More than half of the 2,000 wedding gowns stolen in Scottsdale five months ago — before they could help fulfill the wishes of hundreds of dying women — have been seized in Mexico by federal authorities.
The gowns, valued at more than $2 million, were discovered last week in a tractor-trailer attempting to enter the U.S. at Nogales, Mexico, according to officials with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The driver of the 40-foot truck was arrested and the trailer impounded at the port of entry.
An investigation has led to other theft-related arrests throughout Arizona, authorities said.
“We are absolutely ecstatic,” said Fran Hansen, director of the Making Memories Foundation, who arrived in Nogales on Monday after leaving a benefit in Tampa Bay, Fla. “Some of the things are missing, but it’s looking good. We’re so blessed.”
Hansen said they have recovered 1,024 gowns.
In November, the tractor-trailer carrying the gowns was stolen from the parking lot of a Country Inn and Suites in north Scottsdale. Owned by the Oregon-based nonprofit group, the gowns were on their way to a fundraiser in West Hollywood, Calif.
The sales of the gowns at the fundraiser, “Brides Against Breast Cancer,” were to benefit women dying of breast cancer.
Authorities were not specific about the other items discovered in the trailer, but did say they were not connected to drugs or human smuggling.
Details of the seizure are expected to be announced today by the Department of Homeland Security in Nogales.
Hansen said she wasn’t sure if the driver is linked to the thefts.
“We do have the trailer, and we do have the dresses,” said Brian Levin, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “There’s a lot of stuff in the truck, we’re doing an inventory, but I do know the gowns are in there.”
Making Memories accepts bridal gown donations from stores or from women who no longer want to keep their wedding gowns.
The gowns that were recovered likely will go to a benefit in Chicago, according to Nick DiLello, owner of Phoenix Bridal Show in Scottsdale, who has assisted Hansen with bridal gown donations.
Valley residents and bridal shops showed an outpouring of support by replacing more than half of the stolen gowns with donations.
DiLello helped Hansen organize an impromptu fundraiser in Scottsdale in November in an effort to replenish what was stolen.
About 1,500 wedding gowns were donated in two days. David’s Bridal Shop and Brides by Demetrio’s in Scottsdale donated 500 new gowns each, and other Valley residents climbed into their attics and dusted off cardboard garment boxes containing gowns long packed away.
The theft also garnered national media attention, which helped spur the donations of hundreds more gowns.
DiLello said on Monday he was happy for Hansen.
“This is awesome news,” DiLello said. “It’s exciting for Phoenix and the Valley. The gowns are in salable condition. It’s a good ending to the story. Fran will be able to turn these gowns around in the next month to grant more wishes to women who have breast cancer.”
Making Memories Fundraiser
Making Memories will host a Brides Against Breast Cancer fundraiser at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale May 19-20.
If anyone is interested in donating gowns or for more information, call (503) 829-4486 or (480) 874-4718.
Stolen dresses timeline
• Nov. 5, 2006: A truck and trailer containing more than 2,000 wedding gowns, whose proceeds were intended for women dying of breast cancer, is stolen in north Scottsdale. Authorities valued the gowns, owned by nonprofit group Making Memories Foundation, at $3 million.
• Nov. 7: The cab that had been connected to the stolen trailer is recovered by Phoenix police at 83rd Avenue and West McDowell Road.
• Nov. 7-8: Nick DiLello, owner of Phoenix Bridal Show in Scottsdale, assists the nonprofit group with an impromptu fundraiser and gown donation event to recoup the losses. About 1,500 gowns are donated, including 500 each from David’s Bridal Shop and Brides by Demetrio’s in Scottsdale.
• Last week: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents detain the trailer and the driver of its cab at the Mexico/United States border. More than 1,000 gowns are still in the trailer. It is not yet determined whether the driver of the cab is connected to the thefts.
• Today: U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans announcement detailing the seizure.
Source: Tribune research