Brown Obtains Guilty Plea from Individual who Sold Phony Trips to Cuba
Santa Ana – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced that Ralph Adam Rendon, 33, of Orange County, was sentenced to five years in state prison yesterday for selling $154,000 in “phony travel packages” to senior citizens seeking to visit Cuba for religious and cultural purposes.
Rendon pleaded guilty to one count of Grand Theft. As part of the plea agreement, Rendon was ordered to pay $154,000 in restitution.
"This individual sold $154,000 of phony travel packages, ripping off senior citizens who wanted to go to Cuba for religious and cultural purposes,” Brown said. “In reality, Rendon never arranged for travel to Cuba, but used the funds to purchase a Mercedes, pay his rent and hire a divorce lawyer.”
Brown’s criminal complaint, filed in Orange County Superior Court last year, contends that in 2006 Rendon began advertising his travel agency, USA to Cuba, in religious magazines. USA to Cuba purportedly arranged trips for Jewish and Greek Orthodox Americans who wanted to visit members of their faith in Cuba.
Approximately 41 individuals, including 20 senior citizens, responded to the ads and purchased travel packages from Rendon. About half the victims were Californians. The remainder came from New York, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
Victims paid up to $4,000 for the travel. Once Rendon received payment, he falsely informed his victims that the trip had been cancelled by the U.S. Treasury Department. Rendon ignored demands for refunds.
In June 2006, investigators with Brown’s office and the Santa Ana Police Department launched an investigation, interviewed victims and conducted an audit of Rendon’s financial records. The audit revealed that he used his customers' money to pay for personal expenses.
The case was referred for prosecution and Rendon was arrested April 17, 2008. While out on bail, Rendon started a second company, London Exchange, which charged customers $500 to apply for credit cards that did not exist. Brown had Rendon arrested last month on suspicion of grand theft and forgery. As part of the plea agreement, charges related to this matter will not be pursued.
The Attorney General’s Office offers the following reminders to people who want to purchase a travel package:
• Travel agents must register with the Attorney General's Office as a seller of travel. To see if a travel agent is registered, go to: http://vcinweb.doj.ca.gov/SellerOfTravel/SotprodTest/sotInput.asp.
• Travel agents must deliver services before charging their fee to arrange trips.
• If an agent is unable to arrange a trip, they must refund all consumers' money within three days.
• Travel agents must deposit the money they are given to arrange trips in a special trust account.
• Travel agents that sell trips to Cuba must obtain a Travel Service Provider license from the U.S. Treasury Department.