Queens Travel Agency Funds Frozen
Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has obtained a court order freezing the assets of a Queens travel agency that bilked at least one hundred consumers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A lawsuit filed by Spitzer charges P.U. Travel, Inc., which does business as Plus Ultra Tours, and its principals, Robert Perez and his father, Aniceto Perez, with fraud and deceptive and other illegal practices. The temporary restraining order, signed by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler, prohibits the transfer of any assets pending a hearing on December 23.
"This money belongs to the customers harmed by the travel agency operator's deliberate acts of fraud," Spitzer said. "We will do everything in our power to see that the money is returned to its rightful owners and that the persons responsible are held accountable for their wrongful acts."
Plus Ultra abruptly closed it doors to the public on June 18 stranding at least 100 customers who had paid for trips to Spain. According to court documents, the travel agency blamed the problem on "a rogue employee" who had allegedly stolen its money.
Spitzer's lawsuit alleges that the Astoria-based travel agency misled consumers with promises that they would be provided the airline tickets, hotel accommodations, car rentals, and other travel services. Instead, consumers' flights and other reservations were cancelled, forcing many to make new arrangements and pay yet again, sometimes thousands of dollars, for such services. Other consumers did not know that their flights were cancelled until they went to pick up their tickets and discovered that Plus Ultra's office had closed.
Consumers who requested refunds instead received a letter from Plus Ultra advising them that their money had been "embezzled" by an employee and that Robert Perez had retained an unnamed, but important "top New York law firm" to recover the monies. The letter further requested the customer "to understand that legal issues take a long time to develop."
In fact, Spitzer's investigation uncovered a series of bank transactions by Robert Perez designed to obscure the trail leading to the company's assets. On June 16, only two days before the company was closed, Plus Ultra's bank account at Banco Popular maintained a balance of approximately $373,000. Just eight days later, Robert Perez transferred more than $270,000 from the Plus Ultra's bank account to two personal accounts at Marathon National Bank of New York. The remainder of the funds in the Banco Popular account were expended until the account was overdrawn.
Robert Perez later closed the personal accounts at Marathon and opened new accounts at the First National Bank of Long Island, depositing the monies there. These actions are regarded by investigators as an effort to hide funds.
Justice Heitler's order has frozen $240,000 currently in the accounts at First National Bank, barring the transfer of any funds.
The lawsuit filed by Spitzer seeks restitution on behalf of Plus Ultra customers, civil penalties and court costs. In addition, the lawsuit seeks to ban Plus Ultra and its principals from engaging in any business in New York State unless they post a $500,000 performance bond with the state. Spitzer is also seeking an order requiring the travel agency to provide an accounting of all monies received from consumers.
Individuals with complaints against travel agencies are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.
This case is being handled by Special Assistant Attorney General Michele Marqui of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.