The owners of a travel-tour company that promised to send dozens of local high school band students and their parents to Japan last year, only to cancel the trip last minute and not issue refunds may go to prison.
Brad and Margie Matheson, owners of Harmony International, pleaded guilty to three felony counts each of theft, failure to provide refunds and failure to maintain a trust account for funds in excess of $950.
Prosecutor Gina Darvas told NBC 7 Responds the court could sentence the Mathesons two to three years each and the couple will be required to pay restitution payments to victims, not exceeding $110,000.
"They're agreeing that they have to pay it back but we'll see," Darvas told NBC 7 Responds.
NBC 7 Responds began investigating Harmony International last May when parents and students from San Marcos, Del Norte, Mission Hills and Eastlake high schools said they had paid over $3,600 per person for a trip to Japan, scheduled for July 2017.
Months before students and parents were due to depart, an attorney representing the Mathesons announced the trip was cancelled, the company was filing for bankruptcy and refunds were unlikely.
NBC 7 Responds learned San Diego band members weren’t the only ones owed refunds for cancelled trips by Harmony International. Band and choir groups across the country came forward, saying they too were promised international trips for thousands of dollars.
Last November, the California Attorney General's office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit announced they had filed over 90 felony counts against Brad and Margie Matheson. The charges ranged from theft to failing to register as a seller of travel in the state of California.
At the couple’s arraignment hearing, an attorney representing Margie Matheson told NBC 7 Responds the criminal charges were a “misunderstanding”.
NBC 7 Responds obtained transcripts of court testimony before the San Diego County Grand Jury that revealed the couple may have spent Japan trip funds on personal expenses and the Matheson’s second business, Harmony Yacht Vacations.
The former bookkeeper for Harmony International told the grand jury funds for the trip to Japan were not deposited into a trust account or bond, a violation of state law.
Sentencing for the Mathesons is scheduled for February 20, where Darvas told NBC 7 Responds victims will be invited to speak before the Judge.