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Attorney General Bonta, District Attorney Stephan Announce Sentencing of Travel Agent for Embezzling Funds from School Trips Canceled Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

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Martin paid $256,997.65 in restitution to victims

SAN DIEGO — California Attorney General Rob Bonta and San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan this week announced that defendant Marie Martin, a San Diego-based travel agent and registered seller of travel, was sentenced to six months of home confinement and six months of felony probation for embezzling travel funds from more than 150 parents who paid for eighth-grade school trips to the East Coast. After the school trips were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin refused to provide refunds to the parents, instead spending funds on personal expenses. Following her guilty plea in January, as part of the sentencing, Martin paid $256,997.65 in restitution to victims.

“Parents all over California are willing to spend their time and money to give their children a better life. Marie Martin financially took advantage of more than 150 families during an already traumatic and financially challenging time,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “I am proud to fight for the rights of consumers and thank the San Diego District Attorney’s Office for their partnership in investigating and prosecuting this case.”

“This defendant’s disgraceful crimes cheated parents who are working to give their children expanded educational opportunities that would broaden their horizons,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “Together with the Attorney General, our Consumer Protection Unit delivered justice and restitution to the families who were defrauded out of their hard-earned income.” 

In early 2019, Martin solicited funds from parents at nine schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties for eighth-grade school trips to Washington, D.C., and the East Coast. The school trips were supposed to take place in 2020, but were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the parents who paid for these trips requested refunds, Martin declined. Instead, she allegedly used client funds for personal expenses, including credit card purchases, rent, and artwork. The investigation revealed that even before the pandemic, Martin was experiencing cash flow problems and commingling client funds. Because Martin had used the parents’ funds for personal expenses, she was unable to refund parents when the pandemic halted all travel. 

The Attorney General’s Office operates the Seller of Travel Program, which registers travel agents and certain other travel businesses operating in California. The Attorney General, local district attorneys, and city attorneys can bring enforcement actions against sellers of travel for violations of the law. Any Californian who believes they have been wronged by a seller of travel is encouraged to contact their local district attorney and/or local law enforcement agency, and file a complaint with our office at ‪www.oag.ca.gov/report. California consumers who suffer losses due to a registered seller of travel’s failure to provide travel services or refunds may be eligible to file a restitution claim with The Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation.

 

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