Utah Travel Agent Who Scammed H.S. Bands Marching Off To Prison
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS – May 30, 2015 (Gephardt Daily) – A Utah-based travel agent, convicted of swindling high school band members and their families out of nearly a million dollars, is headed to federal prison.
According to the FBI, the trouble began in August 2011, when a high school from Arkansas contracted with Calliope R. Saratoga Springs to arrange a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to Hawaii for 270 band members and their chaperones.
The feds described the trip as the “crescendo of months of performances, fundraisers, and saving to book the arrangements. But the music stopped when the band’s travel agent admitted he’d duped them to the tune of more than $272,000.”
Federal prosecutors say the school had wired funds to Saaga in multiple installments, “but rather than booking the band’s Hawaii excursion, Saaga spent the money on himself – on his own trips to Disneyland, Samoa and Las Vegas – all the while offering assurances the band’s trip was on schedule.”
As scrutiny increased, Saaga fled to his native Samoa. It was from there, via e-mail, that he ultimately admitted to the school district he’d lost all their money.
“I made some terrible decisions,” Saaga said. He also wrote that he was selling personal assets to repay the band. “It will be a slow process, so I beg of your patience.”
As the FBI in Little Rock began scrutinizing Saaga investigators realized he was also being looked at for similar scams involving high schools in Missouri and Arkansas. Once again, the scams involved travel packages to Hawaii, and once again hundreds of thousands of dollars had ended up missing.
After negotiations with federal law enforcement officers Saaga returned to the U.S. to face multiple wire fraud and money laundering charges.
He was indicted in May 2014 accused of the following crimes:
- Stealing $360,000 from Willard High School Band Boosters (Springfield, Missouri), forcing the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii for more than 300 students and chaperones.
- Stealing $272,500 from Southside High School (Fort Smith, Arkansas), forcing the cancellation of a Hawaii trip for 270 marching bands students and their families.
- Stealing $149,000 from a school district in West Memphis, Arkansas.
In March 2015, Saaga was sentenced 12 to five years in federal prison for the Willard High Band Booster’s swindle in Springfield, Missouri. He was sentenced to 63 months for Ft. Smith Southside High School band scam.
Saaga’s sentences are to run concurrently.
He’s also been ordered to pay $780,000 in restitution.