A Texas Travel Agent Scammed Florida Customers With Fake Trips

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Juan Carlos Arteaga promised customers deep travel discounts while posing as a travel agent in northeast Florida, federal prosecutors say.

But travel arrangements were rarely – if ever – booked. Instead, the government said, Arteaga pocketed the money to pay for living expenses or cover the cost of booking other people’s holidays in a bid to ward off suspicion. He was eventually charged with stealing more than $800,000 from clients over 10 months in 2018 and 2019.

A federal judge sentenced Arteaga on April 20 to three years in federal prison — a far cry from the day in jail his attorney requested.

The judge also ordered him to pay $784,364 in restitution to his victims and forfeit an additional $843,187.

Arteaga, who was taken into custody shortly after his sentencing hearing in the Middle District of Florida, could not be reached for comment. His defense attorney did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ April 22 request for comment.

Arteaga is 58 and currently lives in Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. His lawyer said in sentencing papers that he expressed “extreme remorse” about what happened.

According to the government, Arteaga was living in Jacksonville, Florida in March 2018 when he began advertising “heavily discounted travel arrangements for domestic and international travel.” Prosecutors said he was not a licensed travel agent and operated as a “de facto” agent.

Arteaga’s clients included his friends, business contacts, acquaintances and referrals who believed he could get them good deals on flights, hotel rooms and amusement park tickets, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Arteaga used some of the money to cover travel expenses for other clients – a tactic that “delayed the discovery of the scheme” because it appeared he was delivering on his promises. He also used the money to pay his mortgage, take out short-term loans, pay credit card and cable bills, buy groceries and cover the cost of nursing home expenses, said the government.

According to court documents, two of Arteaga’s victims were longtime friends with whom he and his wife had previously taken several vacations together.

The couple, identified in court documents as PC and AC, reportedly informed Arteaga in 2018 of their intention to book a private plane around the world with Road Scholar, a nonprofit travel agency that organizes educational trips for adults.

Arteaga had booked previous trips for them, prosecutors said, and the couple trusted him when he said the Road Scholar trip would cost around $100,000, but could get a discounted price of $60,000. . According to court documents, Arteaga told them to pay him $20,000 in five checks and wire the remaining $40,000.

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A Texas man accused of defrauding friends and others with fake discount travel bookings has been sentenced to jail in Florida and ordered to confiscate more than $800,000. Business Wire for AP

PC and AC wired him the funds from their financial adviser, but soon heard from other friends that Arteaga had taken their money without booking the trips, prosecutors said.

According to the government, Road Scholar had no record of the couple’s booking when they called, and the nonprofit said it did not offer discounts like the one Arteaga claimed they could get.

When the couple confronted Arteaga, he reportedly said they delayed booking the trip out of concern for PC’s health.

Prosecutors said PC and Arteaga’s wife had “bonded while undergoing treatment for the same medical condition.” But the couple had said nothing about postponing the trip due to PC’s health, which the government called Arteaga’s “ruse” to cover their tracks.

Arteaga is accused of using the money he received from the couple to book trips for other victims, reimburse his victims or pay for trips for himself.

The alleged scheme lasted until January 2019 and Arteaga was charged in October 2021. Court documents show he was arrested in November and released on $10,000 bond.

Arteaga waived his right to an indictment and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud around the same time.

In his sentencing memorandum, Arteaga’s lawyer said he was disappointed and chastised by his adult children and parents when he told them what had happened. His marriage to his high school sweetheart also suffered, his lawyer said.

Arteaga suffers from sleep apnea, asthma, diabetes, hypertension and heart problems that caused congestive heart failure and required him to wear a pacemaker, according to sentencing documents. Arteaga’s attorney pointed to his health issues and several other factors, including his mental health and lack of criminal history, in an attempt for clemency.

He requested a one-day prison sentence followed by a period of house arrest.

The recommended federal sentencing guidelines, given Arteaga’s history and characteristics, however, are between 33 and 41 months, according to court documents.

In handing down a 36-month sentence for Arteaga, the judge recommended that he serve his sentence at a facility near his home in Houston. Arteaga was ordered to surrender by 11:15 a.m. on April 20 and will be on probation for three years after his release.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering breaking news and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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