Attorney General Becerra Announces Embezzlement, Theft Charges Against Couple That Booked Student Trips To Japan
Dozens of Students at Four San Diego Area High Schools Victimized
SAN DIEGO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today announced that a Florida couple was indicted in San Diego Superior Court on multiple charges related to a cancelled high school band trip to Japan. Bradley Matheson, 52, and Margaret Matheson, 43, together operating as Harmony International, have been charged with 93 felony counts and 2 misdemeanor counts, including embezzlement, failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account, and failing to provide refunds. The total loss to the high school band students and their families is $99,000, and 32 victims are identified in the indictment.
In a joint prosecution, the Attorney General’s Office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit worked collaboratively to investigate the case and take it to a grand jury, which handed down the indictment on October 20, 2017. Defendant Bradley Matheson was arrested in Miami, Florida by the Miami-Dade Police Department on November 10, 2017. He will appear in a Florida state court tomorrow. An arrest warrant has been issued for Margaret Matheson, who is currently at large and out of custody. Anyone with information about her whereabouts is asked to contact the California Department of Justice at (800) 952-5225 or (916) 210-6276.
“The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting students and their families from predatory practices,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today’s action is an important step toward justice for the San Diego area families affected by this scam.”
“These defendants took money from the students and their families, then turned around and spent it on business and personal expenses instead of honoring their agreement,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Our Consumer Protection Unit’s investigation has been thorough, and it’s our hope that these charges will not only hold the defendants accountable but will also result in restitution for the victims.”
The investigation revealed that, in December 2014, Bradley Matheson met with one of the high school band directors at a band conference in Chicago and offered to make arrangements for a school band trip to Japan through his company Harmony International. In January 2016, Matheson provided the band students and their parents with a brochure explaining the trip details. He also appeared by Skype during a parent informational meeting to generate interest in the trip. The Japan trip was scheduled from July 11 to July 18, 2017. According to the trip brochure, the tour cost was $3,687 per person, which could be paid in installments over several months. The brochure stated that the trip included free travel insurance for early sign-ups, but parents later learned the Mathesons never actually purchased the insurance. More than 60 students and parents from San Marcos High School, Del Norte High School, Eastlake High School, and Mission Hills High School signed up to participate in the Japan trip and made payments to Harmony International. In April 2017, before the trip took place, the Matheson’s sent an email to parents telling them that the trip was canceled. At a school meeting the following month, the Mathesons’ attorney told parents the company had filed bankruptcy and could not issue refunds.
California’s Seller of Travel Act requires that all persons who sell travel packages with sea or air transportation register as a seller of travel with the Attorney General’s Office. Once registered, sellers of travel are required to maintain a bond or trust account to protect passengers from loss. Sellers of travel are also required to refund passengers’ money 1) within three days if it is not held in a trust account, or 2) within 30 days if the trip is cancelled.
The indictment alleges that Harmony International and Bradley and Margaret Matheson were not registered as sellers of travel in California, and did not hold the funds for the Japan trip in a trust account and did not provide refunds. They are facing 93 felony counts and two misdemeanor counts for these violations.
It is important to note that a criminal indictment contains charges that must be proven in a court of law. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted on all counts, the defendants each face up to 48 years in prison.