Businessman Mike Luzansky was the owner of the now defunct California-based supplier H20 Photo Pros. The company ceased trading in December 2010 and at that time, Mike made no attempt to speak about the events leading to the company’s demise. This lack of communication may have caused the large number and ongoing nature of complaints about H20 Photo Pros and their conduct that have been posted in a thread on the Wetpixel forum. In January this year, Mike approached Wetpixel, seeking to put forward his side of the story. Wetpixel suggested that this would be best achieved in the form of an interview with him, which is now published below in full.
WP: Despite appeals, you have chosen not to divulge any details of the business’s demise or defend your actions in public until now. Why? What has changed to make you want to tell your side of the story now?
ML: Originally I remained quiet for 3 reasons.
1. I was sick, bed ridden with a staph infection and on the verge of hospitalization (it was requested but I refused).
2. I was originally going to pursue litigation and my attorneys requested I refrain from any public outreach. For health and sanity reasons, I opted to forego litigation and move on with developing a new life and just accepting the past for what it was.
3. I have for a long time wanted to make a public apology to those that were affected, and also refute the allegations and untruthful accusations made against me. However doing so would take a lot of strength and energy to do so, and I had to build that up. I suffered deep depression for all that I had lost after years of building a life and business. I made a decision the attempting to build a new life and begin living again was most important and when the time was right, I would then go back and work on closure. That time has now come and I want people to know what happened. The one thing I can go to sleep at night knowing is that never during this time was there malice or intent to harm ANY customers.
WP: Can you tell us a bit about H20 Photo Pros? How long had you been trading for? What was your core business?
ML: I was in business from early 2004 until closing in December 2010. We sold Underwater Photo & Video Equipment. I also ran a full Rental and Underwater Production department there supplying Discovery, Nat Geo, History and many productions in both Hollywood and independent productions and shoots (music video, commercials, advertising, etc)
WP: In your emails to me, you have alluded to a decision that adversely affected your business. Can you tell me what that was?
ML: Purchasing Marine Visions and all of the business decisions that followed in relation to the purchase and operation of that expansion.
WP: What was the result of making this decision?
ML: I was defrauded, suffered from employee embezzlement, and there was a significant breach of contract and I was deceived with regards to the business’ debts. In total, I took a loss of nearly $300,000 and ultimately found out the main reason I purchased the business was to support a manufacturer who opted to contribute to breach of contract, withheld debt information, and committed fraud and potential forgery on transaction documentation to a federal government agency. Said manufacturer refused to release any of the documentation related to the transaction that was being completed in the business name that I had purchased and legally owned. I know the documentation was in my name because all parties involved worked together and the invoices were submitted under the company name I purchased and we worked the transaction for over 3 months with the assistance of the manufacturer.
WP: Once things started to go wrong in the business, what action did you take?
ML: First thought was survival. How do I get out of this, how do I get these customers taken care of, and how can I restructure the business so we are efficient and profitable. One of my biggest issues was I became very short-staffed at the absolute worst time when I needed as much support and help as I could to make sure the open orders and issues were resolved and business could resume.
WP: When did you realize that the business was no longer viable?
ML: When I got sick in December and my health deteriorated I realized that I was working 20-22 hour days to sell products for companies with no morals. My problem was I personalized many things, and I created relationships and attachments to people so the hurt I suffered from actions was extremely devastating to me and I did not know how to handle it so I shut down.
WP: A key question that surfaces is, that despite it seeming unlikely that you could fulfill orders, you continued to accept (and take payment for) them. Did this occur?
ML: The orders I continued to take were in good faith with full effort to fulfill them. There were even a couple of customers who placed orders in mid to late December of 2010 that decided they wanted a refund because they had read negative things on Wetpixel. Although I tried my best to keep those 2 sales, I immediately had refunded their money so they could then shop elsewhere. I continued to accept Nauticam and Gates orders because during that time I had conversations with both Chris Parsons (Nauticam) and Pamela Mertz (Gates) about restructuring my company and solely focusing on their brands, along with a couple of accessory brands (like ULCS, S&S Strobes, L&M Solas). For that reason, I did continue to accept orders from those manufacturers, but not for product from other manufacturers who I had decided I was no longer going to work with.
WP: Another common thread is that people did not receive “extra” goods (e.g. Think Tank bags) that were included in packages, despite being promised that they would. This has apparently lead to some ill-feeling. How would you respond to this?
ML: For many years we offered the extra goods without issue. During this troubled time there was a back order on the 2 Think Tank bags we were giving away as freebies with our package systems. By the time they were coming back into stock, our issues were full-blown the few customers waiting for them were essentially on the “to do list” which clearly had been growing with some significant issues. There was NO malice intention to not supply them. We had been doing so for years and in fact was one of these things we really promoted. The last few years in business we had been giving away a significant amount of Think Tank bags. This was an unfortunate casualty of the situation at whole.
WP: It would also seem that, at times, you would not return calls or emails when customers were requesting information about their purchases and at times gave misleading information about shipment dates and times. Why was this?
ML: I was dealing with far more than I could handle and I had just shut down internally. I had no answers, did not know what to do, and realized that due to a bad business decision that multiplied, I was losing 8 years of my life and everything I had. I am sorry for those that were affected, it was not to intentionally harm any one.
WP: In our email exchange, you said that you worked with the credit card companies to ensure that your customers were taken care of. Can you tell me what this process was and how you went about it?
ML: I worked with the processing company and they refunded all customers who had outstanding orders. I then set up a monthly payment plan to refund any moneys owed to the CC Processing company and to date continue to make those monthly payments. Unfortunately, there were also 3 customers who took the situation for granted and defrauded the system by filing for a complete refund although they had received 70-90% of their systems. One such customer (the worst of the 3) had received ALL but one item of his entire $12,000 order. However it was a critical component (the housing), so we sent him a loaner set up which was a different manufacturer housing so I also had to send him a complete set of loaner ports (that we rented from a customer and paid for). That customer decided to keep ALL of the gear, file for a complete refund with his Credit Card company, and because it happened while I was bed ridden, I was not able to respond within the 14 day window, so I lost out on the money, and all the gear. In addition, I needed to make good with the customer I rented the system from, so I had to pay them back for their system. This instance alone cost me over $23,000. I was able to make good with the customer who I rented the system from and they were satisfied and VERY patient with me. To date I still make monthly payments towards the debt from this one. This was only ONE of 3 similar stories during this time.
WP: For those that feel that H20 Photo Pros still owes them goods or monies, how do they go about claiming this?
ML: I am only aware of a few of such people who for specific reasons did not receive a refund or product. However those people I have already spoke with. For any others that I am unaware of, I would ask those customers to reach out to me via email. Although I am still in a recovery stage 2 ½ years later and trying to get my life back on track and making a living again, I do want to make sure there is closure for anyone who was affected and I have not spoken with.
I would like to end this with a final apology to those affected. I never intended any harm to anyone. I loved being in this industry. Diving and making images was my life and passion and losing it all was disastrous to my life and well-being. I have been trying to rebuild my life so that I can continue resolving open issues with those affected.