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Gaming Guru

Joe Schoenmann

Losing license might not stop chapel owner

24 October 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Like a good marriage, or even a bad one, the tale of Cheryl Luell and her wedding chapel war might be another never-ending story.

The Las Vegas City Council formally divorced A Las Vegas Garden of Love wedding chapel from its business license Monday. Yet other chapel owners said Luell, who co-owned Garden of Love with her husband, Craig, might well be back in business.

Not if Cliff Evarts, owner of the Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, has his way.

"Absolutely not," Evarts said when asked if the fight to clean up the chapel industry is over.

That's because Evarts said another wedding chapel, Heavenly Bliss, is rumored to have hired Luell. Calls to Heavenly Bliss, at 903 Third St. , were not returned Tuesday.

Not far away at Garden of Love, a man answering the phone Tuesday confirmed that the chapel, one day after losing its license, was under new ownership. He said, however, that he was "not at liberty" to reveal the new owner's name.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, Metro Police were spotted talking to Luell in the Garden of Love's parking lot at 1431 Las Vegas Blvd. South. On the other side of the chapel, a long black limousine was on blocks, its rear wheels missing.

And over at the Regional Justice Center, where every would-be husband and wife must go to get a marriage license, and where people hired by chapels hand out brochures, Carlos - who as a Garden of Love employee had stood in solidarity with Luell one day earlier - said he was now working for Heavenly Bliss.

It's easy to understand why people would do whatever they could to stay in the business : The potential profit in the Las Vegas wedding world is staggering. And by most accounts, Garden of Love, featured in a short-lived 2005 reality TV show, was one of the busiest chapels in Clark County.

In an average month, the chapel would churn through as many as 1,300 weddings. But in a county that is second only to Istanbul, Turkey, in the number of weddings held each year - with more than 110,000 wedding licenses obtained annually - that leaves a lot of weddings for other chapels.

For the more than 100 people who sat through almost 10 hours of testimony at City Hall - which mostly amounted to accusations of harassment, intimidation and fights between Garden of Love handbillers and those from other chapels - there was never any sense that it might go down as the Trial of the Century.

But it will surely be remembered for its sheer oddity, its harking back to Vegas' wilder Western days, and because it deals with one of the oddest businesses in the land - the quick, cheap and easy weddings of Las Vegas.

The testimony included one jaw-dropping moment when a Garden of Love employee claimed to have filed a false police report that Cheryl Luell threatened him, and he sought a restraining order against her. In return, he said, a rival chapel owner gave him $500, a week in a downtown hotel and a supply of crack cocaine.

The money, crack and hotel room, claimed the employee, Tory Manvilla - Cheryl Luell's uncle - came from rival chapel owner Evarts. Manvilla, from Milwaukee, also admitted to skipping out of Wisconsin, a probation violation.

As Manvilla laid out his elaborate tale, onlookers who know Evarts laughed. Mayor Oscar Goodman stepped in, advising Manvilla he might want to stop talking because "there are city attorneys" listening, a suggestion that Manvilla could face legal trouble for filing a false police report.

"I gotta stop you," Goodman said. "I've got to protect your rights here, because you're going to get yourself in so much trouble, Milwaukee may be a cakewalk."

"I'm just being honest," Manvilla said.

"And I don't question your honesty," the mayor replied. "That makes it worse."

During a break, Evarts said his wife "about had a heart attack" when she heard Manvilla's story. Evarts said Manvilla came to his office looking for a job and wanting to "spill the beans" on alleged illegal bookkeeping practices at Garden of Love. Evarts said he never saw him again after that day.

As Luell walked away from Monday's meeting in tears, her husband proclaimed , "God will have his justice."

Until then, it seems the Luells might have found a blissful way - a Heavenly Bliss-ful way - to obtain their own form of justice.