Charges have been filed against a husband and wife accused of taking thousands of dollars from local high school students and parents, after an international band trip booked through their company was canceled and the company filed for bankruptcy.
Brad and Margie Matheson face over 90 felony counts and two misdemeanor counts including embezzlement, failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account, and failing to provide refunds.
Brad Matheson was arrested in Dade County, Florida on November 10 and will go before a Miami judge in an extradition hearing on Thursday, according to the San Diego County District Attorney’s office. An arrest warrant has been issued for Margie Matheson, who is “currently at large” according to the district attorney’s office. UPDATE - 11/17/17: According to a Tift County Sheriff's spokesperson, Margie Matheson turned herself in to authorities in Tipton, Georgia on Wednesday, November 15 and is not fighting extradition back to San Diego.
NBC 7 Responds first reported on this in April. To see our coverage, click here.
A total of 70 people (students and parents) from San Marcos, Del Norte, Mission Hills and Eastlake high schools signed up for the trip that was supposed to take students and parents to Japan this summer. Parents told NBC 7 Responds they contacted the California Attorney General’s office after seeing our initial reports.
“I think the coverage helped organize the parents so they could go forward and make the complaints,” Gina Darvas, a San Diego Deputy District Attorney assigned to the Matheson case told NBC 7 Responds, “I think the fact that there was some coverage led them to look for what recourse they had.”
In a press release, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said, “These defendants took money from the students and their families, then turned around and spent it on business and personal expenses instead of honoring their agreement.”
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office and the California Attorney General 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.
In a press release, California Attorney General Becerra said, “The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting students and their families from predatory practices...Today’s action is an important step toward justice for the San Diego area families affected by this scam.”
At a meeting in January 2016, parents were first pitched the trip to Japan by the school band directors. In attendance at the meeting via Skype was Brad Matheson.
“If you register before March 1, 2016, for this group, you’ll receive free trip cancellation insurance,” Brad Matheson told parents and students, “We wanted to include that as an incentive to get you to register as early as possible.”
At a meeting in May, Erika Orcutt, an attorney representing the Mathesons, told parents those insurance policies were never purchased and the money parents and students paid was not put into a trust account, which is required by state law.
NBC 7 Responds reached out to Orcutt for a comment regarding the indictment, the arrest of Brad Matheson and whereabouts of Margie Matheson. Orcutt and criminal defense attorney Lonnie McDowell said they do not have a comment at this time.
Darvas said Harmony International did not register with the California Attorney General’s office as a ‘seller of travel’ and that resulted in a misdemeanor charge filed against the couple.
She also said the Harmony International incident should be a lesson for all consumers.
“Do your due diligence before you give people money,” Darvas said. “Had anybody bothered to see if they were registered, they would have seen this company wasn't registered and that should have been a red flag.”