Band Trip in Jeopardy After Paid Travel Agent Won’t Return Calls

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An upcoming band trip to Hawaii may be in jeopardy after Southside High School officials say they haven’t heard from the travel agent.

More than $267,000 has already been wired to Calliope "Ope" Saaga with Performing Hawaii Tours LLC but the school hasn’t heard from him, according to Southside Band Director Steve Kesner. He says they’ve used the agency twice before.

"We've even tried messaging him on Facebook and have done everything possible we can to reach him and at this point, we have have not received a response, so we're very concerned," says Kesner.

Nearly 300 band students, faculty and many parents were set to take the trip on June 7. Kesner says the trip cost about $2,000 per person. Parents say they've been planning and fundraising for about a year.

"I think everything that's going on is just a total surprise and unfortunately we don't have any answers yet," says parent Jeff Huntington.

The band is scheduled to perform in a parade and at Pearl Harbor while they are there.

School officials say they will have to decide over the next week whether or not to cancel the trip.

"The worst case scenario is we lose a trip, you know, and we're having to go through some major legal way of getting that money back," says Kesner.

The following was sent in an email to parents of the band students:

Dear Parents and Friends of Southside Rebel Band,
We are finding it difficult to communicate with the vendor wehave used for two previous, very successful, trips to Hawaii. The owner of the licensed and bonded Performing Hawaii Tours has not responded to our requests for information since April 9,2012. At that time he apologized for his tardiness. We learned April 12, 2012, that the owner, Calliope Saaga is in the midst of a family dispute. We are hopeful that he will contact us soon with details of the work he has completed on the behalf of the Southside Band, but in the event that he does not contact us, we are taking steps to minimize the financial loss to families and to the band. It must be emphasized that we do not know that a crime has been committed.
With guidance from the Fort Smith Public Schools administration, we have contacted the United States Attorney’s Office, the local FBI and the Sebastian County Sheriff. We have sent correspondence to Mr. Saaga requesting an immediate acknowledgment of the work he has completed. We will move forward with legal counsel, if, indeed, a crime has been committed. Additionally, please let me assure you that we will follow every avenue to secure the contracted services or to recover the money which has been released to Mr.Saaga to this point. While this is certainly a stressful set back in plans, we do have options. We will begin to talk about those if it becomes necessary to do so. We are exploring every possible means by which we may identify a positive solution.
Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your continued support as we move through this challenging time together.
Steven M. Kesner
Director of Bands