Travel Agent Sentenced in $360,000 Fraud Scheme
SPRINGFIELD, MO—Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a travel agent was sentenced in federal court today for stealing $360,000 from the Willard High School Band Boosters, which forced the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii for more than 300 students and chaperones.
Calliope R. Saaga, also known as “Ope,” 40, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, was sentenced by U.S. Chief District Judge Greg Kays to five years in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Saaga to pay $782,480 in restitution.
On Oct. 15, 2014, Saaga pleaded guilty to wire fraud. Saaga has also pleaded guilty to a similar $272,500 fraud scheme involving a school district in Fort Smith, Ark. He will be sentenced on that conviction, as well as related conduct for a similar $149,980 fraud scheme involving a West Memphis, Ark., school district, on March 25, 2015, in the Western District of Arkansas. The total loss for the victims in these fraud schemes was $782,480.
Saaga, doing business as Present America Tours, LLC, contracted with the Willard High School Band Boosters in January 2011 to provide travel arrangements for a June 2012 band trip to Hawaii. Saaga was responsible for booking airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, tours, and travel insurance for more than 300 students and chaperones. The Willard High School Band Boosters wired 12 payments of $30,000 each to Saaga between February 2011 and January 2012.
Saaga booked no reservations as required in the contract. Instead, as he received wire transfers from the band boosters, Saaga used the funds to finance his personal lifestyle, including at least 47 days spent gambling in Las Vegas, Nev.
As a result of Saaga’s diversion of funds, the Willard High School band trip was cancelled and the Willard High School Band Boosters suffered a loss of $360,000.
While he was spending the money of the Willard High School Band Boosters to finance his personal lifestyle, Saaga transmitted e-mails about details of the trip to the Willard High School director of bands, which lulled the band boosters into believing that their trip to Hawaii was on schedule.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Abram McGull II. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the FBI and the Willard, Mo., Police Department.