According to the FBI, a Saratoga Springs, Utah travel agent was sentenced on March 11, 2015 to five years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and ordered to pay $782,480 in restitution. What is most shocking is whom he stole that much money from. What is less shocking… what he did with it.
Calliope R. Saaga, also known as “Ope,” 40, will likely be facing even more time behind bars when he is sentenced for a similar fraud scheme on March 25, 2015. What are his crimes?
Saaga previously pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering involved travel scams. Actually, the travel never occurred, but it did not stop him from taking:
- $360,000 from the Willard High School Band Boosters, Springfield, MO, which forced the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii for more than 300 students and chaperones.
- $272,500 from a Fort Smith, Arkansas school district for a similar trip to Hawaii for 270 Southside High School marching band students and their family members.
- $149,980 from a West Memphis, Arkansas school district for a fraudulent travel agent scheme.
Saaga, doing business as Present America Tours, LLC and Performing Hawaii Tours, LLC, contracted with these customers to provide extensive travel plans, but never performed as promised for the school districts across Missouri and Arkansas.
He had promised the Willard High School Band Boosters airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, tours, and travel insurance for over 300 students and chaperones in January 2011 for a June 2012 band trip to Hawaii. The Willard High School Band Boosters wired 12 payments of $30,000 each to Saaga between February 2011 and January 2012. But the trip never happened because Saaga skipped with the money.
The Justice Department reported that Saaga never booked any reservations for the students and chaperones. Instead, he went on a 47-day gambling spree in Las Vegas spending some $360,000, all while continuing to communicate with the band boosters and school staff that their trip was planned as scheduled.
His scheme was seemingly repeated with the Southside High School Band in Fort Smith, Arkansas, to provide travel arrangements for a 2012 trip to Hawaii. The Southside High School Band wired him three payments totaling $272,500 which he converted for his personal use, according to prosecutors. He also took a school in West Memphis, Arkansas for nearly $150,000.
Federal prosecutors indicated that Saaga did have a gambling problem. Here, the unfortunate victims ended up being hundreds of school kids who had worked hard to raise money for a truly memorable trip.
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