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California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan today announced the arrest of a San Francisco travel agent for violations of the California Seller of Travel Law. Two other travel agents are being sought in separate cases under arrest warrants issued by the San Francisco Superior Court for misdemeanor violations that include failure to register as a travel agent.
Charged with four felony and three misdemeanors was Flor de Maria Rivas, also known as Florence Rivas, operator of All Group Travel and Tours. While advertising "affordable fares world wide," the company allegedly failed to deliver on purchased airline tickets and other travel arraignments. Customers ranged from honeymooners to a man seeking to visit his ailing mother in Egypt.
According to District Attorney Hallinan, "These consumers paid in full for tickets they never got and were left with the nightmare of trying to find alternative travel at the last minute."
Attorney General Lockyer said: "State law requires travel agents to register and maintain a client trust fund to protect consumers making travel purchases. By going after unscrupulous travel agents, we protect California travelers who should get the airline tickets and cruise vacations they paid for and timely refunds if travel plans change."
Investigators found that Rivas had stonewalled some customers who were seeking refunds, while other customers spent months trying to obtain a refund for canceled travel tickets. While some refunds never came, other refund checks sent to customers "bounced" because of insufficient funds in Rivas' client trust account.
State law requires all sellers of travel to register as travel agents with the Attorney General's Office. Travel agents are required to place all passenger payments into a client trust account until tickets are actually purchased from airlines or cruise companies. Travel agents also must deliver travel tickets to clients within 72 hours of payment in full.
Numerous complaints about Rivas and All Group Travel and Tours were received by the Attorney General's office. These complaints were relayed to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office for formal investigation which led to the arrest of Rivas.
The following are other seller of travel cases in which the Attorney General's office has taken civil action in recent months:
-Suchitra Francis of Wings & Wheels International Travel in Berkeley, was fined $2,000 for failure to deposit certain client funds into the designated trust account and failure to make disclosures required by law to customers prior to receiving money for travel purchases.
-China Focus Travel, Inc., Shangdong Tourism Bureau and Yan Tao Li in San Francisco were fined $2,000 and assessed late registration fees for allowing their seller of travel registration to lapse.
-Ronali Ann de Silva and her company, Sunshine Tours & Vacations in Glendale, were fined $6,000 for false advertising and offering sales incentives without required consumer disclosures. The defendant also was ordered to make restitution to customers for unpaid refunds and undelivered trips.
-Consolidated Travel Group of Florida, and its president Madeline Valdes, were fined $8,000 for violations involving the sale of travel certificates commonly used as incentives in timeshare property marketing. Customers seeking to use travel certificates for a cruise were improperly charged "activation" and other fees. The defendant has agreed to reform its marketing procedures and change the way the certificates are activated, and refund deposits and fees to California customers.
-Frank Abedi of Student Summer Abroad Program in Los Angeles, who faces a fine for his Internet travel operation. As an unregistered seller of travel, Abedi was found to have falsely promised tours in Europe, Africa or Australia to high school students if they furnished an autobiographical essay along with fees of $50 to $100. The defendant has agreed to shut down his Internet web sites promoting the tours which were known to state law enforcement.
-Barbara Mowen of Travel Network in Mira Mesa was fined $1,500 and assessed late registration fees for failure to maintain a current registration as a seller of travel.
-Big "Tuna Bill" Ghiselin of Try Baja in San Diego for allegedly defrauding consumers and failing to register as a seller of travel. A stipulated judgment imposes penalties of $10,000 and requires the defendant to pay restitution as part of a final judgment.
-Dion Fradejas of Kreative Travel in Roland Heights of Los Angeles County was fined $1,000 for operating as an unregistered seller of travel.
-Ron E. Tindage of Indotravel, Inc. in West Covina was fined $12,500 for operating as an unregistered seller of travel.
-Ed Garcia of Azteca Travel in Norwalk for failure to register as a seller of travel. A $5,000 fine is pending.
-Weimin Yu of Wisdon International Trade Corp., for failure to register as a seller of ravel. A $7,500 fine was ordered in the case.