SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a Florida couple has been sentenced to two years in jail and ordered to pay back $69,609 in restitution after being indicted last October on multiple counts related to a cancelled high school band trip to Japan. At today's sentencing in San Diego Superior Court, the Court also retained jurisdiction to order, if appropriate, additional restitution. Sixty-eight victims were identified in the indictment, and another seven victims were named in a complaint that was filed after the grand jury proceedings.
On January 19, Bradley Matheson, 52, and Margaret Matheson, 43, together operating as Harmony International, pleaded guilty to a felony count of embezzlement and two felony violations of California's Seller of Travel Act: failing to maintain passenger funds in a trust account and failing to provide refunds. Today's sentencing was the result of a joint investigation and prosecution by the Attorney General's Consumer Law Section and the San Diego County District Attorney's Consumer Protection Unit.
“The Mathesons thought they could get away with preying on our high school students and their families. The Mathesons could not have been more wrong,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Today's sentencing should remind everyone that the California Department of Justice is committed to protecting consumers. I appreciate the strong partnership between my office and the San Diego District Attorney's Office in prosecuting this matter on behalf of families who were exploited by these unscrupulous individuals.”
“The defendants have been held accountable for their criminal conduct and for the way they cheated San Diego County families,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “This is a perfect example of justice prevailing, thanks to our Consumer Protection Unit.”
The joint investigation revealed that in December 2014, Bradley Matheson met with a high school band director and offered to make arrangements though his company, Harmony International, for a school band trip to Japan. In January 2016, Matheson provided the students and their parents with a brochure explaining details of the trip. According to the brochure, the tour cost $3,687 per person, which could be paid in installments over several months. Students from San Marcos High School, Del Norte High School, Eastlake High School, and Mission Hills High School signed up to participate and made payments to Harmony International. In April 2017, before the trip was scheduled to take place, the Mathesons sent an email to parents telling them that the trip was canceled. At a school meeting the following month, the Mathesons' attorney told parents the company had filed bankruptcy and could not issue refunds.
California's Seller of Travel Act requires that all persons who sell travel packages with sea or air transportation register as a seller of travel with the Attorney General's Office. Once registered, sellers of travel are required to maintain a bond or trust account to protect passengers from loss. They are also required to refund money within three days if it is not held in a trust account, or within 30 days if the trip is cancelled.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra / Tuesday, February 20, 2018