FORT SMITH (KFSM) - A Utah travel agent from Saratoga Springs charged with stealing $272,500 from the Southside band in Fort Smith pleaded guilty Thursday (Oct. 16), according to court documents.
Calliope "Ope" Rocky Saaga, 40, accepted a plea agreement to drop two of his three charges. Saaga was charged with three counts of wire fraud on May 7. His plea deal stated he'd plead guilty to one of those charges and get the other two dropped, court documents state.
"It was absolute disbelief because we had known Ope Saaga for six years," band director Sean Carrier said. "We had used him twice to trips to Hawaii that were amazing."
Saaga was doing business with the Southside High School Band to provide travel arrangements for a 2012 trip to Hawaii. He was wired three payments between Sept., 2011, and Feb., 2012, and instead of arranging the trip, Saaga used the money for personal expenses.
"For someone to turn on you like this, it was absolutely devastating," Carrier said.
The trip ended up being cancelled due to lack of funds.
Even though the students who missed the trips have graduated, their families are still dealing with the litigation.
"It was around $2,000," parent Regina Welch said. "It was a big disappointment."
Saaga hasn't been sentenced yet, but the maximum sentence for wire fraud, which he pleaded guilty to, is 20 years in prison. The maximum fine is $250,000, and he could face restitution as ordered by the court, court documents state.