A Florida couple who operated a Georgia-based travel agency were indicted in San Diego on embezzlement and other charges involving a canceled high school band trip to Japan that resulted in nearly $100,000 in losses for students at four area campuses and their parents, it was announced Wednesday.
Bradley Matheson, 52, and Margaret Matheson, 43, together operating as Harmony International, are charged with 93 felony counts, including failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account and failure to provide refunds, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
A grand jury in San Diego handed down the indictment against the Mathesons last month, finding that the total loss involving band students from San Marcos High School, Del Norte High School, Eastlake High School and Mission Hills High School was $99,000.
“These defendants took money from the students and their families, then turned around and spent it on business and personal expenses instead of honoring their agreement,” Stephan alleged. “Our Consumer Protection Unit’s investigation has been thorough, and it’s our hope that these charges will not only hold the defendants accountable but will also result in restitution for the victims.”
Bradley Matheson was arrested in Florida last Friday, but Margaret Matheson remains at large, according to authorities, who asked anyone with information about her whereabouts to contact the California Department of Justice at (800) 952-5225 or (916) 210-6276.
In December 2014, Bradley Matheson met with one of the high school band directors at a band conference in Chicago and offered to make arrangements for a school band trip to Japan through his company, Harmony International, according to court papers.
In January 2016, he provided band students and their parents with a brochure explaining the trip details and also appeared via Skype during a parent informational meeting to generate interest in the trip, which was scheduled for July 11-18 of this year, according to authorities.
The tour cost was $3,687 per person, which could be paid in installments over several months. The brochure stated that the trip included free travel insurance for early sign-ups, but parents later learned the Mathesons never actually purchased the insurance, the indictment alleges.
The indictment lists 32 alleged victims, though as many as 60 students were signed up for the Japan trip.
In April 2017, before the trip took place, the Mathesons sent an email to parents telling them that the trip was canceled. At a school meeting the following month, the Mathesons’ attorney told parents the company had filed for bankruptcy and could not issue refunds.
The indictment alleges that Harmony International and Bradley and Margaret Matheson were not registered as sellers of travel in California, and did not hold the funds for the Japan trip in a trust account and did not provide refunds.
Each defendant faces 48 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.
— City News Service