Harmony International Owner's Attorney Said Criminal Charges Are A 'Misunderstanding'

Brad and Margie Matheson own Harmony International, a travel-tour company that organized a band trip to Japan for four local high schools. They faced a San Diego judge Thursday. NBC 7 Responds covers the story.

(Published Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017)

The couple behind a travel company accused of taking thousands of dollars from local high school band students and parents asked a San Diego judge for their bail to be reduced at a court hearing Thursday.

Brad and Margie Matheson, owners of Harmony International, face 93 felony counts and two misdemeanor counts including embezzlement, failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account, and failing to provide refunds.

The Mathesons were extradited from Florida and Georgia to San Diego earlier this week.

On Thursday, the couple’s attorneys entered not guilty pleas to all charges on behalf of their clients. Lonnie McDowell is representing Margie Matheson and a public defender was appointed to represent Brad Matheson.

Bail for each of the Mathesons is set at $200,000 and today, McDowell asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Michael Smyth to reduce that amount to $25-30,000. McDowell told Judge Smyth Margie Matheson’s father is willing to rent an apartment in San Diego for the couple to live during the trial proceedings. McDowell also said the couple would be open to GPS monitoring.

Prosecutor Gina Darvas said certain requirements would need to be met to ensure the couple does not try to flee, including the couple’s passports being surrendered, a stay-away order prohibiting contact with the victims listed in the indictment and a verified permanent address here in San Diego County.

“Their previous address was a boat that's been seized by the bank and that's in Florida,” Darvas told the judge. “So, we're concerned for flight risk, for that reason.”

After the court hearing, McDowell told NBC 7 Responds the Mathesons' boat was damaged in the Florida hurricane and has since been foreclosed due to non-payment.

Judge Smyth asked both the prosecution and defense to return to his courtroom next week to discuss the bail possibility.

The grand jury indictment, filed against the Mathesons earlier this month, stated the couple organized an international band trip to Japan for band students and their parents from San Marcos, Del Norte, Mission Hills and Eastlake high schools through their travel company Harmony International.

The trip was canceled shortly before the students were set to depart. Soon after canceling the trip, the company filed for bankruptcy.

NBC 7 Responds was the first station to report on the canceled band trip in April. To see our initial coverage, click here.

This month, the San Diego District Attorney’s office along with the California Attorney General’s office said the total amount of money lost by the local high school band students and their parents is $99,000 and 32 victims have been identified in the indictment.

To read the indictment, click here.

After the court hearing, McDowell told NBC 7 Responds the Mathesons believe this is a misunderstanding.

"This is a business that went bad," McDowell said, "Both of them regret it terribly, they feel bad for the kids. They also know how devastating this can be but unfortunately, its just business."

NBC 7 Responds found five other band and choir groups across the country that claims Harmony International owes them thousands of dollars after trips they organized were also canceled at the last minute. The charges filed in the San Diego indictment are only connected to the trip to Japan organized for local students.

To read more about the other groups claiming they are owed money, click here.

Kylie Mason, Press Secretary for the Florida Attorney General’s office told NBC Miami their office has received 29 complaints about Harmony International and an investigation into the complaints is ongoing.

A trial date has been set for January 19.