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ORANGE COUNTY— California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced the arrest of an Orange County travel agent who sold more than $160,000 in “bogus travel packages” to senior citizens who wanted to visit Cuba for religious and cultural purposes.
“The suspect allegedly ripped off dozens of senior citizens who wanted to travel to Cuba for religious and cultural purposes,” Attorney General Brown said. “Peddling these bogus travel packages has earned Mr. Rendon a trip to court to face criminal charges,” Brown added.
The 78 felony charges, filed in Orange County Superior Court on April 8, allege that Ralph Adam Rendon, 31, of Santa Ana, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who wanted to go on religious trips to Cuba. On Tuesday, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Rendon. Bail was set at $170,000.
Ostensibly, the trips were designed to connect Jewish and Greek Orthodox Americans with members of their faith in Cuba. In 2006, Rendon began advertising his travel agency, “USA to Cuba,” in religious magazines in an effort to target Jewish and Greek Orthodox people who wanted to travel to Cuba for religious purposes.
Rendon directed victims to pay $1,000 in upfront fees to his alleged business “USA/AAE Scholarship Foundation,” but put his private address on the return envelop. After victims paid this upfront fee, Rendon requested an additional $2,580 and then canceled the trip. Rendon told the travelers that the U.S. Treasury Department had blocked all religious trips to Cuba, which was false.
Investigators determined that Rendon sold fake trips to 34 elderly travelers from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Utah and New York. When victims attempted to obtain refunds after the trip was canceled, he ignored their demands. In June 2006, Rendon stopped selling trips.
Financial records show Rendon used customers’ money to pay his rent, lease a new Mercedes, and hire a divorce attorney. Brown charged Rendon with 78 felony counts, including grand theft, embezzlement, mishandling consumer funds and trust account violations.
Investigators with the California Department of Justice and the Santa Ana Police Department launched their probe in 2006 after receiving complaints from victims. With assistance from the Long Beach and Seal Beach police departments, investigators began to interview victims and audit Rendon’s bank records.
Rendon allegedly violated Sellers of Travel law which requires travel agents to register with the Attorney General’s Office. Rules also require travel agents to deliver services before extracting a fee; Rendon improperly collected his fees upfront. He also failed to place the victim’s money into a trust account, which state law requires. If an agent is unable to arrange a trip, they must refund all consumers’ money within three days.
By failing to disclose that he was not a registered seller of travel and that he did not have a license to arrange trips to Cuba, Rendon committed theft by false pretenses. Rendon allegedly embezzled the money he was given. Rendon allegedly committed numerous felony violations for failing to deposit the money he was given to arrange the trips into a trust account.
Agents that sell trips to Cuba must obtain a Travel Service Provider license from the U.S. Treasury Department. The Department does allow trips to Cuba for religious or humanitarian purposes. Rendon never obtained a license and the Treasury Department told him to stop selling travel packages to Cuba.
Rendon was arrested by Orange County Sheriff’s deputies on Tuesday. He posted bail, which was set at $170,000 dollars.
For a copy of the criminal complaint and declaration in support of the search warrant, please contact the Attorney General's Press Office.