Extensive air ticket
scam goes to court

A former travel agent who prosecutors say sold more than $600,000 worth of bogus airline tickets to scores of Hawaii residents over seven years has been charged with first-degree theft and money laundering.

Wayne Abe, 56, waived indictment and was charged yesterday in Circuit Court. He is expected to answer to the charges in Circuit Court on Tuesday.

According to the complaint, at least 182 people were victims of the airline ticket scam from August 1997 to April 30, 2003.

At least one of his alleged victims said he has learned a valuable lesson. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," said Romeo Cardenas, whose family was left with about 30 worthless tickets.

Abe, whose state travel agent's license was revoked in April 2000, is accused of selling Hawaiian Airlines round-trip tickets to the West Coast. According to Hawaiian Airlines officials, an individual named "Wayne" or "Dwayne" was offering five round-trip mainland tickets for $1,250 -- or $250 apiece -- with the sixth ticket free. He required full payment in cash.

Although the first of each batch of tickets was legitimate, many times the rest were found to be invalid, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of trips, court records show.

Cardenas, a Salt Lake resident, was one of the 182 individuals named as victims in the complaint. His daughter's gymnastics team was headed to Oregon for a competition, so he decided to purchase a bunch of tickets and offered some to the parents of the other team members.

"He kept saying he would come through, but the night before the flight, he told us he couldn't get the tickets," Cardenas said. "He said he had the reservations and confirmation and everything."

He and other parents had to scramble for new tickets, trying to find the cheapest fares. They ended up flying to Seattle and then driving to Oregon.

"It was a headache," he said of the experience. "We learned our lesson but it was an expensive lesson."

He and his family had used about five of the tickets with no problems but later learned the rest -- about 30 of them -- were no good. Cardenas is not counting on getting his money back even if Abe is prosecuted.

This is not the first of Abe's legal woes.

He was indicted in December 2003 for selling air fare but failing to provide the tickets in a September 2001 transaction.

Last January, the court ordered him to repay $9,250 for airline tickets he sold in four instances while doing business as an unlicensed travel agent for Wayne's Travel.

In February 2000 the state Regulated Industries Complaints Office investigated Wayne's Travel after he was paid $13,000 by 36 bowlers to make travel arrangements that never materialized.

Abe and his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ed Harada, could not be reached for comment.

First-degree theft is punishable by a 10-year term of imprisonment.

David McNeil, whose public relations firm represents Hawaiian Airlines, said the airlines is always disturbed to hear about such scams.

He said the airline wants to make sure its customers purchase tickets through legitimate outlets -- through e-ticketing technology and through reputable travel agencies.

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