Nathan Finkel was on the grounds of his lavish, 16,3130-square-foot South Florida mansion Saturday morning when strangers arrived at his gate, demanding to come inside to set up for their wedding.
But Finkel was not aware of any nuptials.
“I have people trespassing on my property,” Finkel told a 911 dispatcher, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, who first reported the incident. “They say they’re having a wedding here and it’s God’s message. I don’t know what’s going on.”
Among those loitering outside the home in Southwest Ranches, Fla., was the groom, Courtney Wilson, the town’s mayor, Steve Breitkreuz, told The Washington Post.
Wilson had invited guests to celebrate his union with Shenita Jones at “our dream home and estate,” their wedding website said. Problem was, he didn’t actually own the mansion.
The home belongs to Finkel, whose late father made his fortune as an early franchisee of IHOP restaurants. It has nine bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, a movie theater, grand ballroom and a two-lane bowling alley on the western edges of Southwest Ranches, a town of 9,000 in Broward County that attracts professional athletes and wealthy entrepreneurs, Breitkreuz said. The grounds include lush foliage, ponds, gardens, a tennis court and a resort-style pool.
Finkel put the property on the market two years ago. It’s listed at over $5.6 million.
Wilson became acquainted with the house a few months ago. “He presented himself as a potential buyer,” Breitkreuz said.
But Wilson didn’t put a bid on the house. Instead he approached Finkel with a different offer — to rent the property as his wedding venue.
“The owner said no,” Breitkreuz said. “He thought that was it. It’s done. Asked and answered. Not going to happen.”
Wilson apparently thought otherwise. Wilson said God had told him he was meant to be married at Finkel’s home, so he and Jones moved forward with the plans. The wedding promised a glamorous affair to celebrate the “Royal Couple,” as they referred to themselves on the wedding website.
The ceremony was set to begin at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, according to the website, followed by a “Red Carpet Happy Hour” and a reception lasting until 2:30 a.m. Wilson and Jones, who met in high school but reconnected 30 years later, also invited guests back to the mansion the following day for a brunch.
But the day of the wedding didn’t go as the bride and groom planned.
“The guy figured it was a vacant house and didn’t realize Nathan lived on the property in a different home,” Keith Poliakoff, the town attorney, told the Sun Sentinel. “This guy had no idea he lived there. You know the shock that must have been on his face when he showed up at the gate and the owner was home?”
Bewildered, Finkel called local police when he realized strangers were trying to use his home as a wedding venue.
“They keep harassing me, calling me,” Finkel told the 911 operator. “All I want is [for] it to stop.”
Two police officers soon arrived at Finkel’s home and told Wilson and his vendors to leave.
Wilson could not be reached for comment, and he declined to talk to the Sun Sentinel. Jones did not immediately respond to a message from The Post early on Friday. They were not charged with any crimes in the incident. Finkel also could not be reached for comment.
In the days that followed, a rumor spread through the town that local law enforcement had shut down a wedding. When Breitkreuz got wind of it, he started asking questions — it wasn’t like Southwest Ranches to “restrict a wedding,” he said, “unless it’s unusual circumstances.”
Once the actual story came out, he said, locals mostly found it amusing.
“In the [council] meeting tonight we kind of joked around about it because we’re a little town,” Breitkreuz said Thursday night.
“It was an unusual day in the Ranches,” he added.