Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed a consumer-protection lawsuit Monday against the travel agent who robbed the Southside High School Band out of a trip to Hawaii.
"It's good to see that the state is taking some action against the travel agent," said Southside Band Parent's Association Co-President Terry Rippy.
According to a news release, The lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleges that Ope Saaga, who operated Performing Hawaii Tours, violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to provide the travel services paid for by the Fort Smith Southside High School and "Spirit of Arkansas" marching bands.
Saaga collected almost $400,000 from the two Arkansas marching bands, but never followed through on plans to send them to Hawaii. Around $262,000 came from the Southside High School Band and $134,480 from the eastern Arkansas-based "Spirit of Arkansas" band.
"These students and their families deserved better than the empty promises they received from this travel agent," McDaniel said. "We share in the disappointment and frustration of those band members who worked so hard to raise money for this trip, and that's why we are asking the court to order restitution to the students and their families."
"Not only did we lose monitarily, but we lost some idealism in that someone took advantage of our children and took advantage of our children's hard work," said parent Paula Weaver.
McDaniel's lawsuit asks the Court to order Saaga to pay restitution, civil penalties and fees, according to the release.
"I want Mr. Saaga to understand that you can't do this and get away with it," said Weaver.
Southside band members and their families were scheduled to leave for Hawaii in June. They were informed by Saaga in April that he made some "terrible" decisions with their money. The group opted for a trip to Florida with money salvaged from the trip.
"It's been very frustrating, but we still had a great time in Florida, so it was a good trip," said junior band member Tyler Weaver.
"We visited every park we could and it was a lot of fun," said junior band member Christopher Rippy. "I think there was something for everyone to do on that trip."
Saaga allegedly promised to return the money, but has not given any refunds.
"Whether or not we'll see any recovery from it or not, that's unknown, but at least this is a step in the right direction," said Rippy.
Band parents say they're still following through with a civil lawsuit against Saaga.