MINEOLA, N.Y. – Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced the arrest of a Bellmore travel agent for allegedly scamming at least six cruise trip clients out of payments totaling more than $10,000.
Darlene Buonauro, 57, of Wantagh, was arraigned yesterday before Judge Maxine Broderick and charged with Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree (an E felony). The defendant was released on her own recognizance and is due back in court November 20. If convicted of the top charge the defendant faces a maximum of 1-1/3 to four years in prison.
“Instead of the luxury Alaskan cruise that they paid for, this unscrupulous travel agent allegedly left her victims high and dry when she stole their cruise fare,” DA Singas said. “I encourage anyone else who may have been victimized by this defendant to call our Financial Crimes Bureau at 516-571-2149.”
DA Singas said in October 2017, a complainant mailed a $250 deposit and booked a reservation through the defendant’s travel agency, Learning Through Travel Journeys in Bellmore, for a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise traveling to Alaska from August 26, 2018 through September 2, 2018. After booking the trip, which for some, was to celebrate a 15th wedding anniversary, the complainant then told friends and family about the cruise and four additional people booked the trip through the defendant.
Between October 2017 through April 9, 2018, the six complainants made payments toward the cruise through the defendant. In July 2018, all the complainants received notification from the defendant that their trips were paid in full and that they would receive their travel documentation in the next couple of weeks. After not receiving the documents before the scheduled departure in the complainants reached out to Norwegian directly in August 2018 and were informed their reservations were canceled for non-payment.
It is also alleged that although some of the complainants paid the defendant for travel insurance- based on the defendant’s recommendation to do so- the defendant allegedly failed to purchase travel insurance for them. As a result, those who lost money for non-payment of the cruise were unable to file insurance claims. To sell travel insurance, a travel agent must have a license from the Department of Financial Services (DFS) or work as an agent for a company licensed by DFS. Buonauro’s license expired in September 2015 and she has not been licensed to sell travel insurance since.
In total, the defendant allegedly stole $10,846.88. The investigation is continuing as to the six complainants and other possible victims and additional criminal charges are anticipated.
The defendant was arrested yesterday by NCDA Investigators.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Heidi Bausk of DA Singas’ Financial Crimes Bureau is prosecuting this case. John Pedranghelu, Esq. represents the defendant.
The charges are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN USING A TRAVEL AGENT
- In addition to travel agency documents, ask for a copy of the booking confirmation issued by the cruise line, airline, hotel at the time of the initial deposit.
- If purchasing travel insurance through the travel agent, ask the name of the insurance carrier. In addition to travel agency documents, ask for a copy of the travel insurance confirmation and the policy. (Note: some travel insurance companies provide additional benefits if insurance is purchased within 15 days of the booking)
- If the travel involves a cruise, note the date on which payment is required in full and how much money has already been paid and when it was paid.
- If the travel involves a cruise, note the date on which full payment is due. Request confirmation issued by the cruise line showing that full payment has been made.
- Luggage tags and boarding passes should be those issued by the cruise line or airline, not the travel agent.
- Check with Consumer Affairs to see if any complaints against the travel agent/agency.
- Payments by credit card may be reversible/may offer greater protection to the consumer because the charge can be disputed if the service was not received. Payment by check or by debit card would require a refund from the travel agent. In any event, always keep copies of records of payment.###