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Post date: June 20 2008

Attorney General Cuomo Secures Restitution, Penalties Against Travel And Tour Operator That Preyed On Senior Citizens

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (June 20, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced his office has obtained a court order requiring a Connecticut-based travel and tour provider to pay back dozens of senior citizens he defrauded, plus penalties and costs to the state.

The court order, issued as a result of a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Cuomo, requires American Heritage Tours owner Peter Heyel to pay $23,198 in restitution to senior citizen groups he defrauded. He must also pay a $5,000 civil penalty for targeting seniors, plus another $2,500 in penalties and costs. The order issued by Judge Robert DiBella in Westchester County Supreme Court also permanently bans Heyel from the travel industry in New York state unless he posts a $100,000 performance bond.

Between 2005 and 2006, Heyel’s American Heritage Tours, also known as Heritage Tours, Connecticut Heritage Tours, Amtrak Tours and Voyages TC, accepted large deposits and payments in advance for bus tours, weekend travel and Broadway show packages. Heyel then canceled or severely altered the itinerary of the trips and failed to provide refunds. He repeatedly targeted groups in Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess and Queens counties, as well as West Hartford, Connecticut, operated in a deceptive and fraudulent manner, made numerous misrepresentations regarding accommodations, transportation and travel insurance and refused to provide refunds after failing to provide promised services.

“This decision is a victory for the seniors who were victimized by Mr. Heyel,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “It’s a simple equation: companies that offer a service have an obligation to provide that service. This company sold trips to these groups, made sudden alterations or cancellations, and then vanished into the night. My office sought and found Mr. Heyel, made him pay, and prevented him from victimizing any more senior citizens.”

According to the lawsuit and subsequent decision, Heyel charged consumers for travel insurance policies that were never obtained and ignored repeated consumer inquiries regarding refunds for canceled trips. Among the documented acts of fraud:
A Laurelton senior center paid Heyel $5,247 for 55 people to take a trip into Manhattan for lunch and to see the Broadway show “Chicago.” Heyel canceled the trip two days beforehand and never refunded the money.
A Mid-Hudson Valley retirees club paid Heyel $5,148 for a trip for 54 people, including bus travel from Poughkeepsie to New York City, lunch and tickets to Broadway’s “Beauty and the Beast.” The trip was canceled and no refund given.
25 senior citizens arranged a 3-night trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto through Heyel, which was to include bus transportation, lodging, breakfast and dinner each day. He accepted a $3,000 deposit. At the last minute, Heyel informed the group that he was unable to charter a bus and that they would have to get their own if they wanted to go on the trip. The trip was canceled and no refund was given.
A Suffern seniors’ group paid $7,102 for a trip to New York City including lunch in Times Square and tickets to “The Lion King.” Heyel told the group at the last minute that he couldn’t get tickets to the play and never rescheduled the trip or refunded the payment.

Heyel also violated New York state law by failing to file a certificate of doing business in Queens, Rockland and Dutchess counties.

The Attorney General’s Office is also taking action to seek restitution for additional consumers who come forward with evidence they were defrauded by Heyel. Consumers should contact the Westchester Regional Office at 914-422-8755.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Yasmin Rahman Kutty with the assistance of Investigator John Slevin under the supervision of Judith C. McCarthy, Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge of the Westchester Regional Office.