Erie County Travel Agent Admits To Scam
Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has obtained a guilty plea from a Western New York travel agent who defrauded consumers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Michelle Kasza, 34, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class D felony and one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, also a Class D felony. Kasza faces up to seven years in prison.
"Today's plea sends a strong message to the travel industry that broken promises and misrepresentations to clients can have serious consequences," Spitzer said. "My office's goal is to secure restitution for the hundreds of consumers whose vacation plans were ruined."
Kasza operated a travel agency from her home in a section of Buffalo known as Kaisertown, largely attracting new customers by referrals and through contacts in her community. For nearly a three-year period ending in the fall of 2000, Kasza engaged in a scheme to defraud approximately 300 Buffalo-area residents out of nearly $440,000.
Spitzer's office began investigating after receiving numerous consumers complaints that Kasza had insisted on full up-front payments to make travel arrangements and then failed to do so, had charged travel expenses of one party to another party's credit card, and then failed to respond to requests for refunds.
In one case, a South Buffalo tavern, Hopper's Rush Inn, organized a group trip for its patrons to Las Vegas for last October. Although over 100 of the tavern's customers paid $1,000 per couple to participate, Kasza failed to provide the promised travel arrangements.
Erie County State Supreme Court Justice Mario J. Rossetti accepted Kasza's plea and set a sentencing date of June 29, 2001.
Spitzer offered the following tips to consumers considering using a travel agent for their traveling plans:
- Patronize travel businesses that you know. Look for travel agents that are members of a professional association such as the American Society of Travel Agents, the National Tour Association or the United States Tour Operators Association.
- If considering a travel offer made through a telemarketing call, be careful to have information mailed to you before making your decision. Never give out personal information, such as your social security number to someone who contacts you through a telephone or e-mail solicitation.
- Check your travel agent's track record with the Better Business Bureau.
- Verify arrangements before you pay. Get all travel details and reservation numbers in writing. Be sure to get other specifics such as hotel and plane information with names, addresses and phone numbers, refund and cancellation policies and insurance coverage. Be sure to call to confirm all reservations.
- Use a credit card whenever possible to pay for travel arrangements. In that case, you can dispute charges to your account if there are problems.
- Never pay the full amount for a vacation up-front.
- Contact the Attorney General's consumer help line to report any problems with your travel agent (518) 771-7755.
Spitzer acknowledged his appreciation to the New York State Police for having referred this case to our office.
This case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Dennis Rosen of the Buffalo Regional Office under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief William Comisky of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau and Deputy Attorney General Peter B. Pope.