Travel Agent Ordered to Pay $4 Million to Marching Bands

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A travel agent accused of scamming the Fort Smith Southside High School band out of a trip to Hawaii has been ordered to pay more than $4 million, according to Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore ordered Ope Saaga to pay $407,003.93 in restitution to consumers and $3.86 million in civil penalties, McDaniel’s office says.

Kilgore had earlier issued a default judgment against Saaga, who operated Performing Hawaii Tours.

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.

The trip was to include roundtrip airfare, tours and the chance to perform at Pearl Harbor.

McDaniel filed a consumer-protection lawsuit in July 2012 accusing Saaga of violating the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by failing to provide the travel services paid the groups.

Many of the students raised money for the trip.

Saaga never responded to the lawsuit was not Thursday’s (May 30) hearing.

Saaga allegedly promised to return the money last year, but never gave any refunds. He told the Southside band director he had made “terrible” decisions regarding the band’s pre-payments.