by Max Brantley
The attorney general's office announced today it had filed a consumer protection lawsuit against the Hawaii travel agent that took almost $400,000 from two Arkansas marching bands then failed deliver on promised trips to Hawaii.
OK. If the attorney general can sue over the band scam, can it sue over the unilateral rewriting of a lottery vendor's multi-million-dollar state contract by the former lottery director? Have consumers not been harmed, even if the lottery commission acted months later to paper over the lucrative deal?
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today filed a consumer-protection lawsuit against a travel agent who collected almost $400,000 from Arkansas marching bands, but failed to deliver on promises of once-in-a-lifetime summer vacations to Hawaii.
The lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleges that Ope Saaga, who operated Performing Hawaii Tours, violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to provide the travel services paid for by the Fort Smith Southside High School and “Spirit of Arkansas” marching bands.
Saaga received $262,500 from members of Southside High School marching band and $134,480 from the eastern Arkansas-based “Spirit of Arkansas” band for travel, lodging and activities in Hawaii.
Saaga advertised to band members that they would have “the trip of a lifetime.” Instead, the complaint alleges that Saaga used the money received by the Arkansas bands for purposes other than which they were paid.
“These students and their families deserved better than the empty promises they received from this travel agent,” McDaniel said. “We share in the disappointment and frustration of those band members who worked so hard to raise money for this trip, and that’s why we are asking the court to order restitution to the students and their families.”
Saaga had offered airfare, lodging, a full-time tour guide, various destination tours and the opportunity for the bands to perform at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center as part of his tour package. Saaga had also promised travel insurance for the trip, but not even that was purchased with the funds he received from Arkansas consumers.
In mid-April, Saaga informed the Fort Smith Southside band of his inability to meet his obligations to the group. In an e-mail to the band director, he said he had made “terrible” decisions regarding their pre-payments and promised to return their money. No refunds have been received to date.
McDaniel’s lawsuit asks the Court to order Saaga to pay restitution, civil penalties and fees.