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Samoan travel agent admits to “terrible decisions"

reporters@samoanews.com

A Samoan man, Calliope ‘Ope’ Saaga and his Hawai’i based travel/ tour company, Performing Hawai’i Tours, is at the center of a possible investigation by state and federal law enforcement officials for accepting more than half a million dollars without providing the services for which he was paid.

The Associate Press reported last Friday and over the weekend that Southside High School Rebel Band in Fort Smith, Ark., canceled its trip to the islands after the band had wired more than $250,000 to the travel agent, according to assistant band director Sean Carrier. The travel agent had gone missing, until recently.

In Missouri, band director, Chris Church at Willard High School wired about $360,000 to the same travel agent, who had not provided the service for which he was paid, and the status of the Hawai’i trip for the Missouri school  is now up in the air.

Both bands were scheduled  to travel this summer to Hawai’i and the AP identified the travel agent as Calliope “Ope” Saaga, who wrote in an e-mail recently to Carrier saying “I made some terrible decisions with the money and am now in the midst of trying to sell every asset I have in Samoa to pay the group back.”

“It will be a slow process so I beg of your patience as my number one priority to get every cent I owe to the group,” Saaga wrote, according to the AP. Several news media in Missouri, Arkansas and Hawai’i are reporting on the same problem encountered by the two bands as well as Saaga’s e-mail to Carrier.

Both bands had worked with the travel agent on successful trips to Hawaii before. The Southside band traveled to the islands in 2006 and 2009, while the Willard band went to Hawaii in 2004 and 2008, the AP reports.

Honolulu-based television station KITV reports that Saaga is in Samoa and Samoa News learned on Saturday that this individual was in Apia, Samoa more than a week ago but his whereabouts as of yesterday was not immediately known. It’s understood that this individual was to depart Apia soon but his destination was not clear.

Like the rest of the news media reporting on this story, Samoa News was also unable to make contact with Saaga for comments.

The AP reported yesterday that the two high schools in Missouri and Arkansas have contacted the FBI as well as their state law enforcement agencies for assistance.

“We cannot confirm or deny the existence of any pending investigation," Conner Eldridge, the U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Arkansas, said in a statement - which was reported by the AP on Saturday.

A search of online business records shows Performing Hawaii Tours "is not in good standing" in the state of Hawaii, reports KITV.

No criminal charges have been filed against the travel agent, but the Arkansas Attorney General's office says a parent has filed a consumer complaint, the Southwest Times Record newspaper reported in Saturday's editions.



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