Lawsuit: Travel Agency Defrauded Customers

CHICAGO (STMW) — A Chicago travel agency is accused of failing to buy tickets after receiving payments, or buying one-way instead of round-trip tickets, leaving some travelers at O’Hare with bad tickets and others stranded in foreign countries.

A civil lawsuit filed Thursday by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office alleges Escape Travel at 1307 N. Ashland Ave., owners Maribel and Orlando Diaz of Chicago, and employee Elizabeth Gonzalez of Chicago defrauded consumers out of more than $25,000.

“The defendants preyed on vulnerable customers who believed they were making a legitimate purchase of airline travel tickets,” State’s Atty. Anita Alvarez said in a release.

The suit alleges the defendants offered discount rates for travel to Mexico and other Latin American countries in advertisements that started running in May. The ads required upfront payments in cash to qualify for the discounts, according to the suit.

But after accepting payments, Escape would book travel but fail to pay the airlines, so several victims showed up at O’Hare only to learn their tickets had been invalidated, the release said.

In other cases, Escape would sell round-trip tickets, but only buy one-way tickets, leaving customers stranded and unable to return home, the suit alleges.

One couple left stranded in Cancun, Mexico, was forced to spend more than $1,100 for additional lodging and return flight tickets, the release said.

The total fraud is estimated at $25,277 from victims who were given varying excuses for the problems, but never given refunds or payments for the additional services they were forced to purchase, the release said.

The suit seeks restitution for victims and civil penalties of $50,000 per defendant, and asks that they be banned from working in the travel industry in Illinois for five years.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office says if anyone wants to file a complaint against Escape Travel, call the state’s attorney’s office at 312-603-8700.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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