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Post date: March 13 2008

Attorney General Cuomo Sues Travel And Tour Operator For Preying On Senior Citizens

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (March 13, 2008) – Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the filing of a lawsuit against a Connecticut-based travel and tour provider who repeatedly defrauded consumers, including several senior citizen groups.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring Peter Heyel, owner of American Heritage Tours and other tour and travel operations, to pay full restitution and damages to defrauded customers, plus penalties and costs. The suit also seeks to permanently ban Heyel from the travel industry unless and until he posts a $100,000 performance bond.
According to court documents, 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.  In particular, the suit alleges that 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.

“We are confident our investigation of Mr. Heyel and the resulting lawsuit will put an end to his practice of victimizing senior citizens,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Travel agents have an obligation to operate in an honest and reliable fashion. When, as here, a travel agent violates the public trust, this Office will take action to vindicate the rights of New York’s citizens.”

According to court documents, Heyel charged consumers for travel insurance policies that were never obtained and ignored repeated consumer inquiries regarding refunds for canceled trips.

Among the allegations:

  • 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.
  • 22 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 failed to file a certificate of doing business in Queens, Rockland and Dutchess counties – a violation of New York state law.

The Attorney General’s Office is seeking more than $29,000 in restitution, a penalty of $5,000 for each instance of deceptive and unlawful practice, a $10,000 penalty for deceptive practices targeting senior citizens and $2,000 in costs.
Additional consumers who believe they may have been defrauded by Heyel or American Heritage Tours are urged to contact the Attorney General’s Westchester Regional Office at 914-422-8755.

The case is being 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.