on the merchandise was not an option, so the brides resorted to guesswork, holding up dresses, pulling straps up over sweatshirts, imagining how well they might be set off by bare skin.
“I’m really nervous spending the money if I can’t try it on,” said Mary Stiles, 24, of Port Tobacco, MD, looking anguished as her friends held up two dresses.
“If you go somewhere else you won’t find a dress that price,” said her mother, Susan Stiles.
“But you have to be 100 percent sure,” said her friend Angelimar De Jesus of Beltsville. “I’ve seen a lot of brides and they only buy if they’re 100 percent sure.”
Being sure was not a problem for Marine Staff Sergeant Sharla Shima, 32, who drove up from Quantico early in the morning with her friend Sergeant Debbie Mendez, 25.
“You think we get a military discount?” Mendez asked as they shopped.
“This is the military discount,” Shima retorted.
Mendez, who plans to marry in June, had been dragging her feet on dress shopping – but Shima is no procrastinator.
“Admittedly I just got engaged on Saturday,” she said. “One of our bosses had mentioned that he’d heard about this on the radio and that we should come.”
Shima had jokingly told her fiancé that she would wear her dress blues. “He said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
So, unlike women who spend weeks or months hunting for the perfect dress, she chose hers in about an hour.
She held up a high-necked, sleeveless lace gown — $500, down from $1,113 – and the search was over. “It was a really good deal and beautiful, and it fit my criteria exactly,” she said. “I like to get in and out.”
Looking it over after making the purchase, she added, “Honestly, I didn’t even notice the train until I bought it.”