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Missouri Attorney General sues Samoan travel agent

fili@samoanews.com

The Missouri state Attorney General has sued Samoan man, Calliope ‘Ope’ R. Saaga, and his tour and travel company, to recover some $360,000 paid by a high school band to travel this summer to Hawai’i, a service which was never provided.

The nine-page lawsuit, filed last Friday at the Greene County circuit court in Missouri, identified Saaga’s company as Present America Tours, LLC based in Saratoga Springs, Utah, which is the same address given for Saaga.

Initial U.S. news media reports identified Saaga’s company as Performing Hawai’i Tours, the Honolulu-based firm, which was wired about $360,000 from the Willard High School Band in Missouri for travel arrangements, with no service provided for the money.

Southside High School Rebel Band in Fort Smith, Ark., also canceled its trip to the islands after the band had wired more than $250,000 to the travel agent.

Samoa News was unable to clarify over the weekend the connection between Performing Hawai’i Tours (who were not listed with the Hawai’i telephone directory as of Saturday) and Present America Tours — whose telephone number was also not listed with the telephone directory, or 411 information,  in Utah.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Present America Tours’ phone number — with a Hawai’i area code — was disconnected as of Friday.

The lawsuit filed by Missouri attorney general Chris Koster, also named Leone M. Saaga — a registered agent for Present America, as a defendant, with the same address in Saratoga Springs.

According to the suit, Calliope Saaga and Present America have done business within Missouri and nationwide by advertising, marketing, soliciting, and selling travel services. Additionally, the defendants have advertised, marketed, solicited, and sold travel services in Greene County, Missouri, among other places.

Moreover, beginning early in February 2010, defendants operated a business offering travel services. Around the same time, faculty and student band members of Willard High School, together with parents of those student band members (participants), made plans for a trip to Hawaii.

In making those plans, Chris Church, band director of Willard High School, contacted defendants, who represented to Church that in exchange for payment, defendants would provide travel arrangements for participants. The travel arrangements to be provided by defendants were to include airfare, lodging, meals, tours and travel insurance.

The suit alleges that between February 2011 and January 2012, funds totaling $360,000 were wired to the defendants for travel services, and the defendants were to provide school representatives with complete lodging confirmation and airline schedules for participants by the end of January 2012.

However, defendants failed to provide the complete lodging confirmation and airline schedules when promised, and after defendants failed to provide the complete lodging confirmation and airline schedules, school representatives made multiple attempts to contact defendants, who would not respond to contact from school representatives, the suit further alleges.

Defendants finally made contact with school representatives last month, although defendants still failed to provide the promised complete lodging confirmation and airline schedules, it alleges.

The suit accused the defendants of misrepresenting and falsely promising that they would complete travel arrangements in exchange for payment of funds; and that the defendants omitted the material fact that defendants were not registered to do business in the state of Missouri.

Upon filing the lawsuit, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster issued a news media statement saying that  he is seeking to recover the $360,000 and has obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting the defendants from conducting business in Missouri and from advertising or selling travel services. 

In addition to ordering the restrictions requested by Koster, Greene County Judge Mark Powell also ordered that certain bank accounts in Saaga’s name be frozen. Koster is also seeking civil penalties for the violations.

The restraining order, which will last until at least May 10, 2012, also prohibits the defendants from destroying any documents related to the sale of travel services over the past two years, said Koster, who added that there will be a hearing May 10 to extend the time the restrictions will be kept in place.

“Willard band members and their families worked hard to raise a great deal of money for this trip of a lifetime,” Koster said in a media statement.  “My office will do all we can to try to get the money back for these kids.”

Meanwhile, Honolulu television station KITV reported Thursday evening that it has “learned that  a substantial amount of money given to Saaga — an Oahu travel agent — by Willard High School and Southside HIgh School marching bands was lost in Las Vegas.”

“For how hard they worked and the money to be lost in a reckless manner, it’s criminal. It goes beyond being criminal,” Sean Carrier, the assistant band director from Southside High School told KITV, which also reports that Hawai’i state authorities are also investigating this case and that Saaga is in Samoa.

Samoa News reported early last week that Saaga was in Samoa more than a week ago but his whereabouts as of yesterday remain unclear. 



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