A Western New York travel company owner is under arrest for allegedly selling more than $90,000 in cruise packages to non-profits and other organizations and then never booking their trips.
Joseph Ehrenreich, owner of Destination Management Group of Buffalo, allegedly stole more than $90,000 in payments from more than 20 consumers, businesses and non-profits for cruises he never booked.
He was arrested and charged with one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree, 10 counts of grand larceny in the third degree and 10 counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree. The top charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Many of the victims of Ehrenreich's alleged scam were volunteers, employees, and supporters of area non-profits, including the Hospice and Palliative Care Group of Niagara County, the Meals on Wheels Foundation of Western New York and the Beechwood/Blocher Foundation.
"Non-profit organizations that provide essential services to our communities have to scrape for every dollar -- especially in these tough economic times," said New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo. "This individual allegedly preyed upon these organizations and their generous donors with fraudulent offers -- any such conduct would be an affront to the unsparing manner in which kind-hearted individuals give to worthwhile causes every day."
According to the felony complaint, Destination Management Group offered businesses and other organizations a program where they could pay to have unlimited access to cruise vouchers. The client organizations- many of them cash-strapped non-profits -- would then distribute the vouchers as fundraising tools, marketing incentives or employee rewards.
Ehrenreich allegedly claimed he would handle all the travel arrangements for the vouchers, citing his extensive relationships with major cruise lines and his memberships with the International Airlines Travel Agents Network and the Cruise Lines International Association. In fact, he was not affiliated with ether association.
Popular cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland and Carnival, all deny having any relationship with DMG or Ehrenreich and indicated that the invoice confirmation numbers he used were fictitious. IATAN also confirmed that neither Ehrenreich nor DMG were accredited by them.
According to the complaint, those who received the vouchers from the client organizations would contact and/or meet with Ehrenreich to discuss the logistics of the cruise of choice. He often persuaded the consumers to upgrade their vouchers, costing thousands of dollars more in additional charges. Ehrenreich would allegedly require consumers to make immediate payment by check or cash to "hold" the reservation -- he would not accept credit card payments. After receiving payment, Ehrenreich would issue an invoice with phony cruise line confirmation and IATAN accreditation codes.
However, the complaint alleges that consumers who called the cruise lines to confirm their reservations or check the status of the cruises then found out that Ehrenreich never booked any of the cruises and kept the payments. Cuomo said many learned that their cruises were never booked when Ehrenreich filed for bankruptcy. In some cases, when consumers became suspicious, Ehrenreich attempted to conceal his theft by obtaining their credit card information and then using it to purchase trips for which they had already paid.