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Bonta and Stephan announce arraignment of travel agent who embezzled canceled COVID-19 school trips

After the school trips were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel agent refused to provide refunds to the parents

By ONME Newswire

OAKLAND,CALIF. – California Attorney General Rob Bonta and San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan announced this week the arraignment of Marie Martin, a San Diego-based travel agent and registered seller of travel, for allegedly embezzling travel funds provided by more than 150 parents for eighth grade school trips to the East Coast.

After the school trips were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin refused to provide refunds to the parents, instead allegedly spending the funds on personal expenses. Martin was arraigned today in San Diego Superior Court on 27 felony counts of grand theft and seller of travel violations.

“More than 150 California families set aside their hard-earned money to give their children the educational opportunity of a lifetime. Instead, the trip was cancelled, and their money disappeared,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I want to thank the San Diego District Attorney’s Office for their partnership in investigating and prosecuting this case. California travel agents must comply with the state's robust consumer protection laws – or they will be held accountable.”

“Cheating parents who work hard to give their children educational experiences that will broaden their horizons is a disgrace,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We stand ready to work with the Attorney General on bringing justice to the families who were defrauded out of their hard-earned income.”

In early 2019, Martin solicited funds from parents at nine schools in Los Angeles and Orange Counties for eighth-grade school trips to Washington D.C. and the East Coast. The school trips were supposed to take place in 2020, but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the parents who paid for these trips requested refunds, Martin declined. Instead, she allegedly used client funds for personal expenses, including credit card purchases, rent, and artwork. The investigation revealed that even before the pandemic, Martin was experiencing cash flow problems and commingling client funds. Because Martin had used the parents’ funds for personal expenses, she was unable to refund parents when the pandemic halted all travel. In total, Martin is alleged to have embezzled more than $415,000.

The Attorney General’s Office operates the Seller of Travel Program, which registers travel agents and certain other travel businesses operating in California. The Attorney General, local district attorneys, and city attorneys can bring enforcement actions against sellers of travel for violations of the law. Any Californian who believes they have been wronged by a seller of travel is encouraged to contact their local district attorney and/or local law enforcement agency, and file a complaint with our office at ‪

California consumers who suffer losses due to a registered seller of travel’s failure to provide travel services or refunds may be eligible to file a restitution claim with The Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation.


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