“It was going to be an experience the kids wouldn’t forget,” Brandy Martinoli told NBC 7 Responds in May.
Martinoli’s daughter and students from San Marcos, Del Norte, Mission Hills and Eastlake high schools had been planning a trip to Japan for over a year. Each person paid over $3,600 to Harmony International, a travel-booking company owned by Brad and Margie Matheson.
In April, those plans came crashing down when the trip was canceled, with no mention of refunds.
To read more about the local trip that was canceled, click here.
NBC 7 Responds found these local families are not alone. Band and choir groups from Ohio, Vermont, New York, Texas and Florida also had trips planned through Harmony International that were suddenly canceled.
According to documents released through a federal Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Federal Trade Commission, 22 consumer complaints involving Harmony International have been filed with the federal agency.
To see the complaints, click here.
One of the complaints involves a consumer in Weston, Florida. According to the complaint, the consumer’s children paid Harmony International over $2,500 for a trip to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“I am sad my kids missed out on a trip of a lifetime which I was going to be a part of,” the consumer complaint reads, “it is sad harmony international (sic) took advantage and scammed band kids and families.”
Harmony International, doing business as MFPI Group Inc., filed for bankruptcy on May 16.
Last month, the Matheson’s appeared in a Florida courtroom for a hearing regarding their company’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Both refused to comment when asked questions by an NBC Miami reporter.
Stephen Zumchak traveled from New York to Florida to attend the hearing and represent musicians owed money by Harmony International.
“My group was supposed to be going on a tour to Cuba back in May that got canceled,” Zumchak said, “Collectively we are out over one-hundred thousand dollars.”
According to the bankruptcy filing, Harmony International lists over $1 million in accrued debt. The filings also list six legal complaints filed against the company, including four consumer complaints filed by Attorney General Offices in Vermont, Ohio, New York and Texas.
To see the filings, click here.
“We are wondering why our money was taken and not put towards these trips,”Zumchak said.
According to the California Attorney General’s office, companies that sell travel tours are required to deposit all payments received by customers into a trust account or bond.
At a meeting with local parents in May, the attorney representing Harmony International, Erika Orcutt, told parents and NBC 7 Responds the company did not spend any money received on hotels or travel reservations.
This is what Drew Dilworth, the bankruptcy trustee appointed in the Harmony International case, said he will be investigating.
“Given the testimony today, there may be claims against the owners of the business for failing to set aside money to cover the trips that they were selling and negligently not having that money today,” Dillworth said. “We’ll be looking at how the company used the money, the dollars they did have and where those monies went and see if we can recover them.”
Collectively, student musicians and their families are owed as much as $500,000.
According to Dillworth, parents and students may have to wait for one to two years before it is determined if they will receive any of their money back.
“Most of the people, because they’re consumers and these were deposits for trips that were never delivered, they’ll have priority claims,” Dillworth said. “To the extent, money is recovered, they have a far greater likelihood of recovering because they have a higher priority of repayment.”
Dillworth said musicians and/or parents who are owed money by Harmony International need to file a claim form, in order to be considered for possible refunds in the future and creditors need to fill out this form and mail it along with corresponding documents to:
C. Clyde Atkins United States Courthouse
301 North Miami Avenue, Room 150
Miami, FL 33128
For further instructions on how to file a claim, click here.