Government, Law, and Travel & Tourism

Judge sentences ex-travel agent for fraud

September 29, 2015
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A former travel agent has been sentenced to prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Sandra White of Coloma was convicted in June, following an eight-day trial in the U.S. District Court in Kalamazoo.

She has been ordered to serve seven years and 10 months in prison and pay close to $600,000 in restitution to the host travel agencies she victimized and several airlines,  according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan, which is part of the Department of Justice, yesterday.

False claims

The DOJ said that while doing business as Corporate Travel Consultants/Travel by Design, or CTC/TBD, White defrauded airlines, including United, American, Delta and Lufthansa, of hundreds of thousands of dollars in airfares by falsely claiming that CTC clients were entitled to substantially discounted military fares, by claiming that they possessed discount and/or upgrade certificates and by manipulating online ticketing programs to sell fares that were no longer available.

By consistently obtaining significantly lower fares for CTC’s clients than they could obtain anywhere else, White developed and maintained a large and loyal client base.

White’s clients were unaware of the fraud, according to the DOJ.

By maintaining a high volume of sales, the DOJ said White was able to collect booking fees, agent commissions and bonuses that constituted a large percentage of CTC’s overall income.

False documentation

Further, when airline audits would expose what appeared to be fraud, the DOJ said White would manufacture and present fake birth certificates, passports, discount and upgrade certificates and U.S. military identification cards in attempts to prove that the fares were properly obtained.

In other instances, she would use credit accounts of wealthy clients to pay for the costs of other clients’ fares.

Accreditation revoked

CTC functioned independently as an industry-accredited travel agency until 2003, when its license to directly sell air carrier inventories was revoked after airline audits discovered six-figure fraud.

Endangerment to businesses

From 2003 on, however, CTC continued its fraudulent practices, with White obtaining subcontractor positions with accredited travel agencies in Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Florida and elsewhere, working online from CTC’s location in Berrien County.

By exploiting the access to airline inventory of accredited travel agencies, White was able to continue her fraudulent ticketing as a subcontractor without the airlines realizing she was behind the bookings.

In each instance, however, airline audits did eventually identify the fraud, and the agencies through which White had done the ticketing were left with liability for six-figure losses.

The DOJ said, in some cases, the debts caused by White’s misconduct endangered the survival of the host agencies.

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