It's a story that could make clients think twice about booking with an agent - a travel agent that allegedly took $360,000 from a high school band for a trip to Hawaii and failed to deliver. And with a new federal indictment, this story could be back on consumers' radar screens.
A federal grand jury in Springfield, Missouri, has issued the indictment for a travel agent for allegedly "stealing $360,000 from the Willard High School Band Boosters, which forced the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii for more than 300 students and chaperones."
The 15-count indictment was issued against Callipe Rocky Saaga, also known as "Ope," of Saratoga Springs, Utah.
The indictment alleges that Saaga, while doing business as Present America Tours LLC, "contracted with the Willard High School Band Boosters in January 2011 to provide travel arrangements for a June 2012 band trip to Hawaii. Saaga was responsible for booking airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, tours and travel insurance for over 300 students and chaperones. The Willard High School Band Boosters wired 12 payments of $30,000 each to Saaga between February 2011 and January 2012."
Instead of booking the reservations as required by the contract, the indictment alleges that Saaga used the funds to "finance his personal lifestyle," including gambling in Las Vegas, a trip to Samoa, a trip to Disneyland and other expenses.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, in April 2012 Willard band director Chris Church informed band parents via email that the travel agent planning the Hawaii trip had stopped returning emails and phone calls. Saaga apologized to Church, saying that he was "in the midst of a family and business dispute."
Our publisher John McMahon has written before on the danger unqualified travel agents pose to the industry. And with the industry recovering from the recession, the coming expansion could be set to attract agents who are in it for the wrong reasons.
The federal indictment is available here.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates on this developing story.